Drinkable Tunes: Darkness on the Edge of Town

I connected with Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 follow-up to Born to Run, before I ever heard a note.

The album cover grabbed me while I was thumbing through a sea of records I inherited from my father. I wasn’t a Bruce Springsteen fan at the time — I had heard a few choice hits like “Born to Run” — but I hadn’t connected with him, his music or his vision of the American Dream.

But Darkness grabbed me before I heard a single note. Springsteen’s eyes, dog-tired-but-intense, stare defiant from the cover. That feeling, of fatigue and resilience, of exhaustion and heart, set the tone for my first listen.

I sat down on my floor with headphones on, drink in hand, and spun the record. It was love at first listen — it felt older and wiser than Run. It sets up Bruce’s later body of work; his first ode to an unromanticized working class with big dreams.

Darkness tells stories about troubled people who never quite make it — they all want to get out of their current situation because they think life has more to offer, but they’re struggling to get where they want to be. Instead of whining, they spit in misfortune’s face and hit the road to finally find a little more of whatever they’re looking for.

The opening track, “Badlands,” is my favorite. It’s the perfect example of a twenty-something who knows life isn’t perfect or fair, but who still has the youthful heart and drive to change. It’s hard not to roll down the windows and sing it at the top of your lungs.

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. I’m sure there are plenty of people who hear Darkness as a record of sad stories, but I can’t help but be inspired. I love the grit of the characters. I love their defiance.

We peek in on these characters in the middle of their “American Dream” story; they haven’t achieved it, but they’re doing the best they can. You can see that as sad, but I see it as inspiring. It’s nice to hear stories about people who are trying their best to better themselves rather than giving up — Bruce’s characters rarely give up.

patrick mears

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