Flash of Light: Springsteen Comes Out of the Darkness

The Light in Darkness – collected photographs and essays

It was the year the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever album was number one for twenty-four weeks and the year a killer snowstorm hit the eastern seaboard putting us out of work and school for about a week. The year that saw us watching the beautiful Barbara Bach let down her hair for Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me and had us listening to disco and driving at night to the Eagle’s Hotel California and falling in love to Fleetwood Mac and Wings. It was the year the Sex Pistols went dark and and told us to never mind the bollocks for the last time at Winterland in San Francisco, where Bruce would give one of the most memorable concerts of his career in that December.

1978 has been exposed and laid bare for Springsteen fans. Lawrence Kirsch has collected a healthy volume of blog entries, magazine and newspaper articles, and reminiscences of Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 tour and bound them with the best tour photographs in his book The Light in Darkness. These are not concert reviews or album reviews as much as they are personal stories about the person who has written each piece. Anecdotes and reminiscences about songs of youth and joy and love and sex and hardship and identity. The songs on Darkness reach us because they seem to not only understand but to embrace the working-class struggle, family relationships, and hard-won romance. They are small town stories– not quite urban and not quite not; that are visually engaging and nerve-touching; whole lyric narratives that tell us what it is to be down and out but to want to live anyway.

Springsteen is a sort of high priest of Passaic who tells us it’s okay to not understand what it’s all about but to keep on trying anyway and to refuse all bullshit. That “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive” and to want control and want it now. After what he had just been through with former manager Appel, it isn’t surprising to hear Bruce sing with such guttural, throaty vehemence. He is glad to be back. He is glad he’s alive and he shows it. The photos reveal a buff Springsteen with his mop of chocolate waves, buff in his sleeveless t-shirts and motorcycle boots all hipness and attitude like Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

One contributor tells us, “Music had become my savior that summer…” It was the summer her mother died from a second failed kidney transplant and the summer she went to a concert despite everything. “There are other things I remember about that night, an evening when music – particularly Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – saved my life and made me realize that I could go on…” As Springsteen tells us on “Badlands”, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” And that is the point. Whatever happened to him during his enforced hiatus when he was falling out with Mike Appel. Appel was Bruce Springsteen’s first manager and producer, and is probably most remembered for his part in a contract dispute that kept Springsteen from recording for quite a while after Born to Run in 1975.

Eager and loyal fans of the early Springsteen had nothing to listen to. It was, as one fan writes, a “primitive media era”. There was no Internet, there was no news, no new Springsteen recordings. “Waiting during that time was an eternity…

But when Bruce did come back, he gave the performance of his lifetime. The ’78 Tour (some have called it “The Lawsuit Tour”) is compared to Dylan’s live ’66 performance at the Royal Albert Hall. One writer says that it was this tour, the ’78 tour, that gave “the feeling that someone out there has understood and shares my pain (and that) has kept me going many times…”

Springsteen, like Dylan, is one of few artists who inspire a real closeness between performer and fan – an intimacy that is inherent in the work, the music, and how it is performed with such gut wrenching sincerity that a large number of fans don’t simply relate – they take it personally. It is this very fact – the blurred boundary – that makes the artist so successful and that gives the music such staying power. Philippe Rezzonico says, “You cannot escape what was written for you, for your kind, for what you value in life…”

This is performance-based writing and photography and so highly personal and it is this that gives the work its strength: it is everything that you too have felt at a Springsteen concert – that palpable connection that you did not expect but is there nonetheless. Here we see Springsteen falling backwards into the crowd, venturing out into the crowd with his long-lead microphone halfway up the aisle and welcoming girls onto stage to dance. This is how Springsteen shares the show. Kirsch has collected the best images from this tour: a rose-colored light soaked Springsteen jumping with his guitar held at sharp angle, falling back at the feet of Clarence Clemons and wailing out a tune. He is sweat drenched and loving it. This book, for all intents and purposes, is the best souvenir booklet of the tour. It is a program adapted after the fact by the fans and for the fans. And that’s what it’s all about and should be about. Springsteen was the shaman – the one we chose and who traveled down the witness tree during those three-hour concerts – expressing what we feel and how we feel it with such abandon, our own personal soundtrack Springsteen.

Sadi Ranson
Providence, Rhode Island
November 2014

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