The Light in Darkness – Bruce Springsteen Book Review

In 1978 Bruce Springsteen embarked on a grand tour that would prove legendary; a tour that would create a mark for all other tours to reach. The 29 year-old Springsteen had just released his fourth album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, a bleak and darkly realistic version of his breakthrough previous album Born to Run. Unlike its predecessor, Darkness on the Edge of Town did not capture youthful spirits and set them alight. It took youthful hopes and dreams and turned them into ashes. There is to this day speculation as to why his next album was such a departure from the album that cast him into the limelight; whether it was his legal dispute with former manager Mike Appel or if it was something more personal and private no one knows for sure. What is certain, however, is that Darkness on the Edge of Town was not only a wild departure but a dangerous one. After the unheard of success of Born to Run (putting him on the cover of both Time and Newsweek in the same week, the first non-world leader to do so) he disappeared for 2 years and several where-are-they-now articles were published. But during the latter stages of those 2 years he was moulding a masterpiece.

In 1978 he finally released his long awaited (and at the time, almost forgotten) album. And the fans were… confused. Where was the young man of Born to Run who wanted to take life at the collar and make it his own? Where was the boy who knew that two lanes could take him anywhere? The boy who would run with his lover until they dropped, who knew there was a place where he’d walk in the sun? He was gone, dead, buried. Fans and critics alike couldn’t understand why this kid would so dramatically change his image when it had so dramatically propelled him to success. But change it he did. And thank God.

Lawrence Kirsch’s 208 page epic documents the now legendary Darkness Tour from May ’78 to January ’79. Each date and venue has their own heading in bold blue letters to give an easy-to-follow and clear lay out. The entire book is neatly compiled and formatted almost like an encyclopaedia of the 1978 tour. Under each heading are usually 3, perhaps 4, fan-written accounts of their personal experiences at each individual venue. Springsteen is famous among fans for doing something new every performance, making every show unique. From reading these accounts it is clear that this really started on the Darkness Tour. Many of the accounts talk of how sceptical rock fans shambled into small theatres to see what the fuss was about and then how they left the theatre shaking and buzzing with adrenaline. There are certainly more than one mentions of Springsteen entering the crowd and blasting them with a guitar solo, shredding energy from the strings and propelling it through the room and through the fans.

Although I greatly enjoyed reading these fan accounts, and was excited myself by their insight, it is only a book for real Springsteen fans. More specifically than that though, fans of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Casual fans of either Springsteen or the album perhaps will not enjoy reading about what other people have to say. Understandably, it can be quite tedious to read about an experience you wish you saw but couldn’t have. It is easy to get jealous of these fans and I found myself irritated at some points of the book because some accounts are so incredible to read about that I was filled with envy. That is not necessarily a bad thing because I always went back to the book and continued reading, as many people will. Being 18 years old, I obviously could never have seen the ’78 tour and am eternally disappointed. After reading the book however, and then seeing Springsteen at Hyde Park in July 2012, I was able to see that he is the most consistent performer in rock history. A bold statement but one lined with truth. At 62 he paraded around the stage with the same vigour and enthusiasm as the fans describe in Kirsch’s book.

It is a fascinating book to read, especially as a younger fan. While reading it for the first time I felt like I was reading a history text book in conjunction with an enjoyable novel. It contains the facts and the true events but also some mythical elements that some of the more imaginative fans bring to it. Stories which are maybe exaggerated by memory are told of Springsteen singing or playing guitar directly to them, or how a simple twist of fate placed life-changing tickets into their hands. Whether these small details are fact or fiction is irrelevant as it proves for an interesting read with several passages making me genuinely smile.

As well as accounts of the shows themselves, some of the most enjoyable passages in the book are the ones about how the particular fans first got into Springsteen’s music or the journey they went on to acquire tickets. I was forever reminded that they “didn’t have the internet in those days” and how tickets were much harder to come by. But, what I found most novel of all, how much cheaper the tickets were. My ticket to see Springsteen earlier this year cost me close to 70 pounds (roughly 114 dollars) yet there are stories of fans paying a mere 8 dollars. Obviously, Springsteen wasn’t as huge as he is now but it’s so difficult to imagine now that I couldn’t help but grin at the novelty of it all.

Other than the accounts themselves, the book is beautifully presented. I own several Springsteen books and have researched several others yet I have never seen one that contained so many quality photographs. Some of the photographs in the book are rare while others have become iconic over the years but all of them are incredible to look at. The high quality photos are printed on photographic pages which give the book a glossy and highly professional appearance. After reading the book, you could easily go back through it one hundred times over just to look at the pictures. Pictures of Springsteen rocking, having fun, teasing the audience, saddling up to Clarence and many more.

Without a doubt, I enjoyed the photos most of all in this book. The book is A3 in size and so contain several photos on almost every page. I cannot praise the photos in this book highly enough and would recommend the book solely based on them. The book, of course, is so much more than just pictures and words though. Like any book, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, this tells a story. It’s a story that most readers of the book will already have heard in one form or another but seems so much fresher and touching when it’s a first-hand account.

This is perhaps the perfect time to purchase this book, not just because of Christmas but because Springsteen seems to have come in a complete circle. On his most recent tour (the Wrecking Ball Tour) he has reintroduced the extended introduction for Prove It All Night which debuted on his ’78 tour. The themes that run through Darkness on the Edge of Town can also be found on Wrecking Ball and the economic and social troubles from ’78 are now present once more. Springsteen even wore some of the same clothes then and now, notably a black tie, waistcoat and blue shirt. Springsteen is fully aware of his fans, what they want and what they expect and reading this book only drives home the fact that he has always been aware.

All in all, this book is simply a must have for any Springsteen fan anywhere. I’m 18 and live in England yet I feel fully connected to the 63 year old Jersey-dweller. This book not only enforces that connection to Springsteen but strengthens invisible bonds between you and the fans who help write the book. Lawrence Kirsch should be commended for compiling all of these fan accounts, some found on blogs, others elsewhere. The accounts are detailed and sometimes amusing and inspiring but always interesting. The photos are beyond amazing to look at, as are the pages themselves. The book is jam-packed with information, stories, rarities, pictures and Springsteen. All of this is found inside the beautiful, glossy black cover found with this special limited edition book. You like Springsteen? You’ll like the book. It’s that simple.

The book The Light in Darkness is only available on line and printed in a limited edition. Less than 200 copies remain.

Aaron Gillie
fromunderthestairs

Bruce Springsteen in crowd at Madison Square Garden, August 1978

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Springsteen’s Greatest Albums’ excerpt: Darkness on the Edge of Town

For the next two months we’ll be posting an excerpt from Peter Chianca’s eBook Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, which analyzes eight of Springsteen’s most groundbreaking albums and then argues which one should be considered “the greatest.” This week, a selection from the chapter on Darkness on the Edge of Town:

On side 1, “Racing in the Street” was and remains a towering achievement for Springsteen. It’s a story song that takes its time to introduce its sad characters, moving from the narrator’s car – the famous “’69 Chevy with a 396” – to his friend Sonny, and eventually to the “little girl” whose dreams will die a slow, hard death. It’s unyielding in its utter realism and its depiction of the choices most of us face, one worse than the next – and it fastidiously avoids a happy ending.

Instead, it moves into an extended instrumental conclusion that’s held together by the gloriously intertwined keyboard work of Danny Federici and Roy Bittan. It’s a masterful, slow-building coda that takes the character’s hard and complicated emotions and somehow wordlessly builds on them. You can imagine the narrator and his girl, the one who “hates for just being born,” slow-dancing to it at dusk, for just those few minutes managing to stave off the pain.

That song’s counterpart on side 2, the album-closing title track, is more allegorical but equally uncompromising. Its narrator has lost his money and his marriage, and has a dark secret that he may cut loose, or that may drag him down – either way, the price of wants and dreams of any kind seems too great to bear.

Musically, like a lot of the other songs on Darkness, it builds and ebbs, then builds again, the thump of Garry Tallent’s bass giving way to Weinberg’s masterful, deliberately punctuated percussion and Bittan’s powerful piano. Through it all, Springsteen yells and grunts – “huh!” – and his distant groan is the last voice you hear as the album fades.

But maybe even more telling are the songs that follow “Racing” and lead into “Darkness.” First, “The Promised Land” picks up where “Badlands” leaves off, its hero promising that he’s “gonna take charge,” and sounding like he means it when he talks of taking a knife to the pain in his heart. And “Prove It All Night,” the album’s penultimate track, comes closest to breaking Springsteen’s promise to leave the album bereft of love songs. That edict benefited Darkness as a whole, but at the same time it serves to make “Prove It” even more resonant in its faith in the redemptive power of love and human relationships. It argues that such redemption is possible if you want it enough to take it – and that it can be worth the price if you do.

You can download Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums at Amazon or Amazon UK. And if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry: You can download free Kindle software.

Celebrate the Holiday Season with Bruce Springsteen.
Discover the limited edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain.
A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there – the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more! And for a limited time, we are offering a Bonus color 8″ x 10″ photo from the Wrecking Ball tour with every book purchase.
A perfect gift for the holidays!
Click Here to Order Now and Save on Shipping:
The Light in Darkness

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ALBUMS OF OUR LIVES: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN

Colin Rafferty

Elizabeth and I took our first road trip a few months into our relationship. As the miles went by on the interstate, I changed CDs, one hand on the wheel while the other one slid the discs into and out of the 24-disc wallet I’d used for a decade.

Elizabeth fidgeted in her seat, a move that I’d come to recognize as signifying agitation and discomfort.

“What is it?” I asked.

“You keep changing the music,” she said. “On trips, I just leave the same CD in the whole time.”

“The whole time?”

“The whole time.”

***

As we went on, from dating to engagement to marriage, I learned this about Elizabeth: she would listen to the same CD, sometimes the same song, over and over and over. For me, a former record store employee with a music collection that overtook an apartment wall, music was about discovery, the chance to hear something before anyone else, the chance to love a band or singer-songwriter at ground level, to say you heard them first.

But Elizabeth taught me there was beauty in repetition. Listening three times in a row unlocked nuances in albums I thought I already knew. A fourth listen made the experience transcendent; a fifth sent it back down to its most human core.

Elizabeth loved Bruce Springsteen more than any other artist. She’d go through phases with single albums; for a long time, she played Born to Run. (Once, as the CD started over, I reached for the eject button. Over piano and harmonica, Elizabeth grabbed for my hand. “You don’t fuck with ‘Thunder Road,’” she said.) On a trip to Arizona, she discovered our rental car had satellite radio, and we listened almost exclusively to E Street Radio. For birthdays and anniversaries, I bought her CD copies of the albums she’d grown up listening to, and we’d listen to them together, arguing about whether the live version’s energy surpassed the studio version’s precision. We decorated our first Christmas tree while the video of Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 played, Springsteen in his stocking cap our version of Saint Nick.

***

Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town

For our second wedding anniversary, I bought her 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s first album after his breakthrough with Born to Run.

Elizabeth loved the album, and it took up permanent residence in our car. We sung along wherever we went, sometimes skipping ahead to our favorite tracks: “Badlands,” the album’s opener, with its “whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa” lead-in to the chorus; “Racing in the Street,” a sad lament of lost hopes and dreams denied. “Candy’s Room” was my favorite song, because the rush I felt when Max Weinberg’s drums kicked in as Springsteen sang, “We kiss / my heart’s pumping to my brain” reminded me of the first time Elizabeth and I had kissed, a moment all nerves and passion, the kind of chance for glory that so many of the songs strove for and never found.

Going by number of plays, the final and title track, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” was Elizabeth’s favorite. Springsteen had followed his “four corners” approach, in which each side started out bright and hopeful, and then closed with that hope unraveled. In the dark, as we drove home, hope twice unraveled, Elizabeth would softly sing. “Now some folks are born into a good life / Other folks, they just get it anyway, anyhow,” she whispered over Springsteen. She claimed she had no talent for song, but as the miles of the interstate slipped by on our return to our home, I loved the sound of her voice more than anything else in this world.

***

I got the phone call about her brother at a departmental end-of-semester party on a Wednesday afternoon. Unconscious, the voice on the other end said. We don’t know what will happen. By the time we’d gotten packed and shuttled the dog to the kennel, we knew that we were driving down to say goodbye to him, that at the end of that road from Virginia to Alabama was a bed surrounded by machines to be switched off one by one.

We loaded our suitcases into the trunk and laid the garment bag with a black suit and black dress on top of it. I sat in the driver’s seat, and as I turned the key, I pressed the button to switch from CD to radio. I knew that whatever we listened to for the drive would forever be the Music We Listened To On the Way There, and I wanted not to ruin the album for Elizabeth.

From the passenger seat, her voice tiny, she whispered, “Thank you.”

We drove, our soundtrack the top-40 stations of the Southeast, I-95 to I-85 to I-20, hoping to stay ahead of a winter storm coming in from the west. We listened to music that would vanish in six months. I had never been more grateful for the disposability of pop music. We pulled into the hospital parking lot at three in the morning, and in the moment between shutting off the car’s engine and opening the door to her waiting father, there was a brief moment of silence, the first I’d heard in hours.

***

We sold that car a few months ago. We hadn’t really driven it since it developed some problems that no mechanic seemed able to diagnose, and we’d bought a new car. I cleaned out the old car, pulling out the detritus of a hundred trips. Dozens of maps, brochures from historical sites and national parks, stale Cheetos. I found four pens between the passenger seat and door, lost as Elizabeth worked on trips while I drove.

Under the center console, I found Darkness on the Edge of Town, the CD case sticky with spilled soda. Springsteen still stared out from the cover, white T-shirt and black leather jacket, window behind him. We hadn’t listened to it since the day before the phone call, seventeen months earlier.

We haven’t listened to it since, either.

Colin Rafferty lives in Virginia, where he teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Mary Washington. Recent essays have appeared in Witness, Utne Reader, and elsewhere. He’s currently at work on a series of essays about the Presidents.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Concerts: 1975-2012 A Journey of Shooting the Boss

Bruce Springsteen, Palace Theater, Albany, NY, 1978

Bruce Springsteen, Palace Theater, Albany, NY, 1978

Bruce Springsteen’s show at the Music Hall in Boston on December 3, 1975, is what I remember the most. I still think it might have been the best concert I ever witnessed from over 1000 shows I’ve attended and photographed. I was an admirer since Greetings from Asbury Park was released. I did see him as “the new Dylan” with all the words and content. I connected to it the same way I did to Dylan. My college buddies didn’t care for it, even made fun of it and ridiculed me for liking it. One day there was a contest by DJ Ellen at Midnight on WQBK in Albany to win a copy of the just released LP. All you had to do was call up. Nobody did for over an hour. I was working in my darkroom in my apartment and finally, after many pleas from Ellen over the air, I just called up and claimed the album. Boy, am I glad I did.

Bruce Springsteen, RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY, 1978

Bruce Springsteen, RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY, 1978

My friends dissed it entirely – “trite, too wordy, stupid, immature” is what they thought. Walter, Don, Larry, and Dennis are the same guys that couldn’t stand Jackson’s “Late For The Sky” or Neil’s “Harvest” and preferred the first Led Zeppelin, Mott The Hopple, Slade and NY Dolls. This was eventually funny because one night a few years later they called me from their new digs in Swampscott, Massachusetts and offered me a ticket to Bruce at the Music Hall the next night. They had scored tickets and Dennis had to work and couldn’t attend. I dropped everything and headed to Boston.

I remember Bruce ending that show being carried off the stage on a stretcher by medics after collapsing on stage [damn, it seemed real], only to throw back the sheet at the curtains, leap up and go full speed ahead into another string of songs. When the show finally ended the doors opened to the streets of Boston, but many fans held their ground and kept making noise. As the hall was emptying out and with the house lights on, Bruce came bounding back again and shouted, “Don’t believe everything they tell you” and launched into second extended encore. Fans ran back into the theater accompanied by others who had not even been to the show but saw the pandemonium on the street and the open doors and ran in. He manically plunged into his Detroit Medley and played another 30 minutes.

Bruce Springsteen, RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY, 1978

Bruce Springsteen, RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY, 1978

When the show was announced for Albany in 1978 I had started shooting music concerts for local publications, but learned that no photographs were allowed and cameras were not permitted to any Bruce show for this tour. I don’t recall much about the show, except stuffing a Leica M4 in my jeans and my companion hiding a 135mm lens in hers. I think the tour had started the night before in Buffalo and was heading to Philadelphia and Boston after Albany. The show was mildly disappointing to me, since I was unfamiliar with the new Darkness album material that had not been released yet. I still wanted to see the 1975 Bruce! I snuck taking my photos and got one really good one of Clarence and Bruce, shoulder to shoulder, jamming. The next day I called the Village Voice to offer the photograph, but they said their photographer would shoot the show in NYC. Knowing that no photographers were being given credentials and people were being searched for cameras I just sent the photo to the Voice anyway. The next Thursday when I got the paper up in Albany my picture was published. It was my first nationally published photograph and the beginning of my business RockShots® which has continued on to now, photographing music concerts for the last 35 years.

Martin Benjamin Village Voice Photo Pass

Martin Benjamin Village Voice Photo Pass

Later in the fall, The Darkness tour came back through, playing at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the RPI Fieldhouse on November 12, 1978. The night of the show I felt bummed I wasn’t going so I just grabbed my camera and drove over to Troy, NY and bought a $5 ticket from a frat guy selling lots of them outside the arena. With my Nikon FM camera and 200mm lens under my jacket, I just walked in. I never went to my seat. I just kept heading up to the stage from all angles where the same guy would scream at me from the edge of the stage to stop, move back and go away [Jon Landau?]. I managed to photograph the show from much closer, figuring if I got thrown out it was worth the $5. I shot the whole show. I remember it more vividly than the May show in Albany. Bruce was flying around the stage, leaping in the air over and over, and the show had much more energy. Maybe it was a bigger stage than Albany, or it was just much later in the tour and the performances had skyrocketed. I knew the material by then and it did blow me away.

Bruce Springsteen, RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY, 1978

Bruce Springsteen, RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY, 1978

This summer I photographed Bruce in Fenway Park, and that concert was a throwback to 1978 – a nice touch for everyone attending, but especially to me, over thirty years later.
For me, the two best Bruce shows, out of about 8 or 9 I’ve seen, are ironically the first and last ones – December 3, 1975 at the Music Hall in Boston and August 15, 2012 – the second night in Fenway. Not that any of the others ones were ever disappointing, but the bookends 38 years apart were, by far, the best for me!

©Martin Benjamin

You can view a selection of Martin Benjamin’s original photography here:
www.martinbenjamin.com


Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
IF you have ever considered buying this book, Now is the time.
The book focuses on Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s iconic 4th album and 1978 concert tour. Read about the live concerts from fans who were there – the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more, this book is a must have. With less than 25 copies left, now is the time to order this collectible book. We are offering savings on Shipping anywhere in the world.
Save Now- Order Here: The Light in Darkness

 

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Bruce Springsteen – Meeting in Detroit 1978

David Levenson

“Those jokers in the front row were so close I thought I’d have to introduce them with the band”.
The quote was from Bruce Springsteen in a review printed in the Detroit Free Press Oct. 5. 1975, the day after I had witnessed the single greatest live event of my life.

Thanks to my job as a ticket taker at the Michigan Palace and my father’s insistence that we see Bruce live, we ended up as one of the lucky few sitting in that front row. From the moment Bruce literally flung himself into the audience and on top of my father, I was hooked. Thirty-seven years and more than thirty shows later, I’m still hooked.

Bruce_Springsteen_Painting.jpg

Original 1978 Bruce Springsteen Painting by David Levenson

I had been studying and practicing art since early in high school when I saw Bruce again in February of 1977. Once more in the front row, I decided to shoot some photographs that I could use as reference for a painting. My earlier works had been encouraging, and in fact I had already sold six portraits to the rock-soul group WAR who I had been a fan of since 1973. Not even the fact that one of the members of the group had bounced two checks on me could deter me from a career in art!
The reasons for doing a portrait were obvious to me. Bruce was the one artist-musician who captured everything I thought an artist should be. He was passionate, hard working, dramatic, moral, and topped it off with a tremendous sense of humor.

The ’77 show supplied me with enough good photos to compose my painting of Bruce. I started working on it later that year while attending college at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. I wanted to have it completed by the next time the E Street Band came through town.
The “Darkness on the Edge of Town” tour had begun in May of 1978 and it wad announced that the band would play the Masonic Temple auditorium on September 1. This would be my best opportunity to show Bruce my work. After phoning around, I finally located the bands hotel, the Renaissance Centre, along Detroit’s waterfront.

On the day of the concert I went to my parents’ home to borrow their car so that I could transport the large painting to the hotel. My dad took one look at the clothes I was wearing, raggedy jeans and a paint stained shirt, and demanded that I put on something nice if I expected to meet Bruce Springsteen. My protests unheeded, I relented and ended up wearing a pair of dress paints and a freshly pressed shirt.

It was late afternoon by the time my friend Leo Yassy arrived to help me get the painting to the hotel. The crate I had constructed for transport was over 65″ long and stuck halfway out of the trunk. As we pulled into the hotel parking space another auto backing out rear-ended my dad’s car, smashing the crate in the process. Leo screamed at the driver of the other car while I stood by in shock, staring at the mangled crate imagining the damage inside to my painting. However, my fears were groundless because luckily, the painting was unharmed.

We finally hauled the 75lb. crate into the hotel lobby and word spread rapidly that there was a great Springsteen painting waiting for the “Boss” to see. One by one, members of the band and crew filed down to the lobby to get ready to depart for the nights show. They each shook my hand and told me how much they liked my painting.

Bruce and Jon Landau were the last to come down to the lobby. I was sure that by that time they had heard I was there with my painting. As Bruce finally arrived in the lobby, he could see the painting propped up against the wall as he approached.

“How come you’re so dressed up,” he asked as he shook my hand. I could only laugh to myself.
We talked for a short time and he told me how good he thought my painting was. He asked if I was coming to the show that night and I informed him that I had been unable to get tickets. Bruce immediately responded, “Don’t worry about that”.

Note-From-Jon-Landau

Note From Jon Landau

Jon Landau approached me as Bruce and I were finishing our conversation and asked me if I was selling the piece and, if so, for how much. I had not been prepared for this question. Without time to think, I responded,” $500.” Landau said he would need time to think about it. He told me that he would leave me four tickets at the box office for the nights show. At that time I was to come around to the side of the stage to see if he would be interested in purchasing the work. I was walking on air.
I phoned two more friends to meet me at the Masonic Temple for the concert. When I arrived at the box office, my tickets were waiting along with a note from Jon Landau informing me that they were not interested in purchasing the painting, but Bruce and he greatly appreciated my showing it to them.
The seats and the show were fantastic. I was feeling great about the whole experience. One of the roadies who had been at the hotel saw me at the show and told me that Bruce never buys artwork of himself. That eased my disappointment.

Three months later I entered the painting titled “Religious Rock” in an art show at the Detroit Artists Market. Within days Stuart Eisenberg, an attorney and Bruce Springsteen devotee, purchased the painting. It was my first painting sold out of an art gallery.

Having lived in Chicago now since 1980 I occasionally find myself coming back to Bruce as a subject matter for my work.

Hopefully with each new canvas I have captured another facet of what Bruce Springsteen has meant to me.

Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
IF you have ever considered buying this book, Now is the time.
The book focuses on Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce’s iconic 4th album
and 1978 tour. Jam packed with over 100 fan stories and 200 original classic
photos from the 1978 tour, including a full 16 pages dedicated to the 1978 Cleveland
Agora concert, this book is a must have.
With less than 35 copies left, now is the time to order this collectible book.
And to sweeten the offer, we are offering savings on Shipping anywhere in the
world. The perfect gift for the Springsteen fan in your life.
Save Now- Order Your Copy Here: The Light in Darkness

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Bruce Springsteen New York, New York 1978

Darkness on the Edge of Town: A Concert Revisited

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

Your admission to this story is a ticket to a time machine. If you’re a latter-day Bruce Springsteen fan who became an aficionado of the man’s music and live shows in the decades following the ‘Darkness’ tour and you think you have an idea of what one of his live shows is like, sit back: you’re about to discover the exciting truth. If you were there in ’78, you are about to be transported back to a brief moment in time.

The ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ Tour: “History is Made at Night”… That was then. This is now.

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

Sound engineer Bruce Jackson during sound check.

SOUNDCHECK – Do you hear what I hear?

Much has been made on recent tours about the varying quality of sound at Springsteen concerts from venue to venue, and sometimes within the same venue in different locations. The ‘Darkness’ tour was distinguished for the now-legendary two-plus hour sound checks, where Springsteen himself would tour the arena while the E Street Band played in order to judge the sound. Much of this practice was no doubt a vestige of his initial reluctance to play hockey arena-sized venues in light of his audience intimacy and sound concerns, but in truth, the sound on that tour was great – it had to be, as the spoken song intros and stories played a major role in that tour’s message. You had to be able to understand what was being said.

OPENING ACT - Getting in the Door.

We all know the progression of ticket acquisition. Some of us remember Ticketron, sleeping out on the sidewalk the night before an on sale date, box office lines, then the advent of jammed phone lines, onsite venue scalper transactions, and, ultimately, internet sales. In 1978, you found out about a Springsteen appearance through your local FM radio station. You had no idea where the tour was the week before, or the week after your show. Tickets for the August 1978 shows at Madison Square Garden were made available via lottery by clipping a coupon in an ad that appeared in the New York Times Arts and Leisure section in late June. The coupon was mailed and you crossed your fingers that you would win the jackpot. Three weeks later two tickets arrived in the 8th row, Clarence’s side of the stage, for night two of the three show stand. Yes, things were different back then.

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

THE FANS - Same cast, different demographic.

A stateside Springsteen show these days probably has a median age of about 38, with half the audience above, and half below that age. In 1978, the median age was about half that. Looking around a Springsteen concert in 1978, you saw an audience of people ranging from about 16, to about 28 years of age. There were the “veterans”, and by “veterans”, you’re talking about people who went back as far as the Upstage Club, and instant converts, in many cases people who had been dragged to the show by someone who had already seen the light. The conversation in that era used to go something like this: “Do you like Bruce Springsteen?” “No, not really.” “Have you ever seen him live?” Nowadays you’ll hear someone at a show wax poetic about the ‘River’ tour, and it’s a true oracle moment for a younger fan. I’ll never forget a conversation I heard during intermission at the Garden in ’78. It was between two guys who were comparing notes from the Upstage Club and the Student Prince in Asbury Park, back when Springsteen was essentially a guitar slinger sitting in with jam bands. To put it in perspective, ten summers ago we were all at the Meadowlands for the reunion tour shows. “Ten summers ago” in 1978 put you on the Jersey shore in 1968 in the era of the Bruce Springsteen Band, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, and Steel Mill.

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

THE FIRST SET - Just waitin’ to get blown away.

The best way to describe what you felt when the band walked out onto the boards and ripped into the opening number (whether it was ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘High School Confidential’, or ‘Badlands’) is to harken back to the old Maxell tape ads, where the guy puts a Maxell tape into his stereo and the sound that comes out of the speakers blows his hair and his scarf back, and sends his drink skidding across the table through the sheer force and power of its volume and energy. Much has been written and said over the years about the sense of desperation and emotion driving Springsteen on that tour – it’s all true, and then some. Trying to explain it can sometimes seem as daunting a prospect as the challenge put forth by John Sebastian in the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic?” in that “It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.” Bruce and the E Street Band, compared to now, played fast. And they played loud. Not “The Who loud”, but loud enough to trash your ears for a day after the show, regardless of your rock show-going experience. The opening set was heavy on ‘Darkness’ album material, and the songs were augmented, enhanced, and accessorized in a way that doesn’t happen these days. The organ/piano intro to the title track, the extended harmonica/piano intro to ‘Promised Land’, the now-legendary piano/guitar intro to ‘Prove It All Night’, the extended piano coda to ‘Racing in the Street’, the ‘Not Fade Away’/'Mona’/'Gloria’ lead-in to ‘She’s the One’, along with the instrumental break in the middle of it – these flourishes made the songs even more special, and these types of reworkings are not seen much anymore. By the time ‘Jungleland’ closed the first set, some first-timers in the crowd thought the show was over, such was the quality and quantity of what was delivered in the opening set.

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

THE SECOND SET - Are you ready for round two?

About ten songs long, the second set usually included “story time” in the midst of ‘Growin’ Up’, where we would learn that Springsteen was once a teenage werewolf, had contact with aliens, and as the product of a Catholic school upbringing, got to meet God himself in choosing a vocation, where he was told to “Let it Rock!” by the Big Skipper on a Clarence-organized trip to heaven. Second sets often opened with the unreleased instrumental gem ‘Paradise by the C’, and, later in the tour, with another as-yet unreleased song, ‘The Ties that Bind’. This, in and of itself, is illustrative, that Springsteen would play songs with which the audience was unfamiliar, including Springsteen-penned songs like ‘Fire’ and ‘Because the Night’, which became show staples and highlights even though they were associated with other artists. By the time ‘Rosalita’ closed the second set, and you’d screamed yourself hoarse during the band intros, you were wondering if you had anything left for the encores.

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

THE ENCORES – Don’t make me have to hurt you!

The encores are really the third set, and by the time the show proper ended with ‘Rosalita’, it was hard to imagine that the energy could be taken to another level. It was, of course…the usual midsummer encore was ‘Born to Run’ (with a heartfelt “thank you to the fans for sticking with the band during the tough times”), ‘Because the Night’, and ‘Quarter to Three’ (those were the three encore songs for the three night stand at Madison Square Garden). The ‘Detroit Medley’ would work its way into the rotation for the fall, along with an occasional ‘Raise Your Hand’ or ‘Twist and Shout’. The feeling as you left the building was one of utter exhaustion. You had nothing left as a fan, and it almost seemed as if Springsteen was on a mission to outlast you, to prove that he had more energy than the collective reservoir of the assembled mass. If the first set was your apps and the second set was your main course, the encores were dessert. The arc of the show was no accident, and by its end it had peaked, leaving people high-fiving each other on the way out, “Broocing” themselves in the street, and literally sharing in a communal celebration of what they had just witnessed.

Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, New York 1978

THE RIDE HOME - Can you believe that leap he made from the speakers?

The ‘Darkness’ era had no online chat rooms, instantaneous set list dissemination, or Internet vehicles upon which to discuss Springsteen’s music or career. Your ride home was your debrief, and in that ride home, one of the major topics of discussion was the physicality of a Springsteen show. He was on top of the piano during the ‘Thunder Road’ outro before stage-sliding into Clarence. He was ten rows deep into the audience during ‘Spirit in the Night’. He was on top of the speakers, on top of the drum kit, and careening across the stage during the encore ‘Quarter to Three’ or ‘Detroit Medley’. His leaps at the end of songs could be measured by their verticality. In short, he was a force of nature, with energy emanating from his very being as if he were supercharged by lightning. Springsteen had been away for three years, and in that primitive media era, he may as well have been on the dark side of the moon. The sense of desperation, release, exhilaration, and resurrection engendered by the album’s release and its subsequent tour were once-in-a-lifetime occurrences for the man and his fans, and comprised a 7-plus month moment in time never to be repeated.

Anthony Fischetti, New York

Celebrate the Holiday Season with Bruce Springsteen.
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!
A perfect gift for the holidays.
Click Here to Order Now: The Light in Darkness

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The 1978 Radio Broadcasts of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness Tour

In modern popular culture, you know you’ve “made it” when you can be referred to by just your first name and it is assumed it is yours they’re talking about.  In the 70s, there was Farrah and Mick.  In the 80s, it was Michael, Ronnie, and Bruce.  Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen Britney, Paris, and Tiger.

Bruce Springsteen has played over a thousand shows over the last four decades, nearly all of which will live forever in the hearts and memories of the fans who were there, as those nights have been to known to change, or even save lives.  As fans talk about those shows, shows are referred to in a multitude of ways, such as by their date (“That July 18, 2003, show had a phenomenal encore”), their placement within a lengthy stand (“I thought the last night of the Los Angeles shows in ‘81 was better than the first”), by the venue and year (“The best version of ‘Incident’ ever was the Main Point ‘75”), or just by the city and tour (“That Detroit Darkness show had some cool chestnuts in the set list”).

However, there are a handful of shows that are so well-known and legendary that they are referred to simply by one name:  Agora, Passaic, and Winterland.  These shows have become part of a Springsteen fan’s vernacular and used as a point of reference when discussing just about every aspect of Bruce’s career.

To make sure we’re all on the same page:
1. Agora: The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, OH, August 9, 1978
2. Passaic: Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ, September 19, 1978
3. Winterland: The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA, December 15, 1978

springsteen capitol poster

In addition to all being from the same tour, the legendary Darkness on the Edge of Town tour of 1978, they were also broadcast live on the radio.  And they weren’t broadcast just in the city of origin, but throughout the surrounding areas — the Agora show was heard throughout the Mid-west; Passiac was heard up and down the Northeast, and Winterland was broadcast in Northern California up through Seattle, Washington — all areas that had supported Bruce in the first five years of his recording career, including the extended time between the Born to Run album and its 1978 follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Bruce Springsteen ROXY tickets

There were two other radio broadcasts in 1978:  July 7 from the Roxy in Los Angeles, CA, and September 30 from the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA.

However, the Roxy didn’t receive its proper due because it was never properly represented on a vinyl bootleg, but the bootleg CD is considered one of the best around; and the Southeast United States was hit by a wave of thunderstorms on the night of September 30 that caused interference in the radio reception.

FOX theatre poster

And what has became evident is that more than just a handful of the thousands of listeners at home were recording the broadcasts to be listened to over and over again.  It didn’t matter if the recording was made using expensive, state-of-the-art stereo equipment or by holding a Radio Shack cassette player up to the speakers of a transistor radio, those tapes were treated like gold by many of those home-tapers.  There have been countless stories posted to various online Springsteen forums over the years of how people played those tapes until they literally disintegrated.

But not everyone rolling tape on each of the broadcasts were doing so for completely altruistic purposes.  Within months, vinyl copies of each broadcast were available for purchase at independent record stores and mail order outlets that advertised in the classified section of Goldmine magazine and similar publications.  This development enabled even more fans to hear these amazing shows in the same outstanding quality — give or take some vinyl degradation — as they originally aired, which was quite a change from most bootlegs at the time.  We’ll pass on the ethical discussion concerning these non-sanctioned releases at this time, though.

Over time, the titles given these original vinyl pressings quickly became part of the Springsteen discussion.  The Cleveland, OH, show from August 9 was released with the title, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”; the September 19 show in Passaic, NJ, “Piece de Resistance”; and December 15 from San Francisco “Live in the Promised Land.”  Some fans didn’t know the dates of the shows, but just the title of the vinyl bootleg.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that the first bootleg CD releases of these shows in the early 1990s carried the same title.

WMMS Poster

In addition to the great sound on those vinyl bootlegs, the packaging of those releases bordered on professional quality.  Each was released in a cardboard box, much like the one in which “Live 75-85” was initially released, with cover graphics that, while not fancy, were certainly beyond the black and white inserts included with many bootlegs of the time.  And “Live in the Promised Land” featured a small poster featuring a photo of Bruce and Clarence taken at the actual show.

Between the excellent sound quality and the solid-if-unspectacular packaging, these vinyl bootlegs became the unofficial and de facto Springsteen live albums, and remained as such until “Live 75-85” was released in late 1986.  And as live albums go, you really couldn’t do much better than those releases; the 1978 tour was Bruce at his most intense, emotionally baring all each night, and then releasing all that angst in a ten-minute version of “Quarter to Three” that neither Bruce nor the crowd wanted to end.  And the recordings of those shows, whether they were on vinyl or cassette (or, later, CD), were treasured like the Holy Grail.

While most items treated like gold are put away in a safe place, the tapes of those shows were played repeatedly, until the songs and, more humorously, the between-song banter had became burned into the collective memory of Springsteen fans worldwide, even if each fan was listening separately.  That shared, but separate, listening experience has become a bond for Bruce fans over the years; who else would know about Dominic, Eddie, and Matty, to each of whom Bruce dedicated a song during the Passaic show, or that vomiting in your girl’s purse was allowed during “Sherry Darling” in Cleveland, or that Bruce revealed himself to be a private detective during the December 15 broadcast and was searching for the girl who jilted him after they ran away together?  And, of course, there’s Kid Leo’s intro from the Agora:  “Round for round, pound for pound, there ain’t no finer band around,” a description of the band that described them in 1978 and still describes them today.

Then, of course, there are the songs, many of them in their definitive arrangement: the surging start to “Badlands,” the slow harmonica intro to “The Promised Land,” Danny’s sad but beautiful organ before the band kicked into “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and, of course, the extended piano and guitar jam that segued into “Prove It All Night.”  The album may have been nearly perfect, but Bruce improved upon them on-stage, and it’s those live ‘78 performances from the radio broadcasts that many fans hear when they play those songs in their heads.  Even songs unreleased by Bruce at the time — “Fire,” “Because the Night,” and “The Fever” — were performed in what easily could have been their definitive arrangements.

For many fans, these songs weren’t just the definitive versions or their favorite versions of the songs, they were The Songs.  The songs just didn’t sound “right” when heard from any other source, including the album and subsequent live performances.  Hearing “The Ties That Bind” when the piano after the opening drum beats was replaced by guitar was jarring; if the fading music of “Racing in the Street” didn’t include Bruce talking about driving in the dessert and an old Robert Mitchum film before segueing into “Thunder Road,” something was missing; and if “Streets of Fire” opened with anything other than that searing guitar solo as played in Passaic, well, then, the world was just off-kilter.

One particular trait of Springsteen fans is their evangelical desire to spread the Gospel of Bruce, and the tapes of those shows were always Exhibit A when a non-believer was met.  We could safely speculate that thousands of copies of those radio broadcasts were made in dorm rooms or basements in the months and years after the original broadcast dates.  Now whether or not Passiac, Agora, or Winterland converted thousands of non-believers into Bruce Tramps is another story, but it is hard to imagine that no further copies of those tapes were made.

Or maybe it’s not another story as to whether those copied tapes converted fans.  Less than a year after the Darkness tour ended, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were added to the already-lengthy list of performers at the Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and what had been shaping up to be the bastard cousin of Woodstock turned into Bruce’s coming out party to the rock world.  The media attention generated by Bruce’s participation far out-weighed what the shows had been receiving when the Doobie Brothers and Crosby, Stills, and Nash were the headliners.  Bruce and the E Street Band played two of the five nights, with the “Bruuucing!” from the audience leaving both Chaka Khan and Bonnie Raitt wishing his mother had named him something else.  Of course, 13 months prior to the MUSE shows, Bruce sold out three nights at the same venue by himself, but things were clearly on a different level when Bruce was the media focus of the multi-artist bill.  The resulting live album and concert film from MUSE also contributed heavily to Bruce’s popularity growth prior to the release of his fifth album, but the momentum from the Darkness tour, and the radio broadcasts, put him squarely in the position to explode.

And explode he did.  Through his first four albums, Bruce’s highest position on Billboard’s singles charts with one of his own songs (the Pointer Sisters hit the Top Ten with “Fire” and Patti Smith hit the Top 20 with “Because the Night”) was 23 (with the “Born to Run” single) although both the Born to Run and Darkness LPs peaked in the Top Ten on the album charts.  However, in the fall of 1980, the lead single from “The River” album, “Hungry Heart,” hit the Top Ten on the singles charts, the first of nearly a dozen times that would happen over the ensuing decade.

Winterland

From a touring standpoint, the explosion was even bigger.  Most of the 1978 tour was spent in mid-sized arenas and theatres, only playing the major arenas on the East Coast.  However, the 1980 tour was booked in major arenas nearly all across the country, often multiple nights.  In May 1978, Bruce played three nights at the Boston Music Hall, but in December 1980, he played two nights at the Boston Garden.  He played two nights in Pittsburgh at the end of the 1978 jaunt at the Stanley Theatre, and he played two more nights there in 1980, but at the Civic Center, the same place the professional hockey team called home.

In the 32+ years since the Darkness tour, several generations of Springsteen fans have discovered the world of “fan-based recordings” through one path or another.  If the fan has already seen a live Bruce show, their first show to track down is the one(s) they’ve seen, but next on the list are the 1978 radio broadcasts, with the stellar sound quality and amazing performances.  And when a fan, especially one just discovering Bruce’s music, hears the “Prove It All Night” with the long guitar intro or experiences (there’s really no other way to describe it, even through “just” a recording) the emotionally raw “Backstreets” interlude for the first time, they’re hooked.  It’s not difficult to see why these particular shows — the Agora, Passaic, and Winterland — have played such a huge role in the Springsteen fan community.

While we’ll never be able to quantify how much of a role those radio broadcasts had in the wave momentum that took Bruce from Northeast Cult Artist to Top Ten Rocker, it’s a component that certainly cannot be ignored.

Flynn Mclean

Discover the limited edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light in Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 30 copies remain.
A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there – the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!
Click Here to Save on Shipping and Order Now:
The Light in Darkness

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Proving It Every Night

It was in high school in the early 1990s. A friend of mine and I had pooled our resources and bought an interesting import CD at a local record show in the Florida panhandle. It was called Smalltown Boy and it featured the kind of performance that seemed to go against everything I knew about Bruce Springsteen, which was admittedly very little. I had only recently started to listen to his studio albums, borrowing them from my friend’s older brothers who got them from the Columbia Music Club. Needless to say, this album was different than anything I had heard so far. First of all, I only recognized the names of about half of the songs listed. Secondly, there was an immediacy to these performances on the disc that brought you right into the venue, a seemingly small club that might be just around the corner. But it wasn’t; it was in a strange place called Bryn Mawr, which for all I knew was a small Welsh community. The fact that there were a few audio distortions in the recording made the sound seem even better, like tasting a bit of salt in between licks of an ice cream cone. It really emphasized how live and real it was. And then there were the stories, the asides and the songs I’d never heard before. This was our own little treasure, our forbidden fruit, and a secret Bruce Springsteen that was miles away from the flag-waving muscleman that most of my friends associated him with. The person I heard on this CD was greasy and funky, had friends with funny names, told stories about ducks and metal flake upholstery, sang for his girlfriend’s sister and had the coolest band introductions I’d ever heard in my life.

Bruce Springsteen Smalltown Boy

This left me in a daze. How could this live performance be so different than Bruce’s public persona? It was so odd, so grungy and so wonderful. How did the guy that did that forced looking “Dancing in the Dark” video do this as well? I didn’t have an answer, but another question did arise. What else was in this unknown world of Bruce Springsteen waiting to be discovered?

Record shows were few and far between in our region, but I noticed that there were a few interesting advertisements in the Record Collector magazines that I saw on the shelves in the local bookstore. They tantalizingly listed more of these recordings. That first one had whet our appetite and now were we were ready for more. The first problem was money. We were merely high school kids and these were expensive, generally twice as much as any normal CD in the mall. On top of that, there were so many listed, how would we know which ones we should take a chance on? They seemed to be from all different eras and sources. I had heard rumors of bad recordings and short discs and we really didn’t want to waste our money when they cost so much.

Bruce Springsteen Smalltown Boy back

But this only made us want them more, it added to the quest, the exclusivity of it made us drool in anticipation as we started the search for treasure among the trash, a big monetary risk for an unknown reward. To the rescue came a borrowed copy of “You Better Not Touch,” a guide to these recordings that was featured in Backstreets Magazine. We carefully sifted through those pages, making notes and eventually choosing a few of them to hopefully buy. Hopefully, I say, because the process was a little bit intimidating. These were sold by overseas merchants, and it involved going to the post office to get an international money order, sending a ridiculous amount of money to a stranger and hoping for a response.

Once the money was in the mail, there was nothing to do but wait. There was no guarantee that we’d ever receive anything back. It was like a big black hole that you threw money into, and for some inexplicable reason, expected to receive CDs from in return. It sounded like a scam, but we were hooked on the first one, so we sent off our order. Truly, the waiting was the hardest part. Each day you would wonder if the mailman had stopped by yet, hoping there was a package with exotic looking postage on it.

And one day, there was!

It was part of a larger order, with other eager students in class getting discs of their own favorite bands. My friend had chosen Live In The Promised Land and I went for Pièce de Résistance. We took them home and listened.

Bruce Springsteen Live in the Promised Land

I think we both knew very quickly that things had just moved to another level. This was no longer a funky cat telling funny stories and playing lovable rave-ups. This was a guy that was playing the greatest rock and roll that I had ever heard. It wasn’t just that he was playing the songs from his latest LP in front of an audience, but he was playing songs off of an incredible album, supercharging them to a state that seemed to send the whole audience (and this listener) into the stratosphere.

It starts with those 10 songs off Darkness on the Edge of Town. This album describes to me what it’s like to mature into an adult; it reassures that being a man isn’t about machismo; it explains that there are principles that people have, which they must stand up for. It’s about knowing that this is a cruel place to be, but that there’s a way through it, even if it’s not going to be pleasant.

When Bruce made this album, he was letting us know that he knew one of the secrets of the world. When he toured behind it in 1978, he let us know what that secret was. And what I heard was an explosion of rock and roll. It was filled with fury and passion, with parts of pure joy and goofiness. The songs from the album were performed in a way that wouldn’t be possible again. He was living these songs every night on stage and more importantly, off it, not looking back at them as he does today and channeling the hungry person he was when he wrote them.

When he sang back then, he hadn’t yet made it through the badlands, so everything took on a more desperate tone. To me, these are the most powerful versions of the Darkness on the Edge of Town songs, embellished from the album, with searing guitars and sweaty sax, with grunts, yelps, screeches and screams. All of this was the basis of the show, these already incredible songs being done in a way that spoke right to your soul, that showed someone looking for what you were looking for, struggling to find it, and knowing that the struggle is part of the answer.

Bruce Springsteen Piece De Resistance

From the first cut off the first disc, “Badlands,” the band charged with such incredible energy. Bruce is either singing or something is escaping from deep inside, I can’t really tell. The song ends with a scream, not something gratuitous, but a necessary exhortation, where nothing in the English language would do. It should be said that there is nobody that can do this like Bruce, growling out conviction and excitement with nary a word.

Then comes a great moment as the wind down of the first song melds straight into the ferocious guitar of “Streets of Fire.” You’ve just walked through a one-way door. It’s like you’ve only ever driven a golf cart before, and now you’re in a hotrod. The gas pedal has been pushed and all you feel is the acceleration in your back. It’s scary and it’s powerful, and you want to feel it again. These concerts seemed to be filled with these specials moments that make you just shake your head at how spot-on they are. This is how rock and roll should be.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is all its title suggests, but with more, with a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s bad now and it’s going to stay that way for a while, but it can change. The final “HUUHH,” is absolutely visceral and it can’t be any other way. It’s Darkness on the Edge of Town; there are no other words that need to be said, just a knowing nod is enough.

Bruce slaved over these lyrics, getting exactly the phrasing and images he wanted, so there’s nothing I can say about them except that they hit me right in the gut. They’re primordial and they say things that I always knew, but couldn’t express. The brilliance of the writing comes to the forefront, the nuance, what is said and left unsaid, what he tells you and what work is left for you, it is all expertly crafted.

It cannot be emphasized enough: The Darkness album is not the same without the Darkness Tour, and the tour couldn’t have been what it was without those amazingly written songs. And it’s not just those lyrics, but also the way they are sung. The reason a great song becomes a great performance is the way the singer communicates the message to you. The audience has to believe what they’re hearing. It can’t sound fake or made up and it can’t sound contrived or phony. It has to be authentic, and that’s the only way Bruce knows how to be. There’s no question that he is living these songs and that he’s singing from his own experience. We’re back to the music, and after asking the crowd for the latest baseball score, he then moves on to “The Promised Land,” with its harmonica, and he has hit upon something special.

And then the big one, the one everybody talks about. The one that tears your eardrums in half while you want to turn the volume up even higher. It’s “Prove It All Night,” and the way it was performed in 1978 was like nothing ever before or since. If you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it.

There’s a big debate amongst fans about which one is the best, as it was played a little differently every night. There’s no wrong answer here, but for me, my favorite is from the Winterland show. It never stops. It never stumbles. It sways back and forth perfectly. It pierces your head. And unlike the way other shows from that tour were captured, the guitar is way up front in the mix, slicing away and not buried in with the rest of the band. There’s a point where it sounds like he puts the guitar right in your face. It sounds ludicrous but it’s true. And then another one of those moments comes. Just as the intro fades into the song, the audio is full of distortion; it’s too loud. It cannot be contained by the recording medium as the madness of the intro turns into the song we thought we knew. It’s like you slipped under water and you’re drowning for just a moment, and then your head pops back up and you gasp for air. If this were ever released officially, I would never want that moment to be cleaned up.

The first break comes and it’s: huh, Huh, HUUUUH! Let’s go! I can’t express how marvelously those five syllables come out. Clarence blares out the solo, then Bruce turns on his chainsaw for a quick burst of pure energy. How can anyone sit in their seat and listen to this? I feel nothing but raw adrenaline and this is years after the fact. What were those poor souls who were in the building feeling? How did they cope? How did they process what they were hearing and seeing? Bruce roars through the last verse and then melts more faces with the outro solo and Danny’s organ. It’s hard just to put into context; it’s so off the charts for me. All of this and we’re still in the first set of the show. The amazing “Racing in the Street” comes next, the Geronimo story and then “Thunder Road.” It’s moving enough that you understand why Bruce kisses Clarence right smack on the lips. It can’t be explained and it doesn’t need to be because it’s all right there, aural evidence that you’re experiencing something significant disguised as a rock concert.

Later I expanded with the shows from the Roxy and the Agora, each having their own different brilliant moments, those moments. With the opening drums and guitar of “Summertime Blues” at the Agora, it sounded like the band is sitting right in the room in front of you. The story of “Growin’ Up” showed the full cosmic irreverence of the band. With the Roxy, it’s the cocksure attitude of “Rave On” opening the show, the off-the-cuff “Heartbreak Hotel” and the lovable “Paradise By The C” that dares you not to shake your butt, contrasted with a heavy “Adam Raised a Cain” and the jungle-like “Mona/She’s the One.” And “Backstreets,” every time there was “Backstreets.” The emotional build up and release. You couldn’t just play that song at any arbitrary time, you had to be ready for it, you had to know you could make it through, because this wasn’t any bubblegum pop song playing in the background on the radio. This was a monumental piece of drama, ready to draw tears from your eyes and make you feign you had something caught in your throat. Fortunately you know that “Rosalita,” “The Detroit Medley” and “Quarter to Three” were likely not far behind, ready to give relief.

You’d think that it can’t get much better than this, but it does, because then came the video. I can’t actually remember how this came to be in our hands. After memorizing these broadcasts, seeing what was happening was like a blind man opening his eyes for the first time. I remember seeing the joy on Bruce’s face with Clarence hanging over shoulder, the happiness that can’t be contained as he rambles through “Sweet Little Sixteen” or busts out the opening solo. The unbounded charisma and the nose picking. You can’t teach this stuff. Bruce is all over the stage. It’s like those dynamic 15 minutes from the No Nukes movie, but for three hours. Someone throws a Duke St. (Kings) hat and Bruce catches it mid-step while on top of a huge stack of speakers and wears it around. I mean, who is this guy?

This is a taste of why Darkness on the Edge of Town album and tour resonates so much with me. I write this as someone who was late to the party, who wasn’t there, and who heard all of this secondhand and in diluted form. And it still knocks my socks off every time. The incredibly moving and relatable songs that were whittled down to a dangerous blade. The powerhouse versions. The levity of the covers. The long shows and the unreleased songs. The stories, both ridiculously campy and honest, and the manic, heart-stopping endings. I can only imagine what it would have been like in person.

There was an order of CDs that disappeared into a black hole, that we never received back in our high school days. I never worried about it though; as after we got those first two records, I knew we had already gotten more than our money’s worth.

Josh Auzins

Celebrate the Holiday Season with Bruce Springsteen.
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!
A perfect gift for the holidays.
Click Here to Order Now: The Light in Darkness

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Libro Bruce Springsteen

Libro The Light in Darkness
208 páginas, papel alta calidad, más de 200 fotos. Edición limitada.
El autor del excelente libro “For You”, donde recopilaba cientos de historias contadas por fans de Springsteen junto a cientos de fantásticas fotos inéditas, ha vuelto a repetir, sólo que ahora superando el listón. Su libro está ahora totalmente dedicado a la gira de 1978, de álbum Darkness on the Edge of Town, probablemente la mejor gira de Springsteen y de la historia del rock.
Para esta ocasión Lawrence Kirsch ha compilado cientos de fotos inéditas de la gira, de muchos conciertos, junto a las historias más apasionantes contadas por los propios fans que asistieron a esos conciertos y tuvieron la suerte de vivirlo en primera persona. Un libro fascinante que nos transporta a una época memorable y ya irrepetible.
COMPRAR: The Light in Darkness

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Bruce Springsteen – Masonic Temple, Detroit 1978

Mike Curcuru

Bruce_Springsteen2

Bruce Springsteen – Masonic Temple, Detroit 1978

The date was September 1, 1978, and the venue was the Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan. As my two buddies and I grabbed our cameras, our zoom lenses, and film, we had no idea what we were going to experience. My feelings regarding Bruce was mostly laughing at the thought of him being “the next Bob Dylan”.

As we tried to enter the concert hall, we were stopped by the ushers who firmly announced to us “no cameras allowed”. Not willing to give up that easily, we tried a couple different doors, only to be turned away with our cameras there too. One buddy got his camera in, so we put ours back in the car and just brought our film in, thinking we could share the camera.

As the show started, we noticed the crisp, clear sound of the piano, the boom boom of the drums, the powerful sax and noticed the lead guitarist and singer had a flair and distinct personality that we figured out was Bruce. We literally knew nothing about him other than the Born To Run song. We thought the sound was superb, as you could actually hear what he was singing about. After a couple of songs, Bruce announced that a writer for Creem magazine was there to review his performance. Several times during the show Bruce would stop and lean over the first row asking the writer how the show was going. Bruce would repeat the response that it was “pretty good so far”. It was an understatement of huge proportions.

Clarence_Clemons2

Bruce Springsteen – Masonic Temple, Detroit 1978

Listening to Roy’s piano made me fall in love with his style, and Clarence blew the roof off. It began to occur to us that there were some devoted Bruce fans in the building and we could see just about everyone in there knew something we didn’t. It was a great hour when the band gathered at the center of the stage for what appeared to be a short show. When Bruce announced they were going to take a fifteen minute break, we were a little surprised because artists didn’t do that. They usually had an opening act, sometimes two. Most would play about an hour and a half and then have a two or three song encore. Now since we only smuggled one camera inside, we decided the camera owner would get the first half hour or so, I was next and my other buddy had the last half hour. Well, after witnessing the first twenty minutes, the camera owner was reluctant to let us have our chance. There was so much going on it was a photographers dream. Finally, just as the intermission was about to start, the first shooter opened his camera to take out his film. He quickly slammed it shut. He had this look on his face like he realized he had just lost his wallet. He reluctantly told us he had forgotten to rewind his film. When the film was developed, most of the negatives had a big blotch in the middle of the photo. He only got about four or five shots worth keeping. We still laugh about that today.
Now when the band cleared the stage for that intermission, my two buddies and I were stretching and were standing around in the aisle when six guys wearing striped red suit coats raced by bumping me and went into the sound booth. After the fifteen or twenty minute break, the lights dimmed, and here comes the guys in the striped coats running by us again and jumping on stage. We thought it was kind of cool to have the band run by us. Little did we know it was in fact the E Street Band.

Springsteen_Clarence

Bruce Springsteen – Masonic Temple, Detroit 1978

Now after the intermission we were thinking five or six songs. Wrong. He went on to play another solid two hours covering all the now classic tunes. After the first encore, they came out for a second one. After the second song of the second encore, Bruce seemed to collapse. The band rushes over, Clarence fanning him with a towel, and out rushes a stretcher. We thought he had passed out. Suddenly, you see Bruces’ head rise from the stretcher, and he had this look of determination as he surveyed the crowd. The band started to urge Bruce to get up, and slowly he started to sit up. The crowd started to roar, getting louder and louder. About now, I realized it was part of the act, and Bruce was milking it until the applause was a thunderous roar. He struggled to his feet, and the band jumped into song right where they had left off when he collapsed.

Springsteen_Darknesss2

Bruce Springsteen – Masonic Temple, Detroit 1978

Now that there is video out there from the 1978 tour, we all know what songs he played. Although we didn’t know it was special at the time, he played Chimes of Freedom that night for the first and only time until the Amnesty Tour

I remember after the show, as we got outside, I turned to these guys and asked the question…”where has this guy been all my life?” The piano, the wailing guitar, the length of the show, the crowd, the ending with a stretcher all left memories I will never forget. I was hooked, and right away we started talking about calling in sick at work and going to see Bruce in Saginaw, Michigan the next night, an hour and a half drive from where we lived. I can’t remember why we didn’t go, but knowing what was played that next night, I sure wish I had gone.

For those interested, I shot with a 35mm camera, and 250mm lens at 1/60 speed with the lowest f-stop and mainly wait until the spotlight was at its brightest. I did get a lot of blurry shots, but when you nailed it, you got great color. These shows in 1978 were also my learning years, and the later tours with Bruce are better quality. You can see some of my original photos as part of this story. I have over twenty Bruce shows that I took photos at from all sections of the arena. Some of my best shots have been taken behind the stage. As a concert photographer, I try to capture the excitement and thru the photos, try to let the viewer see and feel the moment.

Celebrate the Holiday Season with Bruce Springsteen.
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!
A perfect gift for the holidays.
Click Here to Order Now: The Light in Darkness

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Legends of Springsteen: Darkness Book Review

Many thanks for this great book review. You can read the whole review here: Legends of Springsteen

Part coffee table book and part rock ‘n’ roll history saga, “The Light in Darkness” contains a collection of personal essays and photos from the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. Meticulously compiled by Lawrence Kirsch, the words and images paint a picture of the profound effect Darkness on the Edge of Town had – both on Springsteen’s career and the fans that connected with it.

In the wake of the lawsuit between Bruce and former manager Mike Appel that kept Bruce out of the recording studio for several years, Springsteen and The E Street Band released Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978. The album’s reputation is quickly becoming cemented as Bruce’s most challenging but richest album. In addition to its own merit, Darkness’ status has been aided by compelling textual and visual supplements that have bolstered its reputation. If you weren’t sold on Darkness before, reading the first-hand accounts lovingly compiled in “The Light in Darkness” will certainly have you revisiting the album.

Celebrate the Holiday Season with Bruce Springsteen.
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!
A perfect gift for the holidays.
Click Here to Order Now: The Light in Darkness<

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Bruce Springsteen — The Promise

Adam Perry

As a kid, all I knew of Bruce Springsteen was that my yuppie aunt and uncle loved the Boss and Jimmy Buffett equally, so naturally I equated “Born to Run” with utter bullshit like “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” But now, with big-time indie bands such as Arcade Fire and Dr. Dog unabashedly wearing their substantial Springsteen influence like a badge of honor, it’s well past time to admit that Jersey’s arena-rocker laureate has written and recorded many, many amazing songs. The stripped-down Dylan-meets-Kerouac 1978 LP Darkness On the Edge of Town is one of Springsteen’s best, and The Promise boasts two discs of previously unreleased material from the Darkness sessions, including an improved “Racing in the Street” and Springsteen’s own take on “Because the Night.”

Springsteen Fall Tour 2012 Book Sale!
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!
A perfect gift for the holidays.
Click Here to Order Now: The Light in Darkness

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Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band-The Promise NYC 78, Springsteen Explores a Time of Darkness

Elysa Gardner : USA Today

The Promise, the Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

NEW YORK — Bruce Springsteen still writes songs the old-fashioned way. Which is to say The Boss keeps his initial creative process low-tech.”I’ve got this big fat notebook,” he says, holding his hands out for emphasis and flashing a distinctly self-deprecating grin. “It’s the same kind I’ve always used, with everything written in longhand.”In the documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which makes its debut Thursday on HBO (9 p.m. ET/PT), black-and-white footage shows a 27-year-old Springsteen leafing through such a notebook while working on Darkness on the Edge of Town, the 1978 album that cemented his reputation as a great American troubadour. A three-CD, three-DVD box set including the film, features an 80-page simulation, complete with facsimiles of his scribbled lyrics, song ideas and recording and personal notes from that era.Its blue cover suggests an item favored by schoolchildren since long before the Information Age. “My new notebook looks just like that,” he confirms. “Maybe the color’s different, but that’s all.”Perhaps that’s fitting, given the 61-year-old rock icon’s response to watching himself and his longtime collaborators in the E Street Band as young men in director Thom Zimny’s film. It premiered to wide acclaim in September at the Toronto Film Festival.“A lot has changed, and yet not very much has,” Springsteen says, looking fit and relaxed in a plaid shirt and jeans as he chats in a Midtown hotel room. “We all know a lot more about what we’re doing now, which is good, because we were truly amateurs at the time. But the same intensity remains about making music — the idea that it should matter, that it should be worth thinking hard about.”

HBO_the-Promise_.jpgA turning point

Indeed, The Promise— which juggles footage of rehearsals, studio sessions and performances from 1976 to 1978 with new interviews with Springsteen, E Streeters and other colleagues — traces the recording of Darknessand the hard-won personal and artistic growth marked by the album, Springsteen’s fourth.Darkness was delayed by a lawsuit pitting Springsteen against then-manager Mike Appel, who had co-produced previous albums, including Born to Run, the 1975 epic that made the singer/songwriter a superstar. Appel appears in the documentary, in which he and Springsteen speak about each other without acrimony. Springsteen states that the suit was a bid not for money but for control of his career. (In 1977, freed from contracts with Appel, he hired current manager and Born to Run and Darkness co-producer Jon Landau, a major presence in the film.)

Darkness also was haunted and enriched by Springsteen’s struggle to come to terms with his success and with a growing sense of social awareness. He wrote most of the songs while living on a farm in Holmdel, N.J., not far from the working-class neighborhood where he was raised.

“I became interested in the mystery of my family life, and in its larger social implications,” he says. “Initially you’re not very interested in your parents as people, but in my late 20s, I started to have enough distance to see their story, and I found it compelling and provocative.”

The plaintive song Factory, for instance, was inspired by Springsteen’s father, who lost his hearing after working amid the noise in a plastics plant, as he recounts in the film. “I wanted to delve into the personal and try to connect it to the political, and to write about things that were permanent. Work, family, relationships — generation after generation, those things are the essence of our experience.”

The resulting songs are leaner and grittier than the majestic soundscapes of Born to Run. Though Darkness has sold 3 million copies to date, about half as many as the previous album and only a fraction of the 15 million sold by his 1984 smash, Born in the U.S.A., critics consider it a pivotal work.

Reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, future Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh wrote: “Occasionally, a record appears that changes fundamentally the way we hear rock & roll. … I have no doubt that (Darkness) will someday fit as naturally within that list as the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction or Sly and the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music.”

Time clearly hasn’t diminished the pundits’ enthusiasm. “It’s the record where Bruce grew up,” says Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis. “Born to Run, tremendous as it was, was like a last wail of adolescence, of the romantic agony that you go through as a young person. On Darkness, he takes a hard look at what people’s lives are really like, at who gets opportunities and who doesn’t. There’s no longer that sense that somehow rock ‘n’ roll is going to save everything.”

Springsteen, too, sees Darkness, with its vivid depiction of everyday lives, dreams and disenchantment in now-classic tunes such as Badlands and Racing in the Street, as a transition point. “Some of the big themes I started to write about here, you’ll spot them intermittently on my first three records. But it was really on Darkness and then (1980′s) The River and (1982′s) Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A. that they came to the fore.”

The band wasn’t just trying to make a record, he says, “we were trying to make an essential record. So that if you were interested in rock music, interested in what was at stake in the late ’70s culturally, then you had to deal with this particular piece of music. That became a blueprint for the way we continued to work, and I think that thoughtfulness has resonated over the long haul. The songs are still a vessel for the topics I want to discuss.”

Since his youth, Springsteen has viewed popular music as a “natural freedom promoter. You listened to Elvis’ records or Woody Guthrie’s or Hank Williams’ and suddenly you had more breathing room, more license to be who you wanted to be. I’ve always felt that there were enormous political implications to Elvis’ career. As a very feminized man who crossed racial lines, he was a bit of a precursor to the sexual revolution and the civil rights era — without uttering a political or rhetorical word in any of his songs.”

For Springsteen, the more politically conscious songs on Darkness “haven’t become dated” in the 32 years since its release. “If anything, they’re more relevant right now.” He notes that the album was crafted “during the Carter recession.” The country’s mood has darkened, he acknowledges, since the 2008 presidential campaign, when he supported Barack Obama.

“It’s tough, because when people are out of work, they’re hurt and angry. But we’ve been living through economic troubles for years. One of the biggest issues right now is the disparity in wealth, and that’s been growing through all the boom times. We’ve worked with a lot of food banks over the past 25 years. There are constantly people dropping out of the middle class.”

Spingsteen_Winterland_Racing_.jpg

Still scribbling notes

Of Obama’s performance as president, Springsteen says: “I continue to have great faith in him. There’s that quote that says you campaign in poetry and govern in prose — or you campaign as a visionary and govern as a legislator. Maybe that’s something he suffers from, or something people are struggling with. But I think President Obama is very smart and very steady.”

With The Promise, Springsteen hopes to flesh out his own image, particularly for younger fans who had not seen or heard his work with the E Street Band before the late ’80s. “After I got the band back together again in 1998 or 1999, we did a few tours and made some good records, and I realized that there were a lot of kids coming to the shows. I thought it would be nice to put together a record of what we did at that earlier time.”

For the old faithful, the coming box set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story will include 21 previously unreleased songs, also available on a two-CD set, The Promise. The tunes include Springsteen’s recordings of Because the Night and Fire, respectively hits for Patti Smith and the Pointer Sisters.

“All the tracks except one were recorded 30 years ago,” Springsteen says, but didn’t make the final cut. “I just decided that I wanted to say something else at the time. I wanted to wait until I felt I could have an essential conversation with my audience.”

It hasn’t yet been determined when that conversation will resume in the form of a new studio album. At the moment, Springsteen is focused on seeing his 16-year-old son, Sam — the youngest of his three children by wife and E Street member Patti Scialfa— through his junior year of high school. But he’s still finding time to scribble in notebooks.

“I want to write some more good songs, play some more good shows,” Springsteen says. “I want to come back and look again into all those wonderful faces that I’ve been looking into for the past 35 years. I just do what I do, you know?”

Bruce Springsteen explore l’époque de Darkness

NEW YORK — Bruce Springsteen écrit encore les chansons à l’ancienne mode. C’est-à-dire que le Boss garde son processus initial de création low-tech.”J’ai ce gros cahier”, dit-il, tendant ses mains pour insister et affichant un sourire visiblement rempli d’auto dérision. “C’est le même genre, que j’ai toujours utilisé, avec tout écrit à la main.”Springsteen_-The_Promise_.jpgDans le documentaire The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, dont la première a lieu jeudi sur HBO, les images en noir et blanc montrent un Springsteen de 27 ans feuilletant un cahier identique tout en travaillant sur Darkness on the Edge of Town, l’album 1978 qui a forgé sa réputation comme un grand troubadour américain. Un coffret de 3 CD et 3 DVD comprenant le film, propose une reproduction de 80 pages, avec fac-similés de ses paroles griffonnées, des idées de chansons et d’enregistrement ainsi que des notes personnelles de l’époque. Sa couverture bleue évoque un objet aprécié des écoliers depuis bien avant l’ère de l’information. “Mon nouveau cahier ressemble à cela,” il confirme. “Peut-être que la couleur est différente, mais c’est tout.”Peut-être que c’est tout à fait approprié, étant donné la réponse de l’icône du rock agé de 61 ans, se regardant lui-même jeune homme avec ses collaborateurs de longue date du E Street Band dans le film réalisé par Thom Zimny. La première a reçu un large succès en septembre au Festival du film de Toronto.

“Beaucoup de choses ont changé, et pourtant pas tant que ça,” raconte Springsteen, en forme et détendu dans une chemise à carreaux et jeans, lors d’une causerie dans une chambre d’hôtel de Midtown. “Nous en savons tous beaucoup plus sur ce que nous faisons maintenant, ce qui est bon, parce que nous étions vraiment des amateurs à l’époque. Mais la même intensité demeure pour ce qui est de faire de la musique – l’idée qu’elle devrait compter, qu’elle devrait valoir la peine d’y penser fortement.”

Un tournant

En effet, The Promise, – qui jongle avec des images de répétitions, de séances de studio et de concerts entre 1976 et 1978 avec de nouvelles interviews avec Springsteen, de E Streeters et d’autres collègues – retrace l’enregistrement de Darkness et la croissance artistique et personnelle durement gagnée qui marque l’album, le quatrième de Springsteen.

Darkness a été retardée par une action en justice lancée par Springsteen contre son manager d’alors Mike Appel, qui avait co-produit les albums précédents, y compris Born to Run, l’épopée de 1975 qui fait du chanteur/auteur/compositeur une superstar. Appel apparaît dans le documentaire, dans lequel lui et Springsteen parler l’un de l’autre sans acrimonie. Springsteen indique que ce procès était une action non pas pour l’argent mais pour le contrôle de sa carrière. (En 1977, libéré de tout contrat avec Appel, il a engagé son manager actuel et co-producteur de Born to Run et Darkness, Jon Landau, une présence importante dans le film.)

Darkness était également hanté et enrichi par la lutte de Springsteen à se réconcilier avec son succès et avec un sens croissant de la conscience sociale. Il a écrit la plupart des chansons tout en vivant sur une ferme à Holmdel, New Jersey, non loin du quartier populaire où il a grandi.

“J’ai commencé à être intéressé par le mystère de vie de ma famille, et plus largement par ses implications sociales,” dit-il. “Au début, vous n’êtes pas très intéressé par vos parents en tant que personnes, mais à l’approche des 30 ans, j’ai commencé à avoir suffisamment de recul pour voir leur histoire, et je l’ai trouvé fascinante et faisant réfléchir.”

Le chanson plaintive, Factory, par exemple, a été inspiré par le père de Springsteen, qui a perdu de son audition, après avoir travaillé au milieu du bruit dans une usine de matières plastiques, comme il le raconte dans le film. “Je voulais plonger dans le personnel et essayer de le connecter à la politique, et d’écrire sur des choses qui ont été permanentes. Le travail, la famille, les relations – génération après génération, ces choses-là sont l’essence même de notre expérience.”

Les chansons qui en résultent sont plus dépouillées et plus rugueuses que les paysages sonores majestueux de Born to Run. Bien que Darkness ait été vendu à 3 millions d’exemplaires à ce jour, environ moitié moins que l’album précédent et seulement une portion des 15 millions d’exemplaires vendus par son carton de 1984, Born in the USA, que les critiques considèrent comme une œuvre charnière.

En faisant la critique de l’album dans le magazine Rolling Stone, le futur biographe de Springsteen Dave Marsh écrivait: “De temps en temps, un disque apparaît qui change fondamentalement la façon dont nous entendons rock & roll… Je n’ai aucun doute que (Darkness) s’installera un jour aussi naturellement dans cette liste que Satisfaction des Rolling Stones ou Dance to the Music de Sly and the Family Stone.”

Le temps n’a clairement pas diminué l’enthousiasme des experts. “C’est le disque où Bruce a grandi”, affirme Anthony DeCurtis, l’ éditeur collaborant au magazine Rolling Stone. “Born to Run, énorme comme il était, c’était comme un dernier cri de l’adolescence, de l’agonie romantique où vous devenez une jeune personne. Sur Darkness, il porte un regard dur sur ce que à quoi ressemble la vie des gens, sur ceux qui obtiennent opportunités et ceux qui n’en ont pas. Il n’y a plus cette idée que le rock’n'roll va en quelque sorte tout sauver. ”

Springsteen, lui aussi, voit Darkness comme un point de transition, avec sa représentation vivante de la vie quotidienne, les rêves et les désillusions dans des chansons désormais devenues des classiques comme les Badlands et Racing In The Street. “Quelques-uns des grands thèmes que j’ai commencé à écrire ici, vous les repérez de façon intermittente sur mes trois premiers disques. Mais c’est vraiment sur Darkness puis The River (1980), Nebraska (1982) et de Born in the USA qu’ils ont été mis au premier plan.”

“Le groupe n’essayait pas simplement de faire un disque,” dit-il, “nous avons essayé de faire un disque essentiel. De telle manière que si vous vous intéressiez à la musique rock, à ce qui avait culturellement de l’intérêt à la fin des années 70, alors vous avez dû vous intéresser à ce morceau particulier de musique. C’est devenu un modèle pour la façon dont nous avons continué à travailler, et je crois que le sérieux a résonné sur le long terme. Les chansons sont toujours un instrument pour les sujets dont je veux discuter.”

Depuis sa jeunesse, Springsteen a vu la musique populaire comme un vecteur de “liberté naturelle”. Vous écoutiez les disques d’Elvis, de Woody Guthrie ou d’Hank Williams et tout à coup vous aviez plus d’espace pour respirer, plus de liberté pour être ce que vous vouliez être. J’ai toujours pensé qu’il y avait d’énormes implications politiques à la carrière d’Elvis. En tant qu’homme très féminisé qui a traversé les frontières raciales, il était un peu un précurseur de la révolution sexuelle et l’époque des droits civiques – sans prononcer une parole politique ni un discours rhétorique dans l’un des ses chansons.”

Pour Springsteen, les chansons les plus politiquement conscientes de Darkness “ne sont pas datées” malgré les 32 années écoulées depuis leur sortie. “Elles sont plus pertinentes aujourd’hui, peut être même trop.” Il note que l’album a été conçu “au cours de la récession Carter.” “L’humeur du pays s’est assombrie,” reconnaît-il, depuis la campagne présidentielle de 2008, quand il a soutenu Barack Obama.

“C’est difficile, parce que quand les gens sont sans travail, ils sont blessés et en colère. Mais nous vivons au travers des difficultés économiques depuis des années. Un des plus grands problèmes en ce moment est la disparité des richesses, qui s’est accentué durant les périodes de croissance. Nous avons travaillé avec beaucoup de banques alimentaires au cours des 25 dernières années. Il y a toujours des gens qui décrochent de la classe moyenne.”

Toujours griffonner des notes

De la performance d’Obama en tant que président, Springsteen a dit: “je continue d’avoir une grande confiance en lui. Il y a cette citation qui dit que vous faites campagne dans la poésie et que vous gouvernez en prose – ou vous faites campagne comme un visionnaire et vous gouvernez en tant que législateur. Peut-être que c’est quelque chose dont il souffre… ou quelque chose avec laquelle les gens ont du mal. Mais je pense que le président Obama est très intelligent et très mesuré.”

Avec The Promise, Springsteen espère étoffer son image, en particulier pour les fans les plus jeunes qui n’avaient pas vu ou entendu son oeuvre avec le E Street Band avant la fin des années 80. “Après avoir réuni le groupe en 1998 ou 1999, nous avons fait quelques tournées et fait des bons albums, et j’ai réalisé qu’il y avait beaucoup de gamins à nos shows. J’ai pensé qu’il serait bon de réunir sur un disque ce que nous avions fait plus tôt.”

Pour les anciens et les fidèles, le prochain coffret The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story comprendra 21 chansons inédites, également disponibles sur deux CD, The Promise. Le disque contient les enregistrements de Springsteen Because The Night et Fire, des hits respectivement pour Patti Smith et les Pointer Sisters.

“Toutes les pistes sauf une ont été enregistrées il y a 30 ans”, dit Springsteen, mais n’a pas fait partie de la sélection finale. “J’avais décidé que je voulais dire quelque chose d’autre à l’époque. Je voulais attendre jusqu’à ce que je sente que je pouvais avoir une conversation essentielle avec mon public.”

Il n’a pas encore été décidé du moment où cette conversation sera reprise sous la forme d’un nouvel album studio. À l’heure actuelle, Springsteen est focalisé sur son fils de 16 ans, Sam – le plus jeune de ses trois enfants qu’il a eu avec sa femme, Patti Scialfa, membre du E Street – sur sa dernière année junior de l’école secondaire. Mais il trouve encore le temps de griffonner dans des cahiers.

“Je veux écrire quelques bonnes chansons, jouer quelques bons concerts,” dit Springsteen. “Je tiens à revenir et à nouveau examiner tous ces visages merveilleux que je cherche depuis les 35 dernières années. Je fais juste ce que je fais, vous savez?”

 
Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness, less than 100 copies left.
Focusing on Springsteen’s Darkness on The Edge of Town 1978 album and tour with amazing photos and stories.
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CLICK HERE TO SAVE NOW- The Light in Darkness
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Making of the Dark Side, Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise

Hobbled by legal wrangles, a frustrated Bruce Springsteen turned Born to Run’s optimism on its head – and Darkness on the Edge of Town was born.

Keith Cameron: The Guardian

The Promise, the Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

It took a bit of help for Bruce Springsteen to become a star. He’d already released two admired but underachieving albums when, in September 1975, Columbia Records finally threw its weight behind the scruffily handsome 26-year-old and his third album, Born to Run. Wrapped in its distinctive sleeve image of the guitar-toting Springsteen leaning on the back of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Born to Run became an instant sensation: the US record industry’s first designated platinum album, signifying sales of 1m copies. Springsteen appeared simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek. In the sales parlance of the day, this boy was a hot property. But Born to Run’s success raised a problem: who owned the property?

On 27 July 1976, Springsteen filed a lawsuit against his manager and publisher Mike Appel, who had co-produced Born to Run, with Springsteen’s future manager, Jon Landau. Two days later, Appel countersued, seeking to prevent Springsteen working on his next album with Landau. The dispute had been brewing ever since Springsteen, recklessly naive about business matters, had been made aware that the contracts he had signed with Appel in 1972 meant he would never see the full benefits of his work. When New York supreme court judge Arnold Fein granted Appel his injunction, Springsteen in effect found himself banned from entering the studio with his preferred collaborator. The legal battle that ensued placed his recording career on hold for 12 months, at the very point he should have been capitalising on Born to Run, and the impact on Springsteen’s life would be profound. Although he emerged from the court case victorious, inasmuch as he regained control of his professional destiny, Springsteen’s innocence was gone. He entered the recording studio in June 1977 wary of success and the consequences.

Springsteen_Born_to_run_.jpgWhen his next album did emerge, exactly a year later, it revealed a very different Bruce Springsteen to the one who had so enraptured America with Born to Run’s grandiloquent urban romance fantasies. Although flecked with uplifting motifs, the music’s predominant character was downtrodden. Born to Run’s sonic template had been a rock variant on Phil Spector’s star-spangled Wall of Sound, whereas this new record’s narrative felt dour and its instruments harsh. Idealised city glamour had been replaced by small-town social realism (“I’m riding down Kingsley/ Figuring I’ll get a drink/ Turn the radio up loud/ So I don’t have to think”). The album’s title, meanwhile, suggested the writer’s lovestruck characters had nowhere left to run, and now found themselves mired in an existential void: the Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The extent to which Springsteen himself was acquainted with this place would define his work from here on, as he has embarked on a journey that has seen him accrue riches beyond most people’s imagination, and his reputation for integrity survive all manner of turbulence.

“The whole force of Darkness … was a survival thing,” he says. “After Born to Run, I had a reaction to my good fortune. With success, it felt like a lot of people who’d come before me lost some essential part of themselves. My greatest fear was that success was going to change or diminish that part of myself.”

Springsteen is in Toronto, where The Promise, a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, is receiving its world premiere at the city’s film festival. Prior to the gala screening, Springsteen and his wife, E Street Band vocalist Patti Scialfa, walk the red carpet. If his easy manner is an affectation, then he’s a better actor than plenty of the professionals in town. The notion of “authenticity” will always attend Springsteen, owing to his espousal of the basic human values of community and civility in tandem with material wealth, a paradox that coalesced around Darkness on the Edge of Town. Consequently, The Promise offers a valuable insight to Springsteen’s motivation at a key moment in his life. In the mid-70s, before the industrialisation of the music business’s promotional machinery prolonged the lifespan of albums, a three-year gap between records was unthinkable even to a behemoth like Led Zeppelin, far less a one-hit wonder. But for Springsteen, still flinching from the accusations of hype that surrounded Born to Run, the personal stakes were high: during his exile from the recording studio he had kept his E Street Band at work, either on the road or in the rehearsal space at his house in Holmdel, New Jersey, and once the resolution of the lawsuit freed him to enter the studio he was in no mood to rush.

Springsteen_Fire_.jpg“People thought we were gone. Finished,” Springsteen says. “They just thought Born to Run had been a record company creation. We had to reprove our viability on a nightly basis, by playing, and it took many years. You had to be very committed. One thing we did well after Born to Run was, I said: ‘Woah.’ I got on Time and Newsweek because I decided to be. But I was very frightened at the train and how fast it was going when we got on. In a funny way, the lawsuit was not such a bad thing. Everything stopped and we had to build it up again in a different place.”

One result of his enforced absence from the studio was that by the time Springsteen did begin recording his next album, he had amassed a huge reservoir of material. For Born to Run, Springsteen had eight songs and recorded them. His maniacal perfectionism resulted in the process taking longer than most bands might have considered tolerable, but otherwise it was a relatively conventional exercise. Now, however, finally ensconced at the Record Plant in New York, the band began the process of working through the songs they had rehearsed during the previous year, to which Springsteen would then add yet more as he formed his vision for the new album. Estimates vary as to exactly how many songs were taped, but E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg puts the figure at 40 or 50.

“We were recording typically from three in the afternoon to three in the morning, five days a week,” Weinberg tells me. “There was this stream of material – and lots of takes. There were moments of frustration for everybody, individually and collectively, but you wanted to do so well, for Bruce. There was a crucible aspect to it: under the pressure we grew, both as young men and a band.”

One of the documentary’s most revealing pieces of archive footage has Weinberg repeatedly hitting a snare drum and Springsteen mechanically intoning “Stick! Stick!” Indicating the relative inexperience of all concerned when it came to the technicalities of recording, weeks were spent attempting to eliminate the sound of the stick hitting the drum.

“It was a learning process for all of us,” Weinberg says. “Both frustrating and funny at the same time. We were trying to make a great record. Every time we played we were trying to make something that was meaningful and would last. We were trying so many different things. Bruce would rehearse us for several days on a song and then throw the song out. He had a plan – sometimes it wasn’t as obvious to the rest of us.”

As work proceeded throughout the second half of 1977 and into 1978, Springsteen’s conception for the new album hardened. He had become influenced by the film versions of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, and John Ford westerns such as The Searchers, whose themes of essentially decent men assailed by external forces resonated on a personal and increasingly political level with this shy product of working-class New Jersey. He began posing himself Big Questions: “How do you make a way through the day and still sleep at night?” “How do you carry your sins?” Since Born to Run, Springsteen had also met Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro, the vanguards of a new American cinema. In the wake of Taxi Driver, Springsteen felt his next statement demanded the whiff of real sweat and blood, as opposed to the impressionistic street dazzle his records had hitherto dealt.

“The record was of its time,” he says. “We had the late-70s recession, punk music had just come out, times were tough for a lot of the people I knew. And so I veered away from great bar band music or great singles music and veered towards music that I felt would speak of people’s life experiences.”

Thus Springsteen jettisoned many compositions – love ballads, soul stompers and beery sing alongs – simply because they didn’t fit his ascetic vision. The material’s quality can be gauged by the songs recorded for Darkness but donated to other artists: with the addition of some of her own lyrics, Because the Night gave Patti Smith her only hit single; Fire became a US No 2 for R&B trio the Pointer Sisters. Then there are the songs that have never made it beyond live bootlegs or fevered discussion by Springsteen obsessives. Twenty-one of those Darkness outtakes will soon be released as a two-CD set, also titled The Promise, after a song widely regarded as one of Springsteen’s greatest, taped at the Darkness sessions and slated for inclusion until it was dropped at the last minute. Evoking the starry-eyed protagonists of Born to Run’s Thunder Road watching their dreams turn toxic, Springsteen now concedes The Promise would have fitted the record’s mood perfectly, but that he felt uncomfortable with the self-referential tone. “It’s about fighting and not winning … the disappointments of the time,” he says in the film.

“It is an incredible song,” Weinberg says. “The material he leaves off – there are whole other albums.”

Springsteen’s fastidiousness extended even to the last details of his photograph on the sleeve, chosen only after a series of glossier set-ups were rejected. Bleary-eyed and pallid, he leans on flock wallpaper next to a shuttered window reflecting what one imagines is a bare lightbulb. Here, we are clearly invited to suppose, is the physical manifestation of the album title. In fact, the location was the living room of then unknown New Jersey photographer Frank Stefanko, to whom Springsteen had been introduced by Patti Smith.

“He was a guy who’d worked in a meat-packing plant in south Jersey,” Springsteen says. “He got the 13-year-old kid from next door to hold a light. He borrowed a camera. I don’t know if he even had a camera! But when I saw the picture I said, ‘That’s the guy in the songs.’ I wanted the part of me that’s still that guy to be on the cover. Frank stripped away all your celebrity and left you with your essence. That’s what that record was about.”

While the hardcore fan community will devour the newly released songs, the original Darkness album remains the bedrock of both the Bruce Springsteen legend and the ethical code by which he, now 61, continues to abide. The scope of his career confirms him as a man of many parts, but in order to resolve life’s eternal dilemmas requires a journey to the heart of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Springsteen_Roy_bittan_.jpg“I was never a visionary like Dylan, I wasn’t a revolutionary, but I had the idea of a long arc: where you could take the job that I did and create this long emotional arc that found its own kind of richness,” Springsteen says. “Thirty five years staying connected to that idea. That’s why I think the band continues to improve. You can’t be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you’re gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation.”

A Promise kept: How the making of Darkness was caught on film

Thom Zimny is astute enough to know the main reason The Promise, his documentary on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, is such a startling piece of work has little to do with him, despite his Grammy and Emmy awards. Instead, it has much to do with a piece of Super 8 film, shot by a man named Barry Rebo, that sat on a shelf, unwatched for 30 years. It comprises footage from 1977 of Bruce Springsteen and the members of the E Street Band in New York’s Record Plant, arguing over the direction of a particular mix until Springsteen yells “Shut the fuck up!” We see Springsteen leafing through an exercise book full of lyrics and ideas for more songs, then hear the protests of his bandmates and producer/manager Jon Landau, wearied by Springsteen’s relentless pursuit of excellence. “What are your looking in this book for?” demands Landau. “The only thing that can come out of this book is more work! Close the book and there’s no more work!” Later, the band members are seen holding a sweepstake on how long the next take will be. “I got 4.45!” hoots guitarist Steve Van Zandt.

We are also witness to earlier footage of the band rehearsing at Springsteen’s house while he was exiled from the studio due to his legal battle with manager Mike Appel. Apparently in a trance, the Boss strums at his guitar and hums a melody while Van Zandt taps out a groove on congas. Springsteen is bare-chested and sporting an afro; the latter is without his trademark bandana. As insightful as any of the musical revelations, such tonsular candour exemplifies Rebo’s achievement. The lack of premeditation is remarkable: not once do any of the protagonists look at the camera.

“We were like, ‘Nobody’s ever gonna see this crap,’” Springsteen says. “Nobody was self-conscious. It was like he wasn’t there. He was a pal, the only guy in the neighbourhood that we knew with a camera.”

Zimny restored the footage to the best standards allowed by modern technology and then shot contemporary interviews with Springsteen, his band members – including Danny Federici, the E Street Band organist who died in 2008 – and key associates. The format repeats the success of Wings for Wheels, Zimny’s equivalent making-of documentary which accompanied the 30th anniversary reissue of Born to Run, but The Promise goes deeper, probing both the subtext of Darkness on the Edge of Town and the protagonists’ personal chemistry. In particular, the bonds between Springsteen and Van Zandt, his musical consigliere, are illustrated time and again, most amusingly in a scene where the pair hammer out a prototype version of Sherry Darling – a song destined for Springsteen’s next album, The River – featuring Springsteen on piano and Van Zandt drumming on a cushion. For Zimny’s film to have actually intensified the mythic qualities of one of rock’s most celebrated buddy acts is testimony to its cutting edge.

 

Springsteen Fall Tour 2012 Book Sale!
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more! A perfect gift for the holidays.
Click Here to Order Now: The Light in Darkness

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Mike Appel’s Darkness

by Mello

 In the vexatious and litigious world that often surrounds the music industry, few cases are more notorious than the 1976 lawsuit between Bruce Springsteen and his former manager and producer, Mike Appel. The contracts that Springsteen had signed when starting out gave him a poor deal on royalties, but more shockingly took away the publishing rights to his own songs.  Springsteen had been young and naive; he had also believed mistakenly that the legal document of a contract was less important than what might be agreed informally and accepted on trust.  Finding this was an error was hugely expensive in many ways, not least in an injunction that prevented Bruce from entering a recording studio with new producer Jon Landau while the lawsuit progressed.  Eventually in May 1977 the case was settled out of court, and while Springsteen regained his creative freedom in production and publishing, he lost his innocence and someone he had thought to be a friend.  These days the two men are said to be reconciled, or to have found an accommodation.  Appel described when he and Springsteen met for lunch after the extended estrangement and “it was like there had never, ever been any problems between us whatsoever”; but the reality may be rather different and certainly more complex.
A few days ago (15th September) Mike Appel addressed a symposium on Bruce Springsteen gathered at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey.  His anecdotes and recollections of the early days were amusing enough – some familiar tales (the story behind securing the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week), and others less so, and they bear repetition. But his comments on Springsteen’s character and creative output since 1977 suggest more than a little ongoing resentment and disrespect. “Nice to be among kindred spirits for a change” Appel said at the start of his talk, but he may have misinterpreted the welcoming applause for support and assumed he would be met with uncritical acceptance.  He has a book to sell (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: A rock and roll manifesto), and it seems this is his chance to put his side of the story and he wasn’t about to admit he had got anything wrong 35 years ago.  In fairness, Appel acknowledges the enormous contribution of Springsteen, his commitment to performance, and his integrity in being committed to music and avoiding the worst excesses of commercial involvement and sponsorship, compared to many contemporary “hucksters” and “bankers with guitars”.  The comment that Bruce had not been writing songs with a prime motivation to make money and become wealthy, but for the sheer love of his craft, although fundamentally true, began to sound more than a little like self-justification coming from Appel.
The background to the breakup of the Springsteen/Appel partnership was recalled in Appel’s account of the heavily pressured and endless recording sessions around Born to Run, and in what Appel referred to obliquely as “all the subterfuge” that was going on and the high price that “each was paying and would pay individually.”  Bruce himself has spoken about the agony of creating the Born to Run album (particularly on the ‘Wings for Wheels’ DVD), as have other members of the E Street Band, with the endless takes and remixing to find the perfect sound.  Appel referenced the “tedious, strained, many times completely unproductive or counter-productive, emotionally upsetting, juvenile recording sessions.”  And he wondered what might have been concocted “in a more pleasant atmosphere.”
There were some apparently throw away lines – Appel commented that Bruce is not obstinate for the sake of being obstinate most of the time”, but there were clearly some underlying feelings running here.  In the Q&A session following his talk he was asked who is the most stubborn, Mike Appel or Bruce Springsteen?  Appel said “I actually think I am; I have more Irish in me than he does”, but this was far from being a mea culpa moment.  Asked if he had regrets, or if there were things he wished he had done differently Appel was defiant: “No; I wish there were a few things he did differently!”  He repeated the familiar story about how he had wanted Bruce to tour with a circus tent and he regretted Bruce wanted none of it; and he is still convinced it would have been the right thing to do: “It would have been – should have been – a great event in his career, but there were other people that thought it was too silly (…) that’s one of my regrets, that we were not able to do that.”
It is well documented that Appel did not want Springsteen to do the album that would become Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Appel referred to this issue and his preference at the time for Bruce instead to release a live album, giving him enough time to “write commensurate songs to those that were on ‘Born to Run’.”  Appel is dismissive of Darkness, claiming that Springsteen himself has said if there was one record he could take back it would be that one.  This seems a ludicrous claim; in 2010 Springsteen released The Promise collection that included the ‘lost sessions’ of 1977/78 that could have been on Darkness.  There were more than 40 songs that had been written, but only one album was released, although Springsteen is unequivocal: “I still believe it’s the right one.”
It could have been a different record, continued Appel, and added that he “can’t judge Bruce Springsteen’s other records because I wasn’t a part of that.”  No one would argue that Born to Run is not an outstanding record and in many ways the defining album of Springsteen’s career, but it is churlish and petty to suggest – as Appel seemed to be – that everything has been downhill since.  At this point Appel spoke – astonishingly – as if addressing Bruce directly and continued: “there are a couple [of songs] on Darkness that are OK…but there is not quite the lyrical excitement – the graphic lyrics and imagery isn’t quite there.  So for me, if you were trying to copy Born to Run, you didn’t make it.  If you were trying to go some other way, then OK, that’s your focus, who am I to say anything about it?” But it was already said; for Appel, Springsteen’s genius ended with Born to Run; he cannot see past the end of their professional relationship.  That is sad on a personal level, but to dismiss the creative output of everything that Springsteen has gone on to achieve because it isn’t Born to Run is both hugely arrogant and extraordinarily misguided.  In the sleeve notes to The Promise Springsteen wrote about how he hoped aged 27 he had written something “that would continue to fill me with purpose and meaning in the years to come”; looking back over the years Darkness has done that for him and he acknowledged that he owed “the choices we made then and that young man” respect.  It is unfortunate that after all these years Mike Appel still seems unable to acknowledge the same.
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On Bruce Springsteen And Disappointing Fathers

Darkness on the Edge of Town taught me to understand my dad long after we stopped speaking.
Sady Doyle BuzzFeed

There was a moment at my father’s house that I always waited for. It was a matter of calibration; of counting the number of beers. Too few and he was sarcastic, angry, on edge; he shouted or mocked, it was better to keep your distance. Too many and he went quiet, locked away in his own impenetrable sadness. I wanted the hour in the middle. The moment he picked out which record he would play.

“Now, your old dad,” he started – he always started just like this – “you might think he don’t know too much. But you’re lucky, because your Dad’s cool. And you’re gonna be cool, too. Your old Dad, he knows his rock and roll. Now, this record here…”

If you want an introduction to Darkness on the Edge of Town, start here. My father, in the golden hour when his light comes through, choosing from Neil, Bruce, Dylan, Lou – usually Bruce, always Bruce; after enough beers, he’ll tell me that my first word was “Bruce” – one of his records. Getting ready to teach you his rock and roll.

Bruce Springsteen 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour.

I abandoned my father when I was sixteen. I call it what it is, abandonment, because I believe that when you’ve done something cruel, you ought to name it. I didn’t do it out of rage – though there was that: at his racism, at his sexism, at his drinking, which I knew I would watch him die from if I didn’t walk away first, at his own dangerous and sudden rages – or even a desire to hurt him. It was just a piece of my heart going dead, a total lack of feeling. I stopped speaking to him, stopped visiting him, and stopped taking his calls. The calls came for ten years. And then they stopped, too.

But we never really lose people. They come back, most often through the things they’ve loved, giving us pieces of what they kept in their heads, their private myths. It was ten years later, when the calls stopped, that I started listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town.

There are lots of well-known facts, about Darkness. It was where Bruce declared himself as an artist; he tormented his crew, spending several weeks of ten-hour days trying to make the drums have a sound that he could hear only “in his head,” insanely yelling “STICK” whenever he could hear one hit the kit. He wrote over seventy songs, and recorded over fifty of them, for a ten-song, forty-three minute album. He wanted a “tone poem,” a specific, “relentless” mood; he cut against his pop impulses, listening to punk and country to get the colors just right.

And all the colors are black. Darkness on the Edge of Town is the most successful example I can name, outside of Blue Velvet, of the Midwestern Gothic. It has a perfect sense of place, though most of its places are imaginary: I can’t find a “Waynesboro County” for Bruce to drive across the line of in “The Promised Land,” though there are Waynesboros in Mississippi, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Similarly, when he’s driving “that dusty road from Monroe to Angeline,” he could be starting from any number of Monroes, but there’s no Angeline to get to. Still, Darkness names its territory in the opening lines: “Lights out tonight. Trouble in the heartland.” It’s always “tonight,” in these songs. And it’s always “the heartland,” a vast, empty Midwestern landscape – in most of the songs, the characters are driving, on roads where you can drive “till dawn without another human being in sight” – that mirrors the bleak, dark, violently troubled hearts of the small-time, small-town criminals and losers it portrays.

Bruce would come back here, for Nebraska, where his characters were openly murderous, and again for his later work, all hopped up on Steinbeck and ready to Uplift the Working Man. But Darkness has neither the self-conscious artiness of Nebraska nor the socially conscious cheese of late Springsteen. The alienation here is more Freud than Marx: “Don’t look at my face! DON’T LOOK AT MY FACE,” Bruce howls, on “Streets of Fire,” so incapable of solidarity that even eye contact feels intrusive. He introduces a factory only to tell us about a gruesome accident on the floor. This is why the record works, where his later attempts don’t; he doesn’t condescend to his characters. Poverty is just another way to establish the sense they all have of being trapped and desperate; the Working Man is just as depressed as anyone else.

The men of Darkness are invariably Byronic, outcasts, on fire with emotion intense enough to illuminate the landscape like lightning. They’ve always done something horrible, are chased through song after song by unnameable regrets; they have “sins” to wash off their hands, they need something “forgotten or forgiven,” but whatever it was, they can’t say it aloud. “Everybody’s got a secret, son,” one tells us, “something they just can’t face.” They can only keep driving, in the hope of leaving it behind.

The first draft of the funereal “Racing in the Streets” had “no girl in it,” Bruce says. But there aren’t really any girls on Darkness, outside of the eyeball-melting femme fatal in “Candy’s Room.” There are only references to women. And these women are mostly lingering disappointments or aching losses, out on the periphery. Or, worse, they’re the silent, attentive, infantile “babies” and “little darlings” Bruce is always lecturing, as on “Badlands.” You better get it straight, darling: “Poor man wanna be rich! Rich man wanna be king!” And woman, no matter what her income, wanna sit there and listen to her boyfriend explain class struggle, apparently.

But all this man-to-man struggle has a point. No matter what the men on Darkness are, they are never fathers. “Daddy” shows up twice. Once on “Factory,” where he’s a slightly pathetic servant to “mansions of pain.” And again, on the album’s center piece.

Bruce Springsteen, I discovered after ten years of estrangement from my father, had written the world’s best song about being estranged from your father. “Adam Raised a Cain” is one long, Plath-worthy scream: hatred, contempt, pain, hatred, shot through with a love that is almost romantic. We were prisoners of love, a love in chains. He was standing in the door, I was standing in the rain, with the same hot blood burning in our veins. How is that not a scene from The Notebook? But these men can only ever hurt each other: Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain. Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame. And his son reflects the blame back onto him, intensified and sharper.

Cain isn’t a girl, but the listener can be. It was here, on this song, that I stopped listening to Bruce as if he were my father’s voice, and started hearing my own.

When your heart goes dead, it’s always for a reason; something hurts too much to feel. It happens a lot to addicts. No-one can watch that story play out to the end.

Which Bruce knew. It’s the truth he named his album after. It closes, Darkness, on the title track. A man alone, underneath the bridge, on the hill, “’cause I can’t stop,” he says. And for the privilege of not stopping, he’ll pay any price: “I lost my money, and I lost my wife. Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now.” But the girl he’s lost is still out there, somewhere. She could even come to find him. “If she wants to see me,” Bruce yells, and I cry, every time, “you can tell her that I’m easily found.” He even gives the location. “Tell her: There’s a darkness on the edge of town.” But that’s the thing. She already knows. She’s always known. It’s why she’s not there.

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Darkness Era Sound Checks Lasted 2 and a half Hours!

I am looking forward to receiving The Light In The Darkness as a birthday present in a few days. I was just browsing the ‘net and came across a link that led me to your book and what a great subject… the “78 Darkness On The Edge Of Town” tour. I’m a musician and I’d just returned from Europe and I heard “Prove It All Night” on the radio and it knocked me out! Bruce was coming to Memphis in a couple of weeks so I made sure to see him and see what it was all about. I was able to sneak into the sound check, which lasted 2 and a half hours! As the band played Bruce and his sound man, Bruce Jackson, walked the entire Ellis Auditorium (June 1978)
to make sure the sound was satisfactory. That’s how much he cared; he looked rather casual in green army fatigues and a t-shirt. He was approachable then and after the sound check I spoke with his sound man and he said, “so you’ve never seen Bruce before? Well, you’re in for a treat.” (with a wry smile) What an understatement!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1978

I remember him doing “Drive All Night” (which hadn’t been released yet) and the soul touching, gut wrenching way he delivered that song. I realized at that moment… That’s how it’s done. When you sing it…you mean it! from the soul. He showed right then it’s all right…put that heart out there…someone will hear you. I’ve gotten bootlegs from that time period Summer of ’78 Cleveland, L.A. Roxy and others just to relive what changed my life that night.
I know your book will do it all over again. It’s a special club that love Bruce but, seeing THAT tour creates a special bond with others who did. Bruce wasn’t too big to be touched. Not the icon I knew he’d become. It was pure and not tainted by ‘Superstardom” never to be the same again.
One more thing…I got to meet Bruce that night at a “Meet and Greet” with college radio folks etc. So after a 3 and 1/2 hour performance there he was, still working. He signed an autograph to me. I asked in my best Bruce “voice” “make it to ‘Spanish Johnny’ he just smiled and did it. What a guy!
I’ll be 57 on this b’day and to this day no concert other than the Who in 1970 (same venue!) has moved me so. After the Who show I couldn’t articulate what I’d seen and the way it stirred my soul but the next time I felt “That feeling”… was Bruce 1978 I knew exactly what it was…”The majesty, the ministry and the incredible healing power of Rock-n-Roll”
Lawrence, I know this is a long rambling letter but I thought a book of photos and people’s thoughts of that magic time was too cool so thank you for creating a monument to a special moment in time and R+R history…
“I’m Just A Prisoner, Of Rock n Roll!”

Rick Nethery Memphis, Tennessee September 14, 2012

Help Fight Cancer and Win Bruce Springsteen Book For You
In support of the Marathon of Hope – The Terry Fox Run, September 16, Lawrence Kirsch, publisher of “For You, Original Stories and Photographs by Bruce Springsteen’s Legendary Fans” and “The Light in Darkness,” is holding a raffle with a chance to win a brand new signed copy of “For You,” which has been sold out since December 2008.
Click Here to Enter: For You
Raffle- September 10-23,2012

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Darkness on the Edge of Town- This album is raw, painful and grim.

Aaron Gillie

The more realistic, less optimistic side of Born to Run, this album is raw, painful and grim. It’s stark honesty and brutality is what makes it so powerful. Between ’75 and ’78 Springsteen had disappeared and music fans began to ask what had happened. In the space of those years he had grown up and his views were more mature and certainly more bleak than before. The album:

Album Rating: 4/5.

Track 1. BADLANDS.

The title was taken from the Martin Sheen movie of the same name which was inspired by the Charles Starkweather homicide (also an influence on his ’82 song Nebraska). This song, however, is not about Starweather or murder or death. Despite it’s somewhat bleak title this is perhaps one of the most hopeful songs on the album. Essentially, Springsteen says this is the world we’re in. This is it in all its ugliness. What will we do about it? It’s such an ominous song and begins just so. “Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland.” Like Thunder Road, it opens like directions in a movie script and sets the song up beautifully. There is no real story and no real character. The singer is describing things to us and in an excellently defiant way. He is confused and battered by his world, claiming to be “caught in a crossfire I don’t understand.” In spite of this, he remains defiant and adds with a wail heard best in his ’78 live shows: “But there’s one thing I know for sure, girl, I don’t give a damn”. The first verse introduces the setting of the song (a desolate world) and builds up brilliantly to the chorus. The way he sings with such calm tension and the way the drums build and build until the final release of the chorus is fantastic. This is the very first Springsteen song I ever heard and as soon as I heard him scream “Badlands” I was instantly transformed. It’s the best chorus he has written I believe and easily one of his best songs overall. In the second verse he begins to impart some knowledge and wisdom about the slavery that the averge working man goes through and how he understands it. “Working in the fields, that’ll get your back burned, working ‘neath the wheel, that’ll get your facts learned, baby I got my facts learned real good right now.” The hope in the song comes through in his rebellious cries in lines such as “I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in the faith that could save me, I believe in the hope”, “I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me, I wanna find one place, I wanna spit in the face of these badlands”. He even takes a stab at the richer classes with a line taken and altered from his unreleased song Rockaway the Days (Tracks): “Poor men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings and a king ain’t satisfied ’til he rules everything.” As the song ends, Springsteen reminds us that “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive” and it fades out with the breathless repetition of “badlands”. Rating: 5/5. Best Lyric: ”Don’t waste your time waiting.”

Track 2. ADAM RAISED A CAIN.

Springsteen gets biblical here, opening the song with his (or his characters’) baptism. His vocals have the same raw and gruff strain that they had in Backstreets but this time he explores the sins of the father and parental relationships. Unlike his previous album which used the theme of escape as it’s moodboard, this song is all about how love can trap you, especially unconditional and unbreakable love. The cruel poetry in the first verse declares that he and his father were “prisoners of love, a love in chains”, showing that their bond was inescapable. They would be forever connected through their blood, thorugh their feelings and through their obligations to one another, even though they may not see eye-to-eye. They have “the same hot blood burning in [their] veins”. The chorus bellows out “Adam raised a cain” repeatedly to emphasize properly the fact that the worlds first murderer came from the worlds first sinner. As he explains in the last verse “you’re born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else’s past.” The song is about how evil runs in your blood and in your family and explores, on a subtle level, how the thing you may hate and disagree with (his father) is the same thing you grow up to become. This is put forward in the line “You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames”. The musical arrangement is on top form here. The electric guitar really is fantastic and sounds so dangerous and so tense that the song’s message is with you even before the lyrics start. Springsteen sounds like a man posessed on this track and his closest song to the metal genre, although with more sophistication. The song is summed up in the title: Adam raised a Cain. The sinner gave birth to sin. Haunting. Rating: 4/5. Best Lyric: “Well Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain,/ Now he walks these empty rooms looking for someone to blame.”

Track 3. SOMETHING IN THE NIGHT.

This is very, very similar to Adam Raised a Cain, in themes at least. It’s about being brought into the world with nothing and starting at the bottom, having to work to move up a level. Many of Springsteen’s songs deal with the sociological theory of status frustration and this is one of them. Like so many songs he’s written, the protagonist is using his car as a means of escape, this time from his head, not his town. “I’m riding down Kingsley, figuring I’ll get a drink, turn the radio up loud so I don’t have to think.” Even though the music is very strong on this track (in particular, Max Weinberg’s restrained drumming) it is Springsteen’s own ghostly wails at the start that gives this song its etheral and frightening feeling. It’s a warning, even before any words are sung. The second verse is comprised of his most defeatest mind-set and almost sounds like he’s sulking. “You’re born with nothing and better off that way, soon as you got something they send someone to try to take it away.” This is most likely a reference to the ruling class or the government and could be an allusion to taxes or the economy. It depends on your viewpoint. The bridge to this is lyrically very similar to lines on the song Darkness on the Edge of Town in the way it talks about shame and not being able to run from your past. “Nothing is forgotten or forgiven” he warns, and then to confirm he is talking from personal experience adds, “I got stuff running ’round my head that I just can’t live down.” Enter more hauntingly eerie wailing. A slow song that’s half way between Adam Raised a Cain and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Rating: 3.5/5. Best Lyric: “When we found the things we loved they were crushed and dying in the dirt/ We tried to pick up the pieces and get away without getting hurt.”

Track 4. CANDY’S ROOM.

Who is Candy? A lover? A prostitute? A girlfriend? A cheater? It’s never made explicitly clear. She’s definitely beautiful though and definitely knows it. Springsteen admits that “Strangers from the city call my baby’s number and they bring her toys” and we are led to believe that he is her boyfriend and she loves him despite her other offers. It’s more likely, however, that the protagonist is merely another admirer who refuses to believe he means nothing more to her than any of the others. He could be deluded when he whispers to the listener “When I come knocking she smiles pretty, she knows I wanna be Candy’s boy.” She could have the same mythic power that the woman from She’s the One posessed as she certainly has control over him and her other “boys”. He does know her though, and observes “There’s a sadness hidden in that pretty face, a sadness all her own” which indicates she does not open up to him or anyone else. This, to me, is evidence that they are not in a serious relationship, perhaps only a sexual one. The lyrics go on to describe how when they kiss “Blood rushes through my veins, fire rushes towards the sky”. He continues to say how he gets lost in her eyes and how he understands everything when he’s with her, using the hyperbole “When I hold Candy close she makes those hidden worlds mine”. Although he is fully aware of his large male competition he seems delieriously confident that she loves him completely and has this to offer: “She has fancy clothes and diamond rings, she has men who’ll give her anything she wants but they don’t see what she wants is me.” He adds he’ll “never let her go”. Once again, it’s Max Weinberg’s drums that stand out on this track, beginning incredibly controlled and quiet and building up into an explosion of sound that is matched only be Sprignsteen’s vocals which are perfetly tuned in to rock and roll here. Rating: 5/5. Best Lyric: “She says ‘Baby, if you wanna be wild, you got a lot to learn/ Close your eyes let them melt, let them fire, let them burn’.”

 Track 5. RACING IN THE STREET.

Along with the title track and Something in the Night, this is one of the slower songs as well as one of the bleakest. It contains all of Springsteen’s famous themes: cars, girls, friendship, rejection and escape (or the failure to do so). The first verse is driven only by Springsteen’s vocals and Roy Bittan’s expertly precise piano. It is also the most typically masculine verse all about how he and his partner Sonny built a car “straight outta scratch”. The opening lines are also semi-autobiographical. “I got a ’69 Chevy with 396/Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor”. In real life, his first car was a ’57 Chevy with dual, four-barrel carbs, a Hurst on the floor and orange flames. The piano is then invaded by other instruments that keep the song’s steady pace while adding to its volume and excitement. Though not my favourite of his songs, probably the worst on the album in my opinion, it does boast an excellent use of imagery, particularly when describing his girlfriend (who he ‘won’ in a race) sitting on the front porch “with the eyes of one who hates for just being born”. Such imagery gives this song strength but ultimately, to me, it is bland and most suitable for background listening. Most of the time, Springsteen elevates his female love interests to unreachable heights, portraying them as beaming angels of happiness who exude control and power and beauty. The nameless girl in this song however is desperate and miserable and “cries herself to sleep at night”. It’s no wonder she’s miserable, after being taken away by the protagonist she loses her youthful optimism and realizes that “All her pretty dreams are torn”.  His writing boarders on sexist and he has been accused of writing 2D female characters but, of course, he has never claimed to be able to write for them. On the whole, the song is very good and I haven’t particularly gone into much detail about it because it’s not a specialty of mine, not like others on the album. Also, the fact that the title is taken from the song Dancing in the Street bothers me somewhat, not because of theft, but because I just don’t know why. There is never reference made to it by any critics or pundits or experts. Anyway, the tune is mellow but the themes are dark and crushing. Perhaps more suited to the Nebraska album. Rating: 3/5. Best Lyric: “Tonight my baby and me we’re gonna ride to the sea/And wash these sins off our hands.”

Tack 6. THE PROMISED LAND.

When I went to see Springsteen perform in Hyde Park a few months ago (14th July, 2012) this song was a real highlight. He played it towards the end of the first half of his set and brought on John Fogerty to join him. They took a verse each and the sheer power and magnitude of the song was brought out by the two American icons and global idols. Even Springsteen and McCartney’s rendition of Twist and Shout wasn’t as good as The Boss and Fogerty. This is the most defiant, optimistic and poignant songs on the album. Just as Badlands does, this opens up with a bleak view of a “Rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert” although this is more obviously bleak than Springsteen’s previous song. In classic Springsteen tradition it uses the idea of automotive transport as escaping a glum town. He works in a garage all day and then at night goes off “chasing some mirage”. When the night hits he becomes a confident and powerful man stating “Pretty soon, little girl, I’m gonna take charge”. Like Thunder Road this song seems romantically linked with a woman but isn’t. The little girl he refers to, although possibly a lover like Thunder Road’s Mary, is an incidental part of the story, not it’s focus. It is primarily about leaving, achieving something, doing important things and being relevant. The chorus is Springsteen’s most hopeful when he roars out “Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man” at the top of his lungs. To witness it in concert is certainly a mind-blowing thing. The second verse describes how he did his “best to live the right way”, how he got “up every morning and [went] to work each day”. But he notes how the monotony of a working life in a small town can make your “eyes go blind and your blood run cold” and sometimes he “feels so weak” he wants to explode. The explosion is not suicidal but ambition born out of frustration. He wants his explosion to spread across the world; to spread him across the world. He wants to do things, see things, experience things but he can only do it once he accepts that he’s not a boy but a man. Which he does. This is so hopeful because we know he is on his way to do something great. Three lines which really relay the song’s defiant and jubilant message are: “Blow away the dreams that tear you apart/ Blow away the dreams that break your heart/ Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and broken-hearted”.  The real heroes of this track are Springsteen’s vocals, Clarence Clemons’ sax and Gary Tallant’s base with an always steady and impressive performance by max Weinberg’s drums. Rating: 5/5. Best Lyric: “Explode and tear this whole town apart/ Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart/ Find somebody itching for something to start.”

Track 7. FACTORY.

There’s not a great deal to say about this song apart from the fact that it’s very, very good. The song is what it is. From one listen alone one can determine it’s themes, it’s back story and it’s purpose. But I’m not somebody who’s listened to it once. I’ve listened to it god knows how many times, almost everyday for the past year and I still enjoy it every time. It’s simply a song strongly based on his father’s job (one job of many) as a factory worker. The song details the monotony of factory life, how it demoralizes people and how it can break a man. The tune alone is very slow and keeps a purposely dull beat to it while the chorus repeats the word “working” three times in one line, all to hammer home the tiresome routine of factory life. He even gives the man in the song no name so as to allow all worker’s to identify with him but also to represent that he is just one anonymous face among thousands in Jersey alone. The second verse has one of the most bitter-sweet lines of any Springsteen song and easily one of the most moving. “Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life”. The man’s work place is mentally destroying him but also very physically. Despite the fact that the factory may one day kill him, the man knows that he relies on it everyday to keep himself and his family alive and well. In a poignant, bleak and upsetting final verse Springsteen explains how at the “end of the day, factory whistle blows” and the workers “walk through these gates with death in their eyes” as they all have the same problems. Then, with an eerie sense of foreboding, he ends the verse and almost the song with the line “You just better believe, boy, somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight”. It paints a depressing picture but also a realistic and moving one and is a great song for the album. Rating: 4/5. Best Lyric: “Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain/ See my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain.”

Track 8. STREETS OF FIRE.

Now, the album as a whole is bleak. Some of the songs are bleak. Most of the songs contain bleak undertones. But this… this bleak beyond belief. It’s a great rock song and is vocally very similar to Adam Raised A Cain in that it is powerful and strained. The song begins with an eerie and suspense-filled organ that carries on through the entire first verse, never letting up. The tempo of both the tune and the words begins slow to build up the dreary and dark story and then it literally explodes into the chorus. Springsteen immediately takes us to presumably late night/ early morning, a time when, as Tom Waits points out in his song I Hope That Don’t Fall In Love With You, men grow anxious, angry and brooding. Or, as he puts it, The night does funny things inside a man/ These old tom-cat feelings you can’t understand”. Springsteen brings us into this twilight by opening the song with “When the night’s quiet and you don’t care anymore/ And your eyes are tired and there’s someone at your door”. He talks about how his character is clearly depressed and given up on life, especially as he want’s “to let go”. He hates his environment, stating that the “Cold walls you embrace eat at your insides”. All he can see around him are streets of fire which he is trapped in, he even says he’s stranded in them. He can’t leave the house because of these “streets of fire” ergo he can’t go anywhere in life. The guitar and the drums burst in for the chorus and continue through the remaining verses, though a little more subdued. By verse two he is wondering “a loser down the tracks” and says how he “can’t go back”. By this point I think he’s done something bad, perhaps illegal and he is ridden with guilt, as suggested by the line “‘Cause in the darkness I hear somebody call my name”, as if shouting after him, trying to catch him. It continues in an excellently dark fashion, the saddest part coming in the end when he declares “I live now, only with strangers/ I talk to only strangers”. He has no friends in the world. he is sick of life and totally alone, imprisoned by his streets of fire. Rating: 4/5. Best Lyric: “I walk with angel’s that have no place/ And don’t look at my face.”

Track 9. PROVE IT ALL NIGHT.

Springsteen brings a much needed sense of happiness and fun with the penultimate track. Having said that, this is not a totally light song. It’s played out like classic rock with powerful instruments, which heavily include drums and guitars, and is a somewhat fast-paced powerhouse. It opens with a declaration that the singer is “working real hard to get [his] hands clean” and that he’ll drive his girl as far as he needs to to get her “a gold ring and a pretty dress of blue”. He then adds that “for just one kiss” he’ll get these things for her. When the chorus hits he repeats that he’ll “prove it all night” for her and her love. By the second verse he wistfully states that “if dreams came true, oh, wouldn’t that be nice” but then grounds the song back into reality (and the album) by adding “But this ain’t no dream we’re living through tonight”. The song is a mixture of hope and despair, of love and hate but ultimately is about determination, hence the chorus. Despite his surroundings and his difficult life, the protagonist promises to prove his love to his girl, no matter what. He clearly gives the listener the image of a hard life when he accuses “them” of not knowing “What it means to steal, to cheat, to lie” or “What it’s like to live and die to prove it all night”. It’s not the best song on the album and sounds pleasantly bland, but upon further listening it becomes much more significant and another important part of the album. There is no alternative interpretation, no deeper message. Like Factory this song is what it is. Rating: 3.5/5. Best Lyric: “Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist/ There’s so much that you want, you deserve much more than this.”

Track 10. DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.

The title really sums up the song. Darkness represents all things bad; hopelessness, loneliness, being lost, being isolated, being feared, feeling fear. The edge of town represents unfamiliar territory, somewhere elusive and hostile, a baron land where nothing moves but the wind. It tells the carefully and skillfully crafted story of a man who’s wife left him and took everything with her. “I lost my money when I lost my wife” he says very matter-of-factly. It is suggested that he has no home when he says with unreasonable but admirable pride “If she wants to see me you can tell her I’m easily found/ Tell her there’s a spot out neath Abram’s bridge”. Darkness on the Edge of Town is a song about what happens when everything goes wrong. His finances, his love, his home, his self-worth. Everything vanishes when his woman leaves him. At the start of the second verse he declares that “Everybody’s got a secret/ Something that they just can’t face” which suggests that perhaps he’s done something he’s deeply ashamed of which could have been the reason his wife left. Did he hit her? Did he cheat on her? We don’t know. But he follows this line up with “Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it/ They carry it with them every step that they take” so maybe he’s been dragging this mysterious secret with him? “Till someday they just cut it loose” he says, “Cut it loose or let it drag ‘em down”. Clearly, his secret, whatever it may be, has dragged him down. As far down as he can go. Now he’s a ghost, haunting the darkness on the edge of town, a place “Where no one asks any questions or looks too long in your face”. There’s a small glimmer of hope or at least defiance when he boldly cries “Tonight I’ll be on that hill, ’cause I can’t stop/ I’ll be on that hill ’cause I just can’t stop”. We also get the message that his descent is partly his fault when he faces up to the fact he’ll have “to pay the cost/ For wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town”. His vocal performance is outstanding on this track and nearing perfection. From the low and eerily calm verses to the strained and powerful chorus’, Springsteen displays a level of previously unseen maturity and reflects a grim but truthful view of adulthood. 

Rating: 5/5 Best Lyric: “Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost.”

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Bruce Springsteen Breaks Loose at Notre Dame -Darkness Tour 1978

When I went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert at Notre Dame on September 9, 1978, I knew almost nothing about him. The only song that I had heard was “Born to Run”. I was totally unfamiliar with his albums. But tickets were cheap—$8—so I thought, “Why not?”

Contrary to what is written in the 1979 ND yearbook, he did not start 30 minutes late. He started on time—8:30 PM, which really impressed me. A guy who believes in starting work on time. I was also impressed that he used no warm-up act. That took guts. He and his band hit the stage like a freight train, and they didn’t let up all night long.

Of course, after 34 years, memory becomes a bit spotty. I don’t remember too much about individual songs. I remember the fierce energy of “Rosalita” and “Backstreets”. I remember the sombre mood of “Factory”. And of course, who could forget singing “Born to Run” with a couple thousand of your closest friends?

What I remember clearly is the absolute joy with which Bruce and the E Streeters played. You could see it in their faces. It practically radiated from them. They loved every second of what they were doing, and they never wanted to stop. They fed off the emotion of the audience, and the audience fed off the wonder of their musicianship. Bruce was almost manic—bouncing around stage like a pinball, but always in control of the music. At one point, he climbed a huge stack of amps and crouched there for a few seconds like a tiger ready to pounce. At another point, he leaped into the audience. He stopped a song in mid-note and shouted, “Will the young lady who has her teeth buried in my leg…please…DON’T STOP!” And the audience screamed with laughter!

Of course, I have to include the famous story of “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”.

There were actually three famous Springsteen concerts at Notre Dame—1976, 1978 and 1981. As I recall from the 1978 show, Bruce told the following story:

At the 1976 show, in the course of that one concert, Bruce and the E Streeters played their entire catalog. But Bruce wanted to keep playing. So he shouted out to the audience, “Anybody got any requests?”

Some guy in the front row yelled, “Do you guys know ‘Double Shot of My Baby’s Love’?”

Now, any other famous musician probably would have said, “Screw you, pal” and gone on to do his own stuff. Instead, Bruce turned to his band and said, “What do you think? You guys want to try it?” So they huddled up onstage, figured out a rudimentary chord progression, and then crashed through the song like a good garage band. And the audience loved it!

Back to the 1978 show. Bruce concluded his story with the famous line, “This is the only place in the known universe where we play this song.” He then added, “So when we heard we were coming back here…We Rehearsed!”

And they swung into “Double Shot”, complete with fairly decent doo-wop choreography. And the Notre Dame audience roared with delight. It was nice to know that Bruce and the boys didn’t take themselves too seriously.

Near the end of the concert, Bruce again stopped a song in mid-note and screamed like a repentant sinner, “I’m just a prisoner…of rock & roll!” When the song ended, he collapsed on stage, flat on his back. Two of his roadies came onstage, wearing doctors’ lab coats. One put a stethoscope in his ears, listened to Bruce’s heartbeat, and shook his head in sorrow. Then the two roadies loaded the limp Bruce onto a stretcher and started to cart him offstage. The audience growled its disapproval. Clarence Clemons grabbed one of the roadies by his coat and dragged the whole lot of them back onstage. Of course, Bruce sprang up from the stretcher, resurrected, and the band thundered into yet another encore. When the show was finally over, the entire band literally had to drag Bruce offstage.

As I left the ACC, I wondered what time it was. I guessed it was a little after 11 PM. When I looked at my watch, however, I was stunned to see that it was almost 1 AM! Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had put on a 4 hour show! For me, the show had flown by in a heartbeat.

Maybe it was Springsteen’s blue-collar, “give ‘em their money’s worth” work ethic. Maybe it was the ferocious energy of the music and the crowd. Maybe it was Springsteen’s story-telling ability. Maybe it was Clarence Clemon’s saxophone, thundering like the Voice of God Himself. Maybe it was losing myself in the ecstasy of singing “Born to Run” with thousands of other Domers. Whatever the reason, it was the best damn concert I have ever attended. No other experience even comes close. The “90 minutes and done” pop stars of today should learn a lesson from The Boss. Play like there’s no tomorrow.

Jack Connolly

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Bruce Springsteen South Burlington, Vermont and Montreal 1978 Darkness Tour – Rock and Roll Memories

Jym Wilson

Bruce_Springsteen_vermont3Bruce_Springsteen_Vermont6Bruce_springsteen_vermont8

Bruce_Springsteen_Vermont2I’ve been listening to Bruce Springsteen’s music since the fall of 1975 when I joined a group of friends huddled around an AV department record player in the waiting room outside the high school guidance dept. offices to listen to Born to Run. To this day I can remember how his songs spoke to me and told me that there was a world outside of South Burlington, Vermont that I needed to get to ASAP.

Fast-forward to 1978. I had been listening to Springsteen closely for three years. A friend from New Jersey had introduced me to the first two records. Then Darkness came out and finally, he was coming to town.

Nov. 4, 1978 changed the way I knew music could be performed live. I was a 20-year-old part-time lab tech for The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press who liked to take photos, especially of rock concerts. I had been to a few shows at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium but this one had the biggest anticipatory buzz that I’d ever encountered. I went to the side door the press was supposed to enter through, entirely certain that the prerequisite phone calls I had made and my press pass would get me in. But no. Someone at the door told us “No photos tonight. We can give you handout, (photos).” But our tickets would still be good. So one lens went down one boot, another in the other boot and the camera goes around the back and under the jacket. Through the door and to my seat. While waiting for the show to begin, a friend from high school appeared at my side. “I’m sitting with you,” she announced, dropping into my lap. Did I mention that mine was a fourth row seat?

Bruce_Springsteen_vermont7Bruce_Springsteen_Vermont5Bruce_Springsteen_vermont1Bruce_Springsteen_VermontIn most ways the show was a blur. I’d shot rock ‘n’ roll before but never anything like this. Bruce seemed to never stop moving. This was more like shooting a basketball game. This was way before auto-focus cameras, let alone digital cards with the capacity of hundreds of photos. At the same time, especially from such a close vantage point, it was as intimate as a small club. The guy was playing right at us. And then he jumped into the crowd and was carried hand-over-hand past me. Total mayhem. I’ve looked at the negatives. Nothing is sharp.

The band played on. Bruce took us down Thunder Road. Told stories about Growing Up. Sent us out into the Night. Danced until Quarter ‘till Three.

12_BRUCE-SPRINGSTEEN-Montreal-1
Four nights later I would have an entirely different Bruce experience at the Montreal Forum. This time I was going with four friends packed into a Mazda GLC. No credentials but still carrying a camera and this time color slide film. This one was for me. Bull shit my way past security about not having a press pass. Up, up, up to the seats known as the oxygen section. Lights down. Show starts. Work the color aspect of the show. One friend, actually a pretty crazy casual acquaintance, nudges me, chin tilts towards the stage and says,”let’s go.” And we’re off. Like Bruce jumping the gates at Graceland we will not be denied. Jumping barricades, pushing past security guards, making our way to the front. And then, there we are. Front row. Standing on chairs with dozens of screaming fans. This won’t last. I start shooting fast. Bruce is sitting on top of Roy’s piano. Bang. Danny, Steve and Clarence share a mike. Bang.  Bruce is climbing on top of the speakers and Clarence is tilting his horn up at him. Bang. Security is trying to clear out people who don’t belong, (me,) so it’s finish the roll and scoot so I don’t have to worry about getting tossed from the venue.

15_BRUCE-SPRINGSTEEN-Montreal-4Back to my seat. Enjoy the show.  Make a few more frames, taking advantage of the distance from the stage and the light.

Bruce_springsteen_montreal_78Since the ’78 tour I’ve photographed Bruce in concert one time, in 1999 in DC where I live now. The reunion tour. Great show, good photos. I’ve seen him without my cameras on quite a few other occasions and have a ticket to see him this September, 2012. He always sets a high bar. It’s always fun. Sometimes great. Sometimes transporting. But those ’78 shows changed the way I think about a lot of things. There’s a reason it’s called work. Success takes a lot of it. But if you love what you do sometimes you get to call it playing.

21_BRUCE-SPRINGSTEEN-Montreal

Jym Wilson is the senior photo editor for the Life section at USA TODAY. He lives in Washington DC and is very glad that one of Bruce’s 1978 concerts is available on DVD.

Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
IF you have ever considered buying this book, Now is the time.
The book focuses on Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s iconic 4th album
and 1978 concert tour. Read about the live concerts from fans who were there:
- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum
and over seventy more, this book is a must have.
With less than 30 copies left, now is the time to order this collectible book.
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American Madness Becomes Darkness on The Edge of Town, And More.

Peter Watts, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Thanks to a legal dispute with former manager Mike Appel, Springsteen had three years to bask in the stellar success of Born To Run, and to contemplate its follow-up. The resulting album, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, is a very different beast from its predecessor.

Springsteen_Clarence_.jpgLike Dylan before him, Springsteen withdrew from fame, moving to a farm in New Jersey so he could refocus on “life in the close confines of the small towns I grew up in.” He wanted to “write about the stress and tension of my father’s and mother’s life that came with the difficulties of trying to make ends meet.” (The album was originally to be called “American Madness,” after a Frank Capra movie about the Depression.) Fatherhood is one of the album’s themes (“Adam Raised A Cain”); struggle another (“Streets Of Fire,” “Factory”). These are songs about small-town frustration, sometimes sexual (“Candy’s Room”), sometimes social (“The Promised Land”).

Being Bruce, the angst is tempered with romance, particularly for the road — many songs involve driving, either for escape, for thrills, or both — but musically, this is a much more subdued affair than Born To Run. Clarence Clemons’ sax is rarely heard. Instead, Springsteen’s guitar and Roy Bittan’s measured, melancholic piano set the tone.

Uplifting, downbeat, bleak, and mad as hell, Darkness… is a spellbinding B-movie epic to follow the blockbuster of Born To Run.

Billboard, 1978.

On this long awaited effort, Springsteen eschews the tight dense sound of his acclaimed “Born To Run” to put the emphasis on his unique throaty singing style. While more sparse, the music is equally powerful, with the seven-man band behind Springsteen aided by the studio prowess of the producers along with Steve Van Zandt, Jimmy Iovine and Charles Plotkin. Springsteen’s lyrics continue their exploration of doom and adolescent angst as perceived is small New Jersey towns. This is the type of album that grows with each listening. Best cuts: “Adam Raised Cain,” “Factory,” “Prove It All Night,” “Darkness On The Edge Of Town.”

Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock ‘n’ Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

The delayed release of this album served notice that Springsteen, like Stevie Wonder, would not churn out product by any set schedule. Three years had passed since his previous work, Born to Run. In truth, the gap would have been shorter had he not been absorbed for the better part of the year in a legal scuffle with his former manager.

Also like Stevie Wonder, Springsteen did not merely record enough tracks to fill an album, but wrote many songs and selected numbers that would work together to produce the effect he desired. As with Stevie, some numbers were given to other artists, some retained for future albums, and several consigned to seemingly interminable limbo.

The effect Bruce and his producers did create with this album was intense and powerful, too strong for AM radio. Though several tracks were outstanding, none emerged as hit singles, “Prove It All Night” and “Badlands” peaking in the mid-third of the Hot 100. In 1987, Darkness on the Edge of Town was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #59 rock album of all time.

Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991. 

Springsteen_Phoenix78_.jpgFrom the cover photos to the contents, it’s clear that this is the statement of a changed man; the boyish beliefs have been supplanted by hard won knowledge of the “real” world. (Obviously, reflection of two years of court battles with his first opportunistic manager which kept him out of the recording studio where he might have capitalized on the resounding acclamation accorded Born to Run.) Darkness on the Edge of Town echoes with the honed down gritiness of material that reflects more the reality than the romance of his beloved road. Highlighted by Bruce’s painfully potent vocal outpourings and his slashing guitar, it includes some of his strongest material, “Promised Land,” “Badlands,” “Adam Raised a Cain” and the title cut.

John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

On this, the flip side of Born to Run, the idealism of those characters turns into stark terror once they hit adulthood. This is where Springsteen’s reputation as a working-class mouthpiece is based, but there’s much more here than that.

Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Coming after a long legal battle to extricate himself from a management deal, Darkness on the Edge of Town is indeed darker than Born to Run but not without redemptive hope in songs such as “Badlands” and “The Promised Land.” This may well be Springsteen’s best batch of songs, though the production is criminally flat.

Zagat Survey Music Guide – 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

After a three-year absence imposed by legal battles with his former manager, Bruce returned with a blistering tour de force that really showed off his band. Though the production is a little rough, this cathartic record is tight and direct with some of his most resonant songs. Turning to the troubles of adulthood, it offered a brooding, stark version of life for his characters and yet hope shines through — “I believe in the promised land,” indeed.

Nevin Martell, VH1′s 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

For anyone who might have thought Bruce Springsteen couldn’t sustain the creative arc and evolutionary path attained on his breakthrough album, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town proved them soundly wrong. With this astounding album, the New Jersey native took his bar-band boogie from the boardwalk to sold-out shows across the States and let everyone know that he would forever be “The Boss.”

Springsteen_capitol_.jpgWith a title that hints at the invisible corners in life that some can’t see into and others choose not to see at all, Darkness‘s lyrics represent a streetwise poeticism that is lofty without being highbrow and straightforward without being simplistic. From the badlands to the Promised Land with the wastelands and the heartland in between, Springsteen travels across the American dream as his cast of outsiders, dreamers, and quiet failures yearn for redemption, wisdom, and escape. On “Prove It All Night” he sings “Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist / There’s so much that you want, you deserve much more than this,” epitomizing that basic sense of hope that his song writing of this period captured so eloquently. You got the sense when you listened to Springsteen that he wanted the same things as his tortured characters. So, when he sang “For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels rumbling through this promised land / Tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea” in “Racing in the Street,” you knew that he too was gonna drive to the sea if it was the last thing he did. And you loved him for it.

Kicking up a notch the wall-of-sound aesthetic he had so successfully employed on his previous LP, Darkness on the Edge of Town takes out all the exuberance and joy from the mix and leaves the listener to contemplate the music’s sombre underbelly. This set of material ranks as one of the great examples American song writing and helped place Bruce Springsteen in the pantheon alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. And that is where he remains decades later, still standing as one of the most vital and influential rock ‘n’ roll artists of all time.

Darkness on the Edge of Town was voted the 68th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

Springsteen Summer Tour 2012 Book Sale
Discover the Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
The Light In Darkness is a collector’s edition, we are almost sold out. Less than 225 copies remain. A great companion piece to The Promise box set, it focuses on the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour.
Read about the iconic concerts from fans who were there- the Agora, Winterland, Roxy, MSG, Capitol Theatre, Boston Music Hall, The Spectrum and over seventy more!

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The Follow Up To Born to Run- Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Springsteen_badlands_.jpgThomas Nassiff: Absolute Punk

Following up Born To Run is something that seems like a monumental task, but given the pressure Bruce Springsteen experienced in earlier parts of his career, it probably didn’t seem like such a tall mountain to climb. When Springsteen released Born To Run, Columbia Records basically treated it as the 25-year-old’s last chance to write something that could make them some money. Luckily, Springsteen churned out one of the most fantastic records of all time, launching himself into stardom as a household name and a worldwide presence. Need further evidence as to his importance other than his extensive world touring after the record? On Oct. 27, 1975, both Time and Newsweek put Springsteen on their respective covers, with Time calling him “Rock’s New Sensation.”

The 1978 follow-up to Born To Run was Darkness On The Edge Of Town, a hard-hitting, ten-track album that showed Springsteen’s progression as a musician. This time, Springsteen had a different kind of pressure, and following up a phenomenal record might have been a relief compared to the negative energy associated with the Born To Run sessions when he was essentially writing to save his career. Springsteen and The E Street Band kick off Darkness in killer fashion, with the dominating “Badlands.” Springsteen has always made his mark on opening songs, and “Badlands” proves to still be a phenomenal live song. Clarence Clemons’ saxophone parts in the track are some of his E Street Band highlights, and the lyricism is predictably incredible: Poor men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings, And a king aint satisfied till he rules everything, I wanna go out tonight And show them what I’ve got.”

“Candy’s Room” gave fans something different from The Boss. Whereas most of Springsteen’s early work is full of weaving storytelling and drawn-out musicianship, “Candy’s Room” is an under-three-minute track that was one of Springsteen’s catchiest at the time – second to probably only “She’s The One.” The guitar solo in the bridge is to-the-point, and it’s about as rock’n'roll is anything can be. “Candy’s Room” also kicks off the most important chunk of Darkness, as it is followed by “Racing In The Street” and “The Promised Land.”

Springsteen_Prove_It_.jpg“Racing In The Street” is a piano-led ballad that got a good amount of attention in live shows following the release of Darkness but was put on the shelf by Springsteen until more recent tours. While alternate versions are better than the album version, the song still has great imagery to it and is one of the best low-key Springsteen tracks. Meanwhile, “The Promised Land” made its way to become one of the more celebrated tracks in The Boss’ catalog, as many diehards I’ve met proclaim it as their favorite song. The lyrics here are worth noting as well, as Springsteen smoothly delivers, “I’ve done my best to live the right way / I get up every morning and go to work each day / But your eyes go blind, and your blood runs cold / Sometimes I feel so weak I just wanna explode / Explode and tear this whole town apart / Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart / Find somebody itching for something to start.” Later in the song, we’re hit with another great pre chorus: “Gonna be a twister to blow everything down / That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground / Blow away the dreams that tear you apart / Blow away the dreams that break your heart / Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted.”

In typical Springsteen fashion, the last two songs on the record deliver a shock as well, and the one-two punch of “Prove It All Night” and the title track just make you want to flip your record over and start again from the beginning. Springsteen’s flailing vocals in the title track provide one of my personal favorite moments from The Boss, and the guitar line in the track is tough to beat.

Springsteen_Cobo_Detroit_.jpgAs interesting as Darkness is as a whole, it’s also extremely interesting to look back at the material that didn’t end up being used for the record. In order to keep the theme of the album intact, Springsteen scratched some songs that actually went on to become well-known singles for other artists – “Because The Night” for Patti Smith, “Fire” for Robert Gordon, and “This Little Girl” for Gary U.S. Bonds are a few examples. Still other songs would wind up on the double-disc release of The River.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town would be the best record for a lot of artists, but not for Bruce Springsteen. While the record isn’t as good as Born To Run, it was extremely important for the group that the record wasn’t overlooked. It certainly led to some different times with double-disc release of The River, which is why the first four Springsteen records are where I’d recommend any prospective fan to begin their journey into The Boss’ life work.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town at 30+

Springsteen_Badlands_.jpgJeff Vaca

“Occasionally, a record appears that changes fundamentally the way we hear rock & roll, the way it’s recorded, the way it’s played. Such records – Jimi Hendrix’ Are You Experienced, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Who’s Next, The Band – force response, both from the musical community and the audience. To me, these are the records justifiably called classics, and I have no doubt that Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town will someday fit as naturally within that list as the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music.”

So began Dave Marsh’s Rolling Stone magazine review of Darkness on the Edge of Town, published in July of 1978. Thirty years later, we are armed with the knowledge that Marsh has been Springsteen’s greatest critical champion, his biographer, and his friend. But does that necessarily render his 1978 opinion invalid? Even then, Marsh had to know the gamble he was taking. In 1978 he was already known as a close friend of Jon Landau, the rock critic turned producer who, over time, would become Springsteen’s manager and advisor, and in all likelihood the single most important person to the development of his career. In fact, Marsh and Landau had been together at the 1974 Springsteen show which became legendary because of what Landau wrote about it: “I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” In effect, Marsh was placing every ounce of his credibility on the chopping block – had the album proven to be a stiff, few people would have taken him seriously again.

springsteen_fox_theatre_atlanta_.jpgMarsh needn’t have worried. In 2008, the relevant question is not “Is Darkness on the Edge of Town a great album?,” but rather “How great an album is Darkness on the Edge of Town?” And the answer is that Marsh was correct – Darkness today stands as a landmark of rock history, as well as the most important album that Bruce Springsteen has made. And here’s where I take a deep breath, gaze over the precipice, and jump – it is his best album.

There’s a Pete Townshend quote about Darkness that I remember, because it is a pretty good summation of what the album is about. If I remember correctly, it went something along the lines of “what Bruce Springsteen is singing about on his new album, that’s not fun – that’s f*cking triumph, man.” But what Townshend said is only partly true, because while triumph is a part of the story, it’s not the only part. When the last notes of the last song are played out, you’re still not certain how things are going to end– the protagonist is defiant, but could very well be trapped at the same time, with a final chapter left to be written at some point in the future.

The tone is set at the very beginning, in the first words of “Badlands”:

Lights out tonight
trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision
smashin’ in my guts, man
I’m caught in a cross fire
that I don’t understand
But there’s one thing I know for sure girl
I don’t give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
I don’t give a damn
For just the in betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul
I want control right now

“I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now.” And there you have it, in a nutshell. From that point on, the album depicts a life’s journey, and the battles – simple or otherwise – which must be fought, sometimes on a daily basis, to keep from “dying little by little, piece by piece,” as he later sings in “Racing in the Street.” As the album progresses, each individual song raises the ante, making clear just how high the stakes are. The music’s intensity is like nothing Springsteen had previously recorded (even Born to Run, great as that album was), and the lyrics match that intensity, verse by verse and word for word:

In the darkness of your room
your mother calls you by your true name
You remember the faces, the places, the names
You know it’s never over it’s relentless as the rain

Adam Raised A Cain

Nothing is forgotten or forgiven,
when it’s your last time around,
I got stuff running ’round my head
That I just can’t live down

“Something in the Night” (a particular favorite of mine, for what should be obvious reasons)

I’ve done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this whole town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start

The Promised Land

I’m wandering, a loser down these tracks
I’m dying, but girl I can’t go back
‘Cause in the darkness I hear somebody call my name
And when you realize how they tricked you this time
And it’s all lies but I’m strung out on the wire
In these streets of fire

Streets of Fire

Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist,
There’s so much that you want, you deserve much more than this,
But if dreams came true, oh, wouldn’t that be nice,
But this ain’t no dream we’re living through tonight,
Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price

“Prove It All Night”

And, finally:

Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Springsteen_New_Haven1_.jpgBy this point, it should be clear that the journey is not over. But there is hope, there is faith, and there is the drive to sustain both through the long days and nights yet to come – in the battle against what critic Greil Marcus would later call “a long, uncertain fight against cynicism.”

It would be criminal to praise Springsteen’s songwriting on this album without also giving due praise to the band which gives the songs their life. Simply put, the band is amazing. There are enough great musical moments on Darkness to last most bands a lifetime, whether it be the late Danny Federici’s heartbreaking organ on “Racing in the Street,” Roy Bittan’s beautiful piano introduction to “Something in the Night,” or the general brilliance of the rhythm section throughout. Though the Big Man is featured less on this album than on others, when his time comes on “The Promised Land” and “Prove It All Night,” he is there to deliver. And while the production by Springsteen, Landau and Steve Van Zandt has been criticized by some over the years for being too muddy, I think that’s unfair – the instrumentation throughout is clear as a bell, and the album has a sound that is entirely appropriate to the depth and gravitas of the material.

But in the end, what takes Darkness from being simply outstanding to that rare level of greatness which few albums reach are the four songs that serve as the album’s bookends – on Side 1, “Badlands” and “Racing in the Street;” on Side 2, “The Promised Land” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” All four are among the best songs Springsteen has written, and it is no accident that two of them – “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” – remain, thirty years later, the moral and emotional centerpiece of his live concerts.

Dave Marsh wrote that the promise of Bruce Springsteen was “That someday, Bruce Springsteen would make rock & roll that would shake men’s souls and make them question the direction of their lives. That would do, in short, all the marvelous things rock had always promised to do.” Since 1978, Springsteen has made good records, he has made excellent records, and he has made great records. But in terms of the impact that Marsh described, Springsteen has never topped Darkness on the Edge of Town. And for that reason, it is his best album.


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Greetings From Asbury Park – 2009

Steven B. Rogers

I am presently sitting on a bench in front of Madam Marie’s small shop on the Asbury Park boardwalk from which she has for years dispensed Tarot readings, fortunes and advice. It is a Sunday afternoon. The place is closed; I guess she is taking the day off. Bruce Springsteen, who got his start in this “city by the sea,” turned 60 years old this past week! Who would have thought it possible? And the guy keeps rocking! So I guess there is hope for all of us who are quickly approaching that benchmark in our own lives.

springsteen_cover_.jpgI discovered Springsteen in the summer of 1978, when I was working in a record store in College Park, Maryland; a second job while I was teaching and completing my doctoral program at the University of Maryland. Darkness on the Edge of Town, his fourth album, had just been released and each afternoon, after punching the time-clock, I slid the black vinyl disk (remember them?) out of its cardboard sleeve, put it on the turntable behind the cash register, and set the needle down on the last track on the A side – “Racing in the Streets.” This song in particular, but the entire album really, captured my imagination. Who was this thin, scruffy rocker from the Jersey Shore, and why did his music and lyrics resonate with a guy who had grown up in the white bread suburbs of Chicago? But then again, in the late 60s and early 70s, my generation, even those of us who had led relatively sheltered lives, had begun to question that which we always assumed to be true. What was this so-called “American dream,” and why was it out of reach to a growing number of Americans? I recognized these very same questions in many of Springsteen’s lyrics and I began to look to his songs for the answers I had not yet discovered for myself.

Springsteen_Promised-Land_.jpgAlthough Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had already been on the music scene for a few years, it was Darkness on the Edge of Town that caught my ear . . . my attention . . . my imagination. It would be years before I would more fully appreciate his earlier songs. Darkness on the Edge of Town eclipsed all that went before. Not even Born to Run, recorded three years earlier, had resonated with me as it had others who saw Springsteen as “the new Dylan,” the new poet of blue collar America. But now I listened to his music and his lyrics . . . stories about real people . . . people I might have met somewhere along the way. Springsteen and the band were searching for a way out . . . a last chance power drive to find the promised land. I was not quite there yet, I guess, but Darkness on the Edge of Town changed all of that. “Occasionally a record appears that changes fundamentally the way we hear rock and roll, the way it’s recorded, the way it’s played,” wrote Dave Marsh in a review of the album appearing in a July 1978 issue of Rolling Stone. “One ought to be wary of making such claims, but in this case, they’re justified at every level.” Marsh hit the nail squarely on the head. This record was nothing less than a commentary on the veracity of the American dream. It clicked with me . . . finally!
Now, over thirty years later, I have spent this weekend on the Jersey Shore where I have been participating in a symposium co-sponsored by Virginia Tech and Penn State at which over 200 educators, journalists, historians, musicians and musicologists from more than thirty states and nine foreign countries have assembled to celebrate Springsteen’s life and music on the occasion of his having reached geezerdom. This is a follow-up to the original symposium held back in September 2005. Having spoken on the subject of Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck and their influences on Springsteen’s social conscience, this time around I was invited to participate in a panel where I spoke to the influences of Jack Kerouac on Springsteen as a narrative poet while also chairing another session exploring Springsteen’s sense of place; a fascinating topic given the fact that we were meeting at the epicenter of his life and music.

Springsteen_Streets_.jpg
It was not all academic exchange, however. There was a tribute to Danny Federici, the former E Street Band organist, led by Bob Santelli of the Grammy Museum and featuring Vini Lopez, Springsteen’s original drummer, and Tinker West, a former Springsteen manager and sound engineer. And how could there be any celebration of, or tribute to Springsteen, without music? Lots of music, played where he emerged as a dominant voice of the Jersey Shore Sound . . . an interesting synthesis of early rock & roll and rhythm and blues with not a little doo wop thrown in for good measure. Although the Boss did not materialize in our midst – he was up the road in New York City talking with Elvis Costello at the Apollo Theater and preparing for a series of stadium dates at the Meadowlands – several musicians who have played with Springsteen over the years were there: Joe Grushecky and the House Rockers out of Pittsburgh; Lisa Lowell, who sings with the Seeger Sessions Band; Joe d’Urso and Joe Rapolla, who co-host the “Songwriters by the Sea” series, Jen Chapin (the late Harry Chapin’s daughter) with her bassist husband Stefan Crump, and Scott Kempner of Del-Lords and Dictators fame, all of whom covered some of Springsteen’s songs. There were thoughtful and meditative acoustic performances, including one featuring Grushecky, who discussed his collaboration with Springsteen over the years while premiering an acoustic version of “Code of Silence,” as well as loud, hell-bent rock and blues performed by Grushecky, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, gasoline rocker Willie Nile, and others at the Stone Pony, that seminal Jersey Shore club just a couple of blocks south of where I am sitting here on the boardwalk and where Springsteen played early in his career and where he still shows up from time to time to jam with his friends. We were also treated to an evening reception at a gallery here on the Asbury Park boardwalk featuring a photo exhibit by Danny Clinch, Springsteen’s photographer. Later that evening Danny showed up at The Stone Pony where Joe Grushecky coaxed him to the stage to belt out a couple of tunes on the harmonica with the Houserockers.

asbury_park_.jpgAsbury Park has changed a great deal since I first came here 45 years ago. It was the summer of the New York World’s Fair on Flushing Meadow and my family and I spent a couple of days at the shore before heading home to Wisconsin. Back then it was a thriving beach resort with its boardwalk anchored on either end by the Convention Center and the Casino and its brightly lit amusement rides, concession stands and arcades. All this changed on July 4, 1970 when racial tensions culminated in riots that left much of the area destroyed or abandoned, and to this day it has not regained its glory days of the past. The Convention Center has managed to rise from the ashes, the linchpin for efforts to revitalized the area. The Casino, or what is left of it, remains a skeletal reminder that there is still much work to do.

This weekend I have wandered around the places and among the people Springsteen has been writing and singing about since his earliest recordings; the Jersey Shore is very much his native ground. A few miles up the shore from Asbury Park is Long Branch. In 1974, when Springsteen was on the cusp of success, he left his hometown of Freehold, west of here, and settled into a small cottage at 7½ West End Court, just a short walk from the beach. Here, from May 1974 until late 1975, Springsteen lived and wrote the eight songs that would be his breakout album, Born to Run. I was able to find the place and counted myself lucky. Back in July, Bob Dylan, who was also looking for the Springsteen cottage, was stopped by two very young Long Branch police officers and briefly detained because he could not provide any identification. When success finally came, Springsteen was able to move out of this tiny cottage and it would have been easy to never look back. Yet regardless of the fame and fortune attendant his career over the past four decades, Springsteen has never lost sight of his roots and the family, friends and places who made him what he is today. In his song “Youngstown,” he chides those who have grown “rich enough to forget my name.” Springsteen has never forgotten his native ground and the people who inhabit it. Walk around Asbury Park. You will hear his songs everywhere you look.


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Darkness on the Edge of Town: Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Springsteen_Clarence_.jpgDarkness on the Edge of Town est un album de Bruce Springsteen sortie en 1978 et produit par Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen et Steven van Zandt.

Springsteen_Darkness_1978_.jpgSuite à Born to Run le Boss dédie cet album à certains de ses proches souffrant pour mener une vie décente et productive. L’ambiance est sombre, le ton est percutant et saisissant dès la pochette, les textes marquants et travaillés, Springsteen n’hésitant pas à crier comme pour exprimer son désir de révolte et de soutien. Le Boss est très heureux de cet album, peut-il en être autrement quand on veut rendre hommage à ceux qu’on aime et qu’on découvre en situation difficile ? Toutefois, il est erroné de penser que ce disque induit la déprime : bien que contrastant légèrement avec l’air enlevé de Born to Run, il se dégage de cette introspection, de cette quête de vérité spirituelle, un héroïsme, une bravoure. Certains disent que c’est l’album dont Springsteen peut être le plus fier même si ce n’est pas le plus connu comparé à Born to Run et à Born in the U.S.A. On retrouve aussi des références à ses valeurs catholiques, à l’amour ; dans l’ensemble Bruce Springsteen tente d’insuffler une énergie dans un contexte délicat, un moyen de gérer l’espoir même si cela n’est pas facile : c’est là l’effort à faire. On sent qu’il veut servir de porte-parole, et faciliter l’identification des gens qui l’écoutent en quête de réconfort.

Springsteen_leather_jacket_.jpgMusicalement, les cuivres sont plus rares, la guitare est plus présente, le son des compositions rend le son plus proche du rock  et le tempo plus lent, méditatif et nostalgique, en harmonie avec le thème abordé.

C’est à cette période que Steve Van Zandt rejoint définitivement le E Street Band.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town: The Promise

Anthony Verdoni

I’m not sure if it’s still possible for a musician to sound, never mind be, completely sincere. Given today’s reliance on virtual cosmetics – pitch control, chord correction, beat doctoring, backing tracks – the distinction between the real and the synthetic has dissolved into yet another postmodern conundrum, in which the snake is either chasing its tail or swallowing itself whole. We cannot be certain whether this furious cycle of content creation and personality promotion is an act of vanity or cannibalism, but we can make one, unassailable observation: The snake is lip syncing. Its music is entirely secondary to its image, so a digital doppelganger is a more than adequate stand-in for the snake itself.

We are, obviously, disserved by this cynical bait and switch, much as Adam and Eve were disserved by the original serpent, who mouthed one message but imagined something else entirely. Such manipulation is issued in tainted currency and almost always actuates a defeat, transfiguring a broken promise into a paradise lost. The covenant between the creator and the created is sacred. When it’s shattered, mankind is fated to fall, be it from grace, innocence, or, for our more immediate purposes, an historical moment where pop music affirms life rather than its mere imitation.

I lay this argument out in stark, biblical terms because Darkness On the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen’s epoch-defining masterpiece, doesn’t seek to hide its feelings behind layers of sound, circumstance, or lyrical ambiguity. It’s a put up or shut up disc that plays like rock and roll’s final act of complete sincerity, and it might be the last cultural object for which I hold total, unironic veneration. Springsteen’s grand argument can be reduced to an ethic that flows through the philosophies of such disparate political thinkers as Henry David Thoreau, Jimmy Carter, and Ron Paul: Somewhere along the line, America stopped making things. As a result, things started to make America. Darkness straddles, probes, and curses this dividing line, searching for meaning and vitality in working-class lives that had suddenly been stripped of both.

Bruce addresses America by addressing Americans. His music is people centered, employing the more nebulous notions of hope and faith only to show that they are products of human agency, much like the cars and highways that ostensibly take his characters from point A to point B, but actually usher them through all the ineffable places in between. Darkness is about those places – the fringe positions that are overlooked and under policed because they lack an inherent monetary value. We’re talking the Trestles, the dusty road from Monroe to Angeline, the darkness of Candy’s hall – each specific enough to conjure an image, but vague enough to elude a pinpoint. Springsteen is dealing in the tableau of film noir, where unseen creatures conspire to keep certain things unknown and other things unknowable. Faced with this foggy republic of doubt and anxiety – “a crossfire that [he] can’t understand” – Bruce leans on the only item that can sustain a man of principle in a time of shifting allegiances: his sense of right and wrong. When Springsteen laments the things that are corrupting America, he’s singing not only about material goods but also about decisions from on high, resignations from down below, and an almost tangible acceptance of an inequitable world.

Springsteen_guitar_.jpgDarkness is a product of the late 1970s, a period that’s generally regarded as the Gotterdammerung for the American working class. It’s incalculably more severe and sobering than its predecessor, the operatic Born to Run. Where Born to Run is infused with the romance of potential (“The night’s busting open/These two lanes will take us anywhere”), Darkness adheres to the language of limits (“You’re born into this life paying/For the sins of somebody else’s past”). Where Born to Run is the “if” album – if only she’d take my hand, if only we could get out of this place – Darkness is the “but” album – but sometimes she doesn’t take your hand, but sometimes you just can’t get away. To Springsteen, life isn’t what happens while you’re busy making other plans; it’s the sum total of the heroism of those plans, the bravery of their execution, and the tragedy of their falling through. Failure must be added to the rolls and accounted for, not simply ignored.

By the time Bruce reached his late twenties, his music had moved from the open-ended to the claustrophobic. Escape was demoted from a central theme to a momentary indulgence, limited to a 30-second drag race or an after hours rendezvous. In an America driven by oil shocks and runaway inflation, gas was getting more expensive by the hour; so, too, were the mental costs of embarking on a make it or break it journey. The automobile, once a symbol of American prosperity, was now a symbol of American decadence. And the parked car, be it waiting in line for its state-sanctioned gallons or sitting unattended in the driveway, was an emblem of American impotence.

One of the things that make Darkness indispensable is its talent for tying the personal into the political, all without a single overt reference to electoral or economic politics. Springsteen had just been party to a uniquely disheartening legal battle with his former manager, Mike Appel. The litigants had posed some essential artistic questions; namely, who owned Bruce’s music, the label or the performer?; could the label prevent the performer from recording new material, per the dictates of a draconian contract?; and, what happens when the privileges of business usurp the rights of man? These were the questions of working-class America writ small, with Bruce representing labor and Appel representing capital. As plants closed, unions disbanded, and job opportunities continued to dwindle, the hardhat contingent spent a lot of time wondering who was to blame for their diminishing returns. Springsteen took these incipient politics of resentment and turned them into a New Deal for the psyche. He told those who’d been left behind that it was alright to feel exasperated or confused, but not alright to surrender dignity for the sake of recrimination. Darkness’ transcendent moment comes midway through “Racing In the Street,” when Bruce articulates the distinction between the forsaken and the empowered: “Some guys they just give up living/And start dying little by little, piece by piece/Some guys come home from work and wash up/And go racing in the street.” With these couplets, Springsteen offers a tribute to the quiet resolve of the semi-silent majority, a hulking mass of folks who were neither progressive nor reactionary, just tired of the bullshit that was being slung by both sides: Democrat and Republican, business man and union head, father and son, husband and wife, the person you are and the person you’d like to be. Springsteen allowed his characters to get disappointed or disenchanted, but never demoralized. They always retain their conscience and, as such, their responsibility for holding up their end of the bargain, even if the other side has defaulted on its promise.

Darkness is ripped through with labor, both manual and mental. It disobeys the first law of rock and roll, which is that work is supposed to happen elsewhere. From the mid-Fifties onward, commercial pop music was focused on Saturday night, not Monday morning. When work was mentioned, it was either conceived as punishment (as in “Chain Gang”) or treated as a silly obstacle to one’s rightful kicks (as in “Summertime Blues”). Generally speaking, one was laboring to redeem or to improve himself; the job was a temporary detour on the way to better things. Darkness eschewed this sense of upward mobility and threw its full weight into the tasks at hand. Bruce’s alter ego is “working in the fields/Till [he] gets [his] back burned”; “working all day in [his] daddy’s garage”; “working real hard/Trying to get [his] hands clean.” But there’s no assurance that this work will be properly remunerated. To understand the gravity of Darkness, you have to understand its stakes: The record depicts workers caught in a stubborn plateau, yet still cruelly possessed of the capacity to dream. It acknowledges, for perhaps the first time in modern popular music, that, in America, to plateau is to be in decline.

To counteract this crisis of confidence and station, one can feel anger, shame, or nothing at all. Bruce feels all three, but doesn’t let the rough ride take the air out of his tires. He is, after all, “the Boss,” so hard work and a dedication to measurable results constitute the twin pillars of his musical identity. Springsteen places person above persona, and uses his no-nonsense approach to assemble an album that fluctuates between three moods – hope, resignation, and acceptance. He starts with a lot to learn and ends with very little left to lose, but he paints the long road from track 1 to track 10 in distinctly human colors.

Bruce_harmonica_.jpg“Badlands” is Darkness’ mission statement, a first cut that goes deeper than just about anything else in second-generation classic rock. Its second verse – “Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king/And a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything” – indicts the misdirected aspirations that were eating away at America’s soul. The song’s closing argument, dedicated to the “ones who had a notion/A notion deep inside/That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive,” is as rousing and beautiful as anything that Springsteen has written. Those last nine words could serve as a caption to the entire rock and roll era; they celebrate energy, swagger, grammatical incorrectness, and the headlong pursuit of happiness. They’re emoted with the wounded urgency of Elvis Presley but propped up by the righteous, country-tinged rhythms of the E Street Band. The song is the best distillation of American pride, unrest, and optimism that you’ll find on a commercially successful LP. Lines like “Talk about a dream/Try to make it real/You wake up in the night/With a fear so real” typically have no place on an anthem of uplift; but here they’re present and firing on all cylinders, with the Boss finding and dispensing inspiration in absolute honesty. The “Badlands” lyric sheet speaks to the better angels of our nature; it could be housed in the National Archives, comprising a musical accompaniment to Jefferson’s declarations and Lincoln’s proclamations.

Subsequent songs adjust their gauge from the public sing-along to the private confession. “Adam Raised a Cain” tackles the unfortunate inheritances of the American working class, where sin and hurt are passed from parent to child in much the same manner as height, eye color, and vocal intonation. “My daddy worked his whole life/For nothing but the pain/Now he walks these empty rooms/Looking for something to blame” is both reportage and prophecy: Bruce is fated to follow in his father’s footsteps, but the song’s aggressive guitar lick, a one-chord blast that outpunks punk, shows that he has other plans. Springsteen simply will not give in to his most base and destructive impulses – unless, of course, those impulses propel him forward to track 4, the thrilling and sexy “Candy’s Room.” This is a song that scores a triumph without notching a conquest. The protagonist aims to make Candy his because, beneath all the preening and posturing, that’s what both characters truly want: a shared future with a sympathetic figure.

Such hopefulness is conspicuously absent from the terrain that separates “Adam” from “Candy.” Track 3 is the haunted, harrowing “Something In the Night,” in which Springsteen memorably renounces the hallmark of the American Dream: property. Bruce sings, “We are born with nothing/And better off that way/Soon as you got something they send/Someone to try and take it away.” (The disgust is such that you can just about smell the ink on his recently brokered legal settlement.) This is the sort of testimony that will later materialize in “Racing In the Street,” an earnest negotiation between those who fight on and those who’ve thrown in the towel. “Racing” juxtaposes the never-say-die narrator with his defeated girlfriend, who “sits on the porch of her daddy’s house…with the eyes of one who hates for just being born.” The scene is like something out of a John Ford film or a Flannery O’Connor short story. It’s also reminiscent of The Last Picture Show, where the space between what’s happening now and what’s to come is ceded to the lonely tumbleweed that’s blowing down Main Street.

This emptiness and despair is cut to ribbons by track 6, “The Promised Land,” an unblinking call for respect that packs just as much soul as Otis Redding’s similarly themed Stax record. From the opening harmonica riff, it’s apparent that “Promised Land” is the rightful heir to “Badlands.” The sadness of the earlier numbers is cast off by a declaration of purpose for uncertain times. In an attempt to defang the wolves of working-class impotence, Springsteen sings “Pretty soon, little girl, I’m gonna take charge.” He reminds his listeners that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a function of the traveler’s faith, be it in God or himself. Of course, one of the central psychological problems of the late Seventies was that this redemptive light seemed to be purely metaphorical. Bruce acknowledges this mindset when he sings of “driving all night, chasing some mirage,” yet he doesn’t cast aspersions on the quest or pull off the parkway in search of a numbing round of drinks. “The Promised Land” demanded direct engagement with reality at a time when blue-collar types were increasingly likely to surrender to the insentient comforts of Saturday Night Fever and Soul Train. Instead of looking for answers, they were pretending not to hear the questions.

No Darkness track recites the harsh truths of the working life more effectively than “Factory.” The man amid machinery – or, by extension, the man made mechanized – is treated as a tragic figure, one who loses his hearing and his bearings yet barely wins a living wage. Bruce takes this narrative personally, as his own father was an itinerant laborer who worked more than a few shifts on the factory floor. It’s useful to see “Factory” as Darkness’ differentiator, the blood-and-guts track that says, “Nobody but Bruce Springsteen could have made this album.” In 1978, pop radio was in thrall to disco and arena rock, both of which existed as factories of fantasy. Beats were syncopated by computers and chords were dulled by engineers, all towards the goal of rendering some sort of sonic narcotic. Even the legendary Rolling Stones had opted out of the rigors of cognition and connection: When asked why his band had named their disco-rock LP Some Girls, Keith Richards replied, “Because we couldn’t remember their fucking names.”

Springsteen could never abide by this statement or its underlying ethos of volitional, coked-up distraction. He never forgot a name, and when he chose not to use one, it was either to protect the innocent or to shame the guilty. The Boss handcrafted each song with an express purpose: To dissuade his listeners from buying into the feel-good dead ends that Top 40 was peddling. He saw that the Studio 54 and Laurel Canyon crowds were manufacturing something that was altogether foreign to those who were unwilling to abandon their bedrock values: that is, permission – no, encouragement! – to forget. Bruce stood out because he stood up. With songs like “Factory,” he displayed the insight to distinguish between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy, what’s petty and what’s important, what’s temporary and what’s permanent.

As much as any album in the rock and roll canon, Darkness is concerned with the weight of one’s decisions. It moves from “Factory” and “Streets of Fire,” songs about men whose decisions were largely made for them, by the faceless “powers that be,” to “Prove It All Night,” which reignites the choose-you-own-adventure schemes that made Born to Run so alive with possibility. In “Prove It,” the characters are still young and bold enough to consider a “Thunder Road”-style exodus. It falls upon the narrator to summon the courage of his convictions, to partake in the grand gamble. After confessing that he has no illusions, that he realizes that dreams don’t usually come true, he abruptly tells his girl that “this ain’t no dream we’re living through tonight.” He asks her to meet him “in the fields behind the dynamo,” not for one-night’s splendor in the grass but for a lifetime together in greener pastures, wherever they might be. These kids don’t set off in search of Eden. They’re wiser and more hardened than their Born to Run counterparts; which, in narrative terms, means that they know they’re running down an acceptable, adult coexistence rather than an idealized, adolescent fantasia.

Ultimately, Darkness must bow to its age of diminished expectations. Its final song, the title track, catches up with the “Prove It” narrator after his escape, his marriage, and his faith in a better tomorrow have failed. He’s succumbed to the indignity of living paycheck-to-paycheck, a condition that more or less precludes him from planning beyond the end of the workday. This great humbling, in which the erstwhile escapee is forced to reside in the “town full of losers” that he used to mock, should be tear-tracked and bile-ridden. But instead of merely rattling the bars of his cage, Springsteen’s character finds solace in the small, unregulated space that defines the outer boundaries of his home turf: the proverbial darkness on the edge of town. What most might conceive as a prison sentence is reworked into a furious emancipation. The freedom it affords is not particularly pretty, but it’s real, and the narrator earns it through sheer strength of will.

Springsteen_prove_it_.jpgThe song, along with the album proper, closes with Springsteen testifying to the indomitable nature of his resolve:

Tonight I’ll be on that hill ‘cause I can’t stopI’ll be on that hill with everything I got Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost For wanting things that can only be foundIn the darkness on the edge of town.

With all due deference to the Ancient Greeks, these are heroic couplets. They envision the ordinary man as a shaper of destiny, even while flashing his Achilles heel and admitting that many of his odysseys are not undertaken voluntarily. Just as some have argued that the definition of bravery is being afraid, but going anyway, Springsteen implies that the definition of dignity is knowing that you’ve been beaten, but soldiering on as if you’ve still got a dog in the fight or a hand in the outcome. Some people call this futility; others call it everyday life.

Darkness was recently reissued with a full retinue of bells, whistles, and “making of” paraphernalia. The package is a compelling, multi-volume portrait of an artist in transition, finding his way forward by means of talent and circumstance. When he enters the first frame, Bruce is a chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected Jersey boy, aglitter with the raves and revenue that followed in the wake of Born to Run. By mid-journey, he’s a head case with a hankering for the truth and disdain for those who are dedicated to keeping it hidden. And as the closing credits roll, the Boss is an everyman in full: He’s figured out a few things he probably wishes he didn’t know, and the scars of the learning experience have forever tightened his songwriting. Darkness did not make room for the run-on poetics of Greeting From Asbury Park, the unattenuated epics of The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, or the bombastic rock operas of Born to Run. From here on in, the Boss’ marching orders would be lean, mean, and channeled into a collective current. His albums would remain ambitious and conceptual, but the concept would never again be clouded by the music’s grandiloquence. Darkness is what made Bruce Springsteen “Bruce Springsteen”: a musician who writes extraordinary songs about ordinary people.

Several such songs are found within the bonus sphere of the deluxe reissue. Although Bruce has claimed that the cast-offs were largely “genre exercises,” meaning straight country or soul, many of them evince a complexity that would send shock waves through the Brill Building’s writer’s room. One needn’t be a sophisticated student of rock and roll to notice that several of the estranged tracks enjoyed second lives on the pop charts. “Fire” was loaned to the Pointer Sisters, and eventually peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top 40. “Because the Night” became Patti Smith’s most recognizable song – no small achievement, considering Patti’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credentials. And “Talk to Me,” a swinging, brassy R&B number, was used to great effect by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. In their aggregate, the B-sides and bootlegs prove that Bruce could have shelved his working-class voice and made a bundle as a conventional pop songwriter. The thrill of this proof is tempered, however, by the realization that Springsteen did make a bundle as a (somewhat) conventional songwriter. That album would come less than six years after Darkness. It would be called Born in the U.S.A. And it would sell more than 30 million copies worldwide.

The Darkness-session songs that bubble with pop potential were far too happy or uncritical to merit inclusion on the original disc. “Gotta Get That Feeling,” “Someday (We’ll Be Together),” and “Save My Love” each drip with the greenness that characterizes Springsteen’s demo versions of “Racing In the Street” and “Candy’s Room” (which, at the time, was known as “Candy’s Boy”). These tracks are game but not yet ready for prime time, as Bruce himself would admit, if only by citing his processes of elimination and attrition. After several spins, the “forgotten” material that generates the most interest are the songs that have long quickened the pulse of every self-respecting Springsteen fan. I’ll name check two: “The Promise” and “Because the Night,” both of which make a memorable impact on the reissue, but, in truth, only reveals their full color when Springsteen busts them out on the performance stage.

“The Promise” was cut from Darkness because Bruce considered it to be “too bleak.” This is tantamount to saying that a song was “too funky” for a Parliament album or “too mellow” for a Nick Drake concert. Bleakness is one of the central humours of the Darkness aesthetic, and “The Promise” wields it brilliantly. Perhaps the song had to go because it’s too self-referential, with several lyrical allusions to “Thunder Road.” The two lanes that could take us anywhere are rebranded as a dead highway, and the driver of the would-be getaway car is revealed to be a malcontent. He sings, “I won big once and I hit the coast/But somehow I paid the cost/Inside I felt like I was carrying all the broken spirits/Of all the other ones who lost.” This is a beautiful sentiment, but it smells of autobiography and, maybe, a half tank of self-pity. Springsteen didn’t want to sacrifice universality for the sake of personal catharsis. His message on Darkness was “We’re going it alone…together.” To out himself as the sole narrator would be an affront to the entire enterprise.

“Because the Night” has the prime materials of the album at large: work, longing, fear, and, in the end, a shot at deliverance. (Not to mention “Night” in the title.) If Jimmy Iovine hadn’t sweet talked Springsteen into bequeathing it to Patti Smith, the song might have made Bruce’s shortlist. In addition to being an honest meditation on the subtle differences between love and lust, “Because” contains one of the keystone lyrics of the Darkness era: “What I’ve got, I have earned/What I’m not, baby, I have learned.” The attitude is spare and stripped-down; it doesn’t have the time, or the patience, for guile. Accordingly, it helps define the promise that Darkness makes to its listeners: What you see is what you get.

At bottom, Bruce Springsteen’s signature artistic triumph is his refusal to go postmodern. Time and again, he declines to sell out to the chic relativity of the neoliberal period, where truth is liquid, faith is square, and self is determined by situation rather than conviction. With Darkness, Springsteen put his foot down, both on the ‘69 Chevy’s gas pedal and to the historical forces that were conspiring to replace doctrines of fairness with screeds of animus. By 1978, the runaway American dream was rife with revisionisms, many of which were designed to transpose class solidarity with political identity; that is, to telescope the raised fist into the pointed finger. Amid this cynical shadow play, Bruce reminded his listeners that some things remained real, among them the dignity of a hard day’s work and the obligation to place conscience over convenience. Darkness raised serious concerns and aired valid complaints. But rather than resort to a shouting match, the record used its unimpeachable sonic integrity to argue that control over one’s life is non-negotiable. If you’ve lost hope, you’d better work your ass off to get it back. And if you’ve managed to retain a sense of personal meaning, you’d better not relinquish it without a fight.

The most heartening thing about Darkness is that it’s not hostile to the declarative sentence. When a society is in flux, its artists have a tendency to ask, “Can we really be sure of anything?” Bruce provides the answer without skipping a beat, and that answer is, “Yes, we can!” He states this both explicitly and implicitly, layering Darkness with a mix of straight talk and winding roads. The record’s focus, however, rarely diverts from the reliable genius of human agency. Springsteen’s most prized subject is man, and he never treats him as anything less than God’s greatest creation or anything more than his brother’s humble keeper. This balance between pride and modesty makes Darkness the most honest of Springsteen’s albums. It says that man may struggle, but that man will endure. As individuals, we don’t have to prevail; we merely have to push on. Our final measure is not material but moral: Did we live in accord with our principles? Did we forfeit our responsibilities – to our families, our communities, and ourselves? In short, did we do our species proud? These are the most sincere questions in rock and roll history, and only Bruce Springsteen had the candor, the curiosity, and the humanity to ask them. For that, he’s earned more than my enthusiastic endorsement; he’s earned my eternal gratitude. This essay, for all its length and liturgy, is really just an attempt to say thank you.

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Darkness on the Edge Of Town: 1977 Sessions Overview

brucebase.wikispaces.com

Boston_Music_Hall_.jpgSpringsteen reached a final settlement in his year-long litigation with Mike Appel on May 28, 1977. Effectively this meant that for the first time in a year Springsteen was able to go into a studio and record. He wasted no time. The “Darkness Sessions” began in early June 1977 at Atlantic Studios in New York City. Springsteen had a considerable amount of new material – but the songs were in various stages of writing completion. Consequently many of the songs were shaped over the course of numerous sessions spanning several months.

The sessions at Atlantic Studios were only two or three weeks old when problems surfaced. Bruce didn’t like the sound he was getting from the studio (particularly the drums). On top of that Atlantic did not offer a particularly comfortable or livable environment for the musicians. So there was a decision taken to shift operations to the nearby Record Plant (where most of the Born To Run album had been recorded). However they’d already made financial commitments to Atlantic Studios, plus on such short notice they were unable to find much un-booked studio time at the popular Record Plant. Consequently the period July and August 1977 saw Springsteen and the band recording at both studios – but mostly Atlantic. However from September thru late December all recording seems to have taken place at The Record Plant – where all the recordings issued on the original album emanate from.

The actual recording sessions for Darkness On The Edge Of Town were completed by early January 1978. The mixing sessions began in early January 1978 and dragged on until late March – there were a tremendous amount of different mixes considered, with Springsteen changing his mind on the mix of one song (“The Promised Land”) as late as early April. From March 1978 to the start of the Darkness tour in late May Steve Van Zandt and Max Weinberg were very busy at nearby Secret Sound Studios with Southside Johnny’s Hearts Of Stone album (released early October 1978). Springsteen donated two non short-listed songs from the Darkness sessions to the Southside LP project.

According to comments by Darkness sessions recording engineer Jimmy Iovine about 30 songs were recorded to a completed state and available for inclusion on the Darkness album. There were an unknown number of additional songs not fully completed. What “not fully completed” means is uncertain. At this stage 33 songs have been officially released (the 10 on the original album, 5 on Tracks and 18 on The Promise) but several of these have modern vocal takes, and their 1978 state remains unknown. There is also an unknown amount of not fully finished recordings. The list below contains 52 songs from the period that likely encompass all or nearly all of the 30 songs Jimmy Iovine was alluding to, as well as most of the ones never completed.

Springsteen_backstage_.jpgThe audio from the Darkness sessions that has surfaced unofficially over the years has been of rather disappointing quality. During the late 1970s and 1980s most of it was of very weak quality. However over the past 15 years lower generation audio specimens have emerged and the CD-era boots of this audio have been a noticeable improvement over their vinyl era counterparts. Yet in many cases it has become apparent that there were flaws in the way the original source individuals taped these studio sessions. There certainly appears to have been some hidden “fly-on-the-wall” type tapings. The other problem is that much of the leaked audio is of early studio workouts of these songs, rather than later, fully realized renditions. Most of the leaked studio material emanates from the June-October 1977 period, so the later November 77-January 78 sessions may include several other songs that remain undocumented, even after the release of The Promise.

The 2010 release of The Promise is somewhat of a double-edged sword. We now have a slightly better understanding of the Darkness sessions, as well as access to several tracks that were previously unknown to us such as “Save My Love” and “Breakaway”. However, the wonderful notebook facsimile included in the box set lists titles of many songs that are totally new to us. It is unknown how many of these songs were actually recorded. Many may not be songs at all – just titles. Jimmy Iovine mentions in the making of documentary that Springsteen wrote 70 songs for potential use on “Album IV”. It remains a possibility that even the 70 songs mentioned by Iovine is a conservative estimate of Springsteen’s true output at this time.

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Bruce Springsteen Credits ‘Darkness’ Photographer Frank Stefanko For Capturing Album’s Spirit

Darkness_Stefanko_frontcover_.jpgBruce Springsteen shed some light on the iconic cover to his 1978 classic Darkness on the Edge of Town. While talking about the deluxe multimedia reissue of the album, Springsteen credited the stark photography of New Jersey native Frank Stefanko. “The Boss” talked to Britain’s The Guardian and explained how the then-unknown novice photographer created one of the most iconic shots of his career, saying, “He was a guy who’d worked in a meat-packing plant in south Jersey. He got the 13-year-old kid from next door to hold a light. He borrowed a camera. I don’t know if he even had a camera! But when I saw the picture I said, ‘That’s the guy in the songs.’ I wanted the part of me that’s still that guy to be on the cover. Frank stripped away all your celebrity and left you with your essence. That’s what that record was about.”

Springsteen touched upon the music contained between the two famous Stefanko photos on the album, admitting, “I was never a visionary like (Bob) Dylan, I wasn’t a revolutionary, but I had the idea of a long arc: where you could take the job that I did and create this long emotional arc that found its own kind of richness. 35 years staying connected to that idea. That’s why I think the band continues to improve. You can’t be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you’re gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation.”

Springsteen says that he’s comfortable at how his career has evolved, and the freedom of having a lot of music outlets at his disposal, and being able to play whatever material interests him: “The nice place about where we’re at, at this point, is, is we’re pretty free to do whatever we want, you know? We can go out and play a little bit if we wanted to, we don’t have to have a record out — sort of not being central, gives you a lot of freedom to just make your music.”

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Darkness on the Edge of Town: Bruce Springsteen’s Rhetoric of Optimism and Despair

Michael McGuire

Investigation of the rhetorical dimensions of music and song is still in its infancy. The few studies that have been conducted to date focus primarily on social protest music; songs that are blatantly didactic in purpose, method, and content. Consequently, artists perceived primarily as musicians rather than musical orators have received less attention than might otherwise be warranted. One such artist is Bruce Springsteen.

During the week of October 27, 1975, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek where, among other accolades, he was proclaimed the new Bob Dylan. That same year Jon Landau, music editor of Rolling Stone, wrote: “I have seen the future of rock ‘n roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Over a decade later, Springsteen remains a rock phenomenon. His concerts are sellouts and his album sales run into the hundreds of thousands. He is on the verge of becoming a cultural myth as well as a rock legend. References to “the Boss” punctuate primetime television, and an educational album featuring “Bruce Stringbean” has been produced by Jim Henson and the Muppets.

In this essay I offer a rhetorical analysis of the three themes that bind together most of Springsteen’s music: despair, optimism, and responsibility. To understand Springsteen’s message is not only to recognize these central themes, but to appreciate the complex, dialectical relationships between and among them. We will focus on three of Springsteen’s most popular albums: Born to Run (1975), Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), and The River (1980). Realizing that lyrics cannot be criticized *in vacuo* as if they were poetry independent of important musical accompaniment, we will observe relationships between the words and music. However, our purpose is to uncover the synthesis Springsteen structures among his three major themes of despair, optimism, and responsibility by observing first the nature of each theme and then their interrelationships.

A few words about our method of inquiry are in order at the outset. We will not focus on the chronological growth of Springsteen as an artist or the sequential development of his music, as if we saw it reaching toward some goal or endpoint. Such discussions could prove interesting and valuable, and popular authors have been providing them to demonstrate Springsteen’s development, especially as a composer and producer. But with contemporary rock music we confront an art form especially suited to non sequential analysis. The average rock album contains from eight to twelve songs, and even when we consider what has come to he called a “concept album,” there is not usually a necessary sequence of songs.( The “concept” generally is one of instrumental or lyrical unity which does not require serial or diachronic presentation to he grasped. To grasp the thematic unity of a single rock album often requires a restructuring of its units; the same observation applies to an attempt to isolate themes that recur in a number of albums.

Spectrum_Springsteen_1978_.jpgThis sort of structuralist approach to rhetorical criticism has been both advocated and illustrated. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke discusses finding “associational clusters” in artistic works and a process for examining such clusters to disclose “what goes with what.” The disclosure of clusters usually involves some deconstruction and reconstruction of an author’s works to put together the parts of the clusters which fit thematically but not narratively. A similar process of reconstruction is the heart of structuralist criticism which seeks out thematic units and the relationships among them.

To Springsteen fans it will come as no surprise that the musician offers pictures of despair as a form of social criticism. Such images are rendered subtle by their essentially individual, existential nature. Without becoming blatantly didactic and advocating changes or assigning blame, Springsteen sings of people in despair and the situations which have produced such an outcome. The label despair was chosen for the theme being reconstructed here because it best encompasses the breadth of images ranging from hopelessness to ennui from a deeply and personally felt despondency to a sort of bored surrender to the monotony of modern life. Springsteen’s critical attitude toward these images will emerge in the analysis which follows and he discussed in summary; what remains by way of introduction is to comment about the narrative structures in this theme.

Within the despair theme, we find both first and third person narration. Generally, first person narration conveys the extreme of hopelessness and third person shows people the singer regards as being in hopeless circumstances, whether they are aware of them or not. The songs which provide the images for this theme are not addressed to a specific person, but once or twice a comment is made to a specific woman within the narrative, and one first person plural is addressed to a friend named Eddie. We will consider first the more personal and extreme images of the despair theme.

Broken loves and broken dreams and promises are the sources of some of the most intense expressions of despair in Springsteen’s music. This deeply felt hopelessness is not always clearly attributed to a specific cause, unless we could say that high hopes dashed is the supreme cause from which all others follow. A convenient touchstone for the theme of despair is expressed in the intensity of feeling in “Streets of Fire.”

“Streets of Fire” resembles some of Springsteen’s earliest work in the sense that it does not offer narrative development, but only images of feelings. There is no story of “she done me wrong” or “the whole world is falling apart,” but only one voice located in no particular time, place, or plot crying out about what happens when “you realize how they tricked you this time/And it’s all lies.” Neither “they” nor “it” is defined by any other part of the song; however, no mood of flaming paranoia is developed, either. The singer finds the world empty, but it may be the world of his own making, he says. That is, he tells us that when “the weak lies and cold walls you embrace/Eat at your insides and leave you face to face with/Streets of fire,” that’s when “you don’t care anymore.” In sum, there is a hopelessness to existence built on fabrication penned in by the coldness which only genuine emotions can thaw. But this singer finds nothing genuine: “I live now, only with strangers/I talk to only strangers/I walk with angels that have no place.” Strangers are those we know only through lies, not “really.” “Streets of Fire” is a metaphor for the isolation and desperation of anyone who ever felt totally betrayed. Its mood, considered lyrically, vocally, or instrumentally, ranges from soft and somber to intensely wailing.

Just as “Streets of Fire” affirms no particular time or place, it expresses no particular cause of despair. The song offers a glimpse into the mind of a person betrayed and bitter. The song expresses a feeling; it does not tell any story. The effect of this unspecified situation may be to open up a universality by focusing, not on what makes us feel, but how we may feel, even if each for our own reasons. Life is often symbolized by travel, paths, or roads; the sojourner singing this song to us finds the trip sufficiently punishing to conceptualize it as “Streets of Fire,” as he wanders “a loser down these tracks.” The music sets the mood for us to receive this unhappy, anguished message. “Streets of Fire” is a reminder that things and people are not always what they seem, and that betrayal may lead one to a false consciousness or bad faith (“the weak lies and cold walls you embrace”) resulting ultimately in despair.

Not all despair is inflicted on us by others, however. Most people can relate to the experience of feeling betrayed, but an even more common experience may be the disappointment of unfulfilled hopes. Springsteen tells his audience about dreams, in connection with despair, dreams that do not come true. Two examples of this rhetoric are especially clear. The song, “Racing in the Street” is the story of a man who competes for money by racing his car in the streets. The racer seems to assert that he has triumphed over problems that others experience, primarily boring lives. He will “only run for the money, got no strings attached.” But this very quality, built carefully in details for the first two thirds of the song, gives way to an ironic and tragic picture. Suddenly there is mention of a woman he met “on the strip three years ago/In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.” When he won the race, of which he boasts, she rode away with him. It was, we gather, her dream to ride to the top with the winner, and it was a mistake: “But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes/And she cries herself to sleep at night.” Here is a rhetoric, not of betrayal, but of misperception and wrong expectations; he still has “got no strings attached” because he never promised them to her. Her despair is described as total:

She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house
But all her pretty dreams are torn,
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born.

Her life’s streets aren’t for racing; they are dead ends. Her life is so awful to her with her dreams ended that she “hates for just being born.”

He is aware of her plight and understands it. In the next section of the song he holds out some hope of fulfilling her dreams: “Tonight my baby and me are gonna ride to the sea/And wash these sins off our hands.” But that expression is spoken, not to the woman, but to the song’s audience. That it is a hollow promise is made clear by the final chorus telling us, “summer’s here and the time is right/For racin’ in the street.” We can only expect the situation shown to us to continue unchanged; the very thing which makes him feel alive has destroyed her. This slow-paced, somewhat mournful song matches lyrical tragedy with instrumental and vocal sadness. The tone is more thoughtful or meditative than sympathetic; that is, our narrator understands the woman’s plight and even its origins. Yet his analysis of the situation is self-centered:

Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece,
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin’ in the street.

Our narrator is unwilling to die in a mundane life; the result is that his woman suffers while he goes “racin’ in the street.” The situation is not a betrayal; it is a case of delusion which has run its course, leaving nothing.

The two examples of despair we have examined thus far show us the personal, experienced, or felt side of despair. These descriptions have two rhetorical qualities. First, the sound and meaning of each song are expressive of how hopelessness feels–both can serve a cathartic function for some audiences. Second, both songs can serve rhetorically as warnings. Neither picture is a happy one: the singer of “Streets of Fire” and the woman in “Racing in the Street” have given up on life. The audience, while invited to look at despair, is simultaneously cautioned against it. Nevertheless, the examples we have considered thus far are intensely personal statements of feelings. Somewhat different from these personalized accounts are Springsteen’s descriptions of how social systems and expectations can wear people down.

One of Springsteen’s most vivid descriptions of the endless ennui which can overtake and numb people in mass society is ”Factory.” A poignant, third person narrative, “Factory” is the story of “man,” whose life is started every day by the factory whistle he hears telling him it’s time to get up: “Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,/Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light/It’s the working, the working, just the working life.” The man is summoned into his repetitive routine as another faceless, lunch-box-carrying blue collar worker. The motivation for “man” to walk through the “mansions of fear” and “mansions of pain” is the same as most of his kind: “Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life.” The kind of life it provides is suggested again by the last verse of the song; the factory whistle “cries” out the end of another day, and: “Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes,/And you just better believe, boy, somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight/lt’s the working, the working, just the working life.” The song is sung to the heat of a dirge, which reinforces the lyrical message of depression and monotony.

This picture of despair is complex as it reveals how a social system can simultaneously support and crush someone. The singer feels despair for the worker who trudges dutifully, unthinkingly off to the job which deafens him, but puts groceries on his table; a job which provides his family with shelter from the weather and hunger, but not from his own rage or fists. “Factory” is a picture of how some people live in a contemporary, lower class, not too quiet desperation. “Factory” is a protest against that lifestyle, but it is individual or existential, not social. We hear Springsteen sing mournfully and decide, “that life’s not for me,” but he never says “don’t be like this,” nor does he call upon Congressmen, Senators, workers, Americans, or anybody else. He just describes the desperate situation at the individual level. Neither music nor lyrics hint at any hope that this life will change. The repetitions in the chorus (“It’s the working, the working, just the working life”) reinforce the impressions of monotony and endlessness. The life of the factory worker is one of ennui–listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from a total lack of interest.

There are many more images and stories of despair in Springsteen’s works, but we have seen examples of the two dominant types of despair with the limited examples we have considered. “Factory” is a criticism and rejection of “the working life” in assembly line plants; but this social criticism focuses on the effects of the social system on the individual and family. Springsteen’s examples are not used to generalize about the whole society, but to illustrate one slice of life; and nowhere evident are the typical bombast and assignment of blame which characterize so much protest and propaganda music. The song remains within a single, existential universe which can be felt personally. In the last analysis, if blame is or can be assigned for the despair of “Factory” or “Streets of Fire” or other of Springsteen’s songs, it appears to lie within the individual. Social systems ranging from factory labor to interpersonal commitment exert pressure on individuals to conform or surrender: “Some guys just give up living.” But as Springsteen says to a victim in another song, “You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked/but what they asked, baby, wasn’t right, you didn’t have to live that life,” and “did you forget how to love, girl, did you forget how to fight?” Springsteen’s socially critical images of despair acknowledge the pressures that can grind people down, but he does not absolve either the system or the individual of some responsibility for what happens. Whether the individual can triumph over social systems is a question not answered by the songs in which the despair themes appear. But individual triumph is the very core of the optimism which other Springsteen songs depict, and it is to those we turn now.

Springsteen_1978_winterland_.jpgA buoyant optimism pervades some of Springsteen’s music and lyrics, telling us “that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” Springsteen advocates saying “yes” to a life infused with value. Optimism is a theme built on images of hopefulness, success, and independence. Here feelings of power and pictures of overcoming dominate. That a rhetoric of approval is operating is signaled by the exclusive reliance on first person narrative; the singer is himself involved in these messages. The dominant sources and expressions of optimism in Springsteen’s music contrast sharply and directly with the causes of despair. These songs explore the promise of love, in contrast to the broken promises and shattered dreams we saw leading to despair. Here are songs which declare an escape from and break with the monotony of daily working life–not surrender to modern life, but triumph over it. These two different optimistic tendencies very frequently occur within a single song, and sometimes in direct comparison with despair.

One of the songs that reveals the promise of love and the strength to conquer a reality that drags others down is “Thunder Road.” The hero singer of “Thunder Road” addresses his message to Mary, whom he is trying to persuade to run away with him. As the narration opens, the singer has come to Mary’s house where, appropriately, she is dancing to Roy Orbison’ s “Only the Lonely,” which is playing on the radio:

Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again.

Loneliness, especially like that felt by the singer of “Streets of Fire,” is a source of despair for which the solution is companionship. The singer claims that only Mary’s companionship will help him and his comments illustrate that an ongoing relationship of some kind exists which he wants to escalate. He urges her:

Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me.

Again we see that some continuity of relationship between the two exists, so she knows exactly what he wants–to run off with total commitments. People might tend to associate such an impulse or desire with youthfulness; Springsteen attributes such a skepticism to Mary, but offers the rebuttal, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night.” Even if broken dreams and promises lead to despair, we are told that dreams and promises are our hope.

Dreams and promises hold out hope for the future only if one can overcome both dwelling on the past and dreaming of perfection. He tells her:

You can hide ‘neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets.

But he does not advocate that she crucify herself on a cross of lost love or dwell on her pain, hoping for the perfect saviour. Instead, he says, “I’m no hero,” and “All the redemption I can offer girl/Is beneath this dirty hood.” He urges her, however, to take the chance and go with him:

With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow
Back your hair.

The answer is to leave, and he urges her on. “These two lanes will take us anywhere,” and what he has in mind is “heaven’s waiting on down the tracks.” He says he is “riding out tonight to case the promised land.” This theme of escaping is stated clearly and powerfully in the last two lines of “Thunder Road”: “It’s a town full of losers/And I’m pulling out of here to win.” Those lines are sung in a confident and loud voice, and followed by a triumphant saxophone solo to reinforce the mood of power and success. The individual plans to escape the sort of mundane existence of “Factory” and the pain of “Streets of Fire.” Finally, the song offers other lyrical evidence that these are not young people or people lacking a long history together. The singer, urging Mary to take the chance with him, tells her “we got one last chance to make it real,” and he acknowledges, “I know it’s late we can make it if we run.”

In sum, “Thunder Road” is a picture of someone believing that escape is the route to happiness. He is optimistic that heaven awaits if he can run away with Mary and escape the “town full of losers” like the man in “Factory.” “Thunder Road” is representative of Springsteen’s approach to optimism. On the same album, the title song, “Born to Run,” contains the same themes. The man singing is tired of a life in which “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream” and a town which “rips the bones from your back/It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap.” Like the singer of “Thunder Road” he is sure that “Someday, girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place/Where we really want to go/And we’ll walk in the sun.” He adds the refrain, “But till then tramps like us/Baby, we were born to run,” suggesting that he sees the need to flee a desperate situation and look for something better. Both songs offer the audience optimism about the chances of the singer’s success, and both bind the optimism to a love relationship.

As the despair found in Springsteen’s music is not necessarily love related, so neither is the optimism imagery necessarily contingent upon such relationships. The singer of “The Promised Land” has in mind no relationship, but a break with a dead end life that has no more specific goal than “the promised land.” The singer seems to view his life as one that has been aimless and over which he needs to exert control. He says he has been “just killing time/Working all day in my daddy’s garage/Driving all night, chasing some mirage/Pretty soon little girl I’m gonna take charge.” If this singer can take charge he will he doing more than the man in “Factory.” A dream of control lures him away from his misery, as described by the song’s chorus:

The dogs on main street howl, ’cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain’t a boy, no, I’m a man,
And I believe in a promised land.

What the dogs on main street must understand is that our singer has been living their kind of life. That life is like the lives of those in despair.

The singer has been trying to “live the right way” by getting up and going to work like the man in “Factory.” He cannot give in, however:

But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start

His weaknesses are caused by conforming to the work and the town instead of following his own instincts to escape. Surrender to these social systems is weakness; strength can be felt only in opposing them. His opposition is expressed by his resolve to leave: “I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm.” The storm he sees ahead is, perhaps, reflective of himself–a “twister to blow everything down”:

Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted.

Those lines are followed by the chorus and refrain, “I believe in a promised land.” The promised land is different from other dreams and lies. The twister, the storm envisioned by our singer, will blow away everything “that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground.” In “The Promised Land” we see, as we did in the despair imagery, that some dreams are hollow, some promises broken, some faith misplaced. What has “the faith to stand its ground” endures, and that is the promised land. Faith in the self has strength, while faith in the “runaway American dream” or the factory is bad faith which leads to despair.

In stark contrast to the images of despair, the optimism we have found in Springsteen’s music suggests that the chance for happiness is not out of reach. Perhaps it is more to the point to observe that Springsteen describes feelings of intense despair and feelings of enthusiastic optimism. Both are part of the human situation, and if despair is optimism’s failure, optimism is also the drive to escape despair. Springsteen shows us a powerful, optimistic faith in the self and the ability to escape the loneliness of life without love, as well as the boring depression of life servicing machines or false dreams. “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” show the hopefulness of strength to love and be loved–at least, gladly to take the risk, if blindly, too. “The Promised Land” shows the optimism with which we all may start journeys, real or metaphorical, to escape from slavery and misery into freedom and joy. Optimism in Springsteen’s music is a theme with recurrent images of strength of self and triumph of the individual. There are many optimistic songs on Springsteen’s albums and they all emphasize either success at love or the achievement of independence. Yet success at love and the achievement of independence do not come free of charge in this life. The third major theme of Springsteen’s musical rhetoric is a theme of responsibility and realism to which we now turn our attention.
Between oppressive despair and enthusiastic optimism must lie some middle ground. At the very least we need to understand why particular people occupy either end of the continuum from despair to optimism. The answer lies in the third major theme of Springsteen’s music, responsibility. Responsibility may seem an unlikely theme for music, but the theme as conceptualized here is hinted at by the songs we already have examined. Responsibility here refers to individual choice making and the need to acknowledge its two sided nature. On one hand, choice is a prerogative and privilege which allows us to seek rewards, and on the other hand, every choice precludes other possibilities, and so entails two prices: first, one loses the possibilities not selected; second, one must accept responsibility for one’s own outcomes, good or had. Responsibility is first and foremost responsibility to one’s self; the “responsibility” of the factory worker to others and his job is false, and produces despair. We will see that Springsteen challenges the individual to accept responsibility to the self as the necessary first step in escaping despair, and as a moderating check on naive optimism.

In “Thunder Road,” which we considered above, the singer is urging Mary to run away with him. We observed that the people in that song are not adolescents, but adults, in contrast to the couple in “Born to Run.” One other sign of their maturity is what he says while urging her to get into his car:

And my car’s out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free

Those lines, while they are sufficient when understood literally, beg for a metaphoric or symbolic interpretation. How much Mary’s front porch life is like that of the woman in “Racin’ in the Street” is unclear, but it certainly represents her stable or stagnant past and present. And it’s a long walk from one’s own front porch to another’s front seat; from the certainty of one lifestyle to the uncertainty of taking the chance on someone else. Even when the other opens wide the door, entry is never free; something must he lost, given up. The singer wants to persuade Mary that she is giving up something hopeless if she comes with him to chase a better life. Even in his optimistic message, assuring her they can make it to a promised land, he acknowledges that the ride ain’t free. His plea to her is that she owes herself enough that she should go; what she will owe him when she does is unstated.

A similar entreaty occurs in “Prove It All Night,” when the singer tries to persuade a woman to run off with him for “a gold ring and pretty dress of blue.” He wants “a kiss to seal our fate,” and he acknowledges the price she must pay. After he tells her he knows she wants and deserves more than she has, he says:

But if dreams came true, oh, wouldn’t that he nice,
But this ain’t no dream we’re living through tonight,
Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price
And prove it all night, prove it all night….

That is not an altruistic offer, hut a proposal to trade; he wants her commitment to him, and not for a one night stand, but for life. And he tells her she will have to have strength to resist when she hears “the voices tell you not to go/They made their choices and they’ll never know/. . . What it’s like to live and die/To prove it all night….” Individuals’ choices introduce the theme of responsibility in Springsteen’s music as people are challenged to take risks and make strong decisions, even when those go against the grain of social mores.

Springsteen_Winterland_1978_.jpgThe clearest single illustration of the responsibility theme is Springsteen’s “I Wanna Marry You.” The song is a first person narrative addressed to a specific but unnamed woman in a situation not uncommon today. He tells her he sees her walking down the street with her baby carriage and knows that she is alone, and perhaps wants a man. As he sees her, she is unhappy:

You never smile girl, you never speak
You just walk on by, darlin’, week after week
Raising two kids alone in this mixed up world
Must be a lonely life for a working girl

In spite of the implication that he does not know her well–if at all–the chorus asserts repeatedly, “Little girl, I wanna marry you.” Furthermore, his proposal explains at length his very realistic attitudes toward the situation:

Now, honey, I don’t wanna clip your wings
But a time comes when two people should think of these things
Having a home and a family
Facing up to their responsibilities
They say in the end true love prevails
But in the end true love can’t be no fairytale
To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong
But maybe, darlin’, I could help them along

His modest proposal merits our consideration.

In contrast to a “promised land,” the singer offers facing up to the responsibilities of family, which the woman already has. Facing reality is the entire point of his proposal: “true love can’t be no fairytale,” and he knows he can’t make dreams come true. Here is a rhetoric of moderation and realism; we can, after all, help each other toward many of the goals we set in life, even though we cannot make life perfect.

Not all responsibility is responsibility to others; as the introduction to this section of our exploration observed, the self is a central concern of the images which make up the theme of responsibility. “Independence Day” expresses most clearly an individual’s decision to act against a social system and in behalf of himself. Both personal and social pressures are involved in the singer’s decision to leave home and hometown:

Cause the darkness of this house has got the best of us
There’s a darkness in this town that’s got us too
But they can’t touch me now
And you can’t touch me now
They ain’t gonna do to me
What I watched them do to you

Our best referent for what they did to the father being addressed is the picture of the man in “Factory.” We are told in the same song that our singer is not alone, that “There’s a lot of people leaving town now.” The singer does not dwell on his inability to get along with his father, but observes:

Now I don’t know what it always was with us
We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines
There was just no way this house could hold the two of us
I guess that we were just too much of the same kind

That observation acknowledges responsibility, shared responsibility, for what has happened to the two: “yeah, we drew the lines.”

The singer is leaving for reasons both personal and external. Responsible to and for himself, he acknowledges that “It’s Independence Day all boys must run away,” and “All men must make their way come Independence Day.” To grow up strong enough to set out on life’s roads alone is natural. Leaving the nest may be accelerated by extra familial factors: “Because there’s just different people coming down here now and they see things in different ways/And soon everything we’ve known will just be swept away.” As the world changes, responsible people must somehow make significant changes for their own well being. The man declaring that it’s independence day is not running blindly out of fear, nor is he leaving with a declared expectation of finding heaven. He’s just got to go.

The responsibility theme, then, shows pictures of responsibility both to others and to self. That is not said to imply that responsibility toward others excludes or precludes responsibility toward self. Rather, within the theme of responsibility in Springsteen’s music we have found acknowledgement that there are always prices one must pay to he free or to he committed. Above all, the choice must be conscious and deliberate. The man leaving home in “Independence Day” is exhibiting responsibility no less than the man singing “I Wanna Marry You,” but the two are in very different circumstances. In fact, one way for us usefully to view the responsibility theme is to see it as a mediator of the contradiction between optimism and despair. That view will establish the relationships among the themes we have been examining in Springsteen’s music.

What has gone before has established three themes that emerge with clarity from Springsteen’s music: despair, optimism, and responsibility. But in at least two ways, that view is incomplete. First, the overall rhetoric of Springsteen’s music is more complex than these themes alone; the interactions among them are necessary to understand the total picture. Second, analysis at the thematic level necessarily neglects other things which may be of value. The second of these issues we will address below; here it remains to conclude thematic analysis by putting together the three themes we have isolated.

By any yardstick, despair and optimism are contradictory. Two of the songs we chose to illustrate despair, “Streets of Fire” and “Factory,” seem to offer no connection with optimism except contradiction. “Racing in the Street,” on the other hand, afforded us a view of a situation in which one man’s optimism and life caused one woman’s despair. One connection between despair and optimism is their dialectical necessity to one another; that is, without high hope there can be no contrasting despair, and vice versa. But that is a simple, perhaps obvious connection, and one based upon abstract form, not concrete content. Springsteen’s pictures of optimism and despair suggest an unusual set of causal relationships.

First, both despair and optimism may he brought about by the same things. The deeply felt despair of “Streets of Fire” and “Racing in the Street” has the same root cause as the optimism of “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run”: the quest for love as salvation. To be sure, we are shown different stages of the quest. Second, the form of despair we saw in “Factory” and called ennui plays a role in the songs about optimism. The singer of both “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” wants to grab love and leave the “town full of losers,” the “death trap,” before he gets stuck in a “Factory” lifestyle. Like the singer of “The Promised Land,” he believes that just getting up and going to work every day is not all there should he to life. The voice speaking to us out of the songs of optimism encourages us to dream and promise, and to flee, to run, in pursuit of those dreams and promises. But if we do, as we just observed above, we may end up feeling that “it’s all lies.” Nonetheless, the ennui and unhappiness lying about on the edges of the optimism theme play a motivating role for characters developed there.

How can we say that the contradictory nature and mutual causation of optimism and despair are mediated by the theme of responsibility? First, both despair and optimism as presented in Springsteen’s songs are extreme. On that very quality hinges at least a substantial part of their mutually causal relationship. To illustrate, we would have to say that only the dashing of very high hopes would cause one to “stare off alone into the night with the eyes of one who hates for just being born”; and likewise, the powerful hope of “Born to Run” is strengthened or made more extreme because the place–the life–that has to he escaped is “a death trap, a suicide rap,” and not merely a minor irritant. The themes of optimism and despair are extreme, and so is the music to which they are set: “Factory” is a dirge, while “Born to Run” sounds like an accelerating motor.

Between these extremes is set the possibility of something more calm, which we have argued is a theme of responsibility. Between “Streets of Fire” and “The Promised Land” is reality. That is not to deny the reality or the legitimacy of feelings of despair or optimism, but to underscore that the very unreality of the most extreme dreams is what prevents their realization and fulfillment: such extremes are certainly real inside the head, but the impossibility of a promised land is exactly what leads to despair. Springsteen expresses a more responsible view: “To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong/But maybe, darlin’, I could help them along.”

The other principal component of the responsibility theme is acknowledgment of choice. The relationship of choice to despair and optimism is complicated. The images of despair involve people who have refused or denied choice. That is, the man in “Streets of Fire” blames others (“they tricked you”) for his condition; the man in “Factory” lives in bad faith, allowing the employment machine to dictate his life instead of choosing it. These people are like those Springsteen mentions in “Racing in the Street”: “Some guys they just give up living/And start dying little by little, piece by piece.” Viewed from this perspective, the perspective of choosing, the people in despair have given up their prerogative to choose, and are denying life. Within the songs making up the despair theme we are invited to adopt a sympathetic view to the man ground down by the factory or the man whose life is nothing but streets of fire. From the perspective of responsibility and choice, however, we are given a less sympathetic perspective.

The songs which make up the optimism theme share a more complex relationship with the issue of choice. In these songs we seem to hear someone choosing and asserting strength of life. The men in “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” are telling women of two choices: first, the choice to leave the place where they are, and second, the choice of a woman companion. The man in “Promised Land” is so angry with his place that he wants “to explode,” and so is leaving. We seem invited to approve these instincts of strength and the choice to say, “It’s a town full of losers/And I’m pulling out of here to win.” But when we consider these messages within the vision of responsibility and choice, we may see a different picture. These people are running away in pursuit of unrealities–of “heaven waiting on down the tracks” and “the promised land.” In contrast, the young man in “Independence Day” is simply leaving, and keeps imploring his father, “Just say goodbye, it’s Independence Day.” He doesn’t describe the place he is leaving with hatred at all. And the man in “I Wanna Marry You” isn’t running away at all; he believes life can he improved, but dreams can’t come true. In sum, the characters expressing optimism have had their choices dictated to them by running away and not toward. And they are chasing dreams in their flight, not working to improve real situations. The optimistic characters appear irresponsible when we consider them in this light.

What, then, shall we say about the thematic quality of Springsteen’s musical rhetoric? Above all, we must not emphasize the posture of advocate in Springsteen’s music. Springsteen describes the three themes we have examined, but he does not prescribe any of them explicitly or condemn any of them. Springsteen’s approach is to show the audience possibilities, not to tell his hearers what to think or do. This is a narrative rhetoric, not a didactic one. Its thematic unity and focus are derived from the very different subjectivities of despair, optimism, and responsibility being displayed vividly for our examination. Whether these are our only alternatives is moot; that they are possible attitudes toward life is what is important. These feelings may be unavoidable for adults to experience at some time. That fact may account for a certain ambivalence on the part of audience and artist toward the themes. It also points us toward considering, by way of conclusion, what sort of audience is invited by these themes, and what aspects of music, especially Springsteen’s, are not disclosed fully by thematic analysis.

Both the complexity of Springsteen’s message and the themes themselves define and limit his audience. Springsteen’s message does not have meaning for adolescents or children; an adult audience may relate to lines like, “I lost my money and I lost my wife/Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now,” but high school students are not likely to. Stylistic detail and thematic force solicit the identification of an adult audience. Yet in stylistic details or background, Springsteen also excludes many adults.

The stylistic details of Springsteen’s musical rhetoric center around urban American lower class people and values. Gangs meet “‘neath that giant Exxon sign“; one man’s sixty nine Chevy waits outside the 711 store; downtown “the black and whites . . . cruise by”; Roy Orbison is on the radio; and “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream.” Album and song titles also suggest America: on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is “Mary Queen of Arkansas”; on Born to Run is “Thunder Road”; on Darkness on the Edge of Town is “Racing in the Street”; on The River is “Cadillac Ranch”; on Nebraska, in addition to the title song, is “Atlantic City.” The background images of Springsteen’s lyrics are not universal. Millions of Americans can relate to racing in the street in a ’69 Chevy with a 396, but the imagery would be lost on many foreigners; there are not many 711 stores outside the United States; and Cadillac Ranch is a freakish exhibit of cars nose down in the dirt near Amarillo, Texas. While these images of American scenes may trigger sweeping meanings for listeners familiar with the movie Thunder Road or Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” they are not Springsteen’s focus. Springsteen’s rhetoric is not centered around fast cars and street life; those are elements of the background in which people find themselves. They do lend a sense of concrete reality to the lyrics, and are interesting for us as detail; but they are setting, not action. Springsteen is not writing idylls.

In addition to the many specifically American references, Springsteen has a focus on lower class people. These are people who drive to the unemployment office, live on welfare checks, load crates on the dock, work in a factory. Readers will have noticed the frequency of ungrammatical language in the passages explicated in this essay. The language of the lower class American is full of the casual contraction “ain’t” and double negatives; it is in that language that Springsteen writes, which makes his work all the more amazing or impressive. There may be much ungrammatical in his lyrics, but he is not inarticulate or unimaginative.

Springsteen writes about what he knows first hand. The themes, background, and emotions reflect his background and life. The audience that identifies most with his rhetoric is made up of people close to his own age (41 in 1990) who are familiar with urban, lower class, American street life. Springsteen’s audience consists of people who like rock ‘n roll music and concerts. Concert audiences demonstrate high familiarity with his music. During his 1978 tour when playing “Thunder Road,” he would stop after the line “So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young any more” and point his microphone at the audience, which would chant the next lines: “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night/You ain’t a beauty but, hey you’re alright.” Springsteen’s audience evidences knowledge of his lyrical message.

We have been able here to catch only a glimpse of the rhetorical aspects of music not written expressly to advocate social changes. Springsteen serves as an example of a broader phenomenon. Music expresses meanings, especially lyrically, in which act it becomes rhetorical. Music functions both as an expression of the artist and as an invitation to the audience to identify with the themes, ideas, and emotions expressed. If rhetoric is conceptualized either as constructing or interpreting reality, music is a powerful part of that process, even when it is not part of a propaganda or agitative campaign. Springsteen’s music is one example of the rhetorical potentialities of non didactic Iyrics, and as such merits continued investigation.

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Bruce Springsteen: The Myth Just Keeps On Coming

Tony Parsons: New Musical Express , 1978

GREETINGS from the New Jersey shoreline’s omnipresent leisure industry of endless beaches, boardwalks, amusement parks, souvenir arcades, piers, clubs, pubs, bars and sideshow booths… greetings from small town life in Asbury Park. NJ.

Our story begins circa the early ’60s. At a strict Catholic school, a strange, solitary boy ‘ of eleven has been caught skipping lessons. His punishment is being placed in a class of six- year-olds.

His arms and legs feel too long for his body as he sits at the dinky table and chair built for a mere mite. Stared at by the room full of curious Catholic ankle-biters – immobile Lilliputians to his awkward, embarrassed Gulliver – he grins self-consciously, his face burning.

The Sister of Mercy’s voice breaks the silence.

Spriingsteen_capitol_theatre_.jpg“Let’s show this young man”, she intones, her eyes never leaving the boy, “what we do to children who smile in this class.” One of the six-year-olds stands up and walks over to where the big kid is sitting. Their-eyes are level. Then the small child pulls back his fist and, with all the force he can muster from the spirit of the Holy Mother Mary, rams it home into the older boy’s face.

“Very good”, smiles the Sister. Stunned with shock, shame and pain, the boy clutches his face, fighting back the tears.

“There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor/l packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm/Gonna be a twister to blow everything down/That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground/Blow away the dreams that tear you apart/ Blow away the dreams that break your heart/Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted/7he dogs on mainstreet howl ’cause they understand / if I could take one. moment into my hands/Mister, I ain’t a boy/No, I’m a man/And I believe in a Promised Land. ”

SOME seventeen years later he’s slumped in the dressing room at New York City’s Palladium. After his usua1 three hour sound check that afternoon, where he personally covered every last inch of the 3,400 seater theatre to make sure that the sound was absolutely perfect for every kid in the house, he performed the greatest rock ‘n’ roll show that I will ever experience. It lasted for nearly four hours. It will be almost dawn before he finally leaves the Palladium.

Out back there’s several hundred kids waiting for autographs, a chance to talk to him, an opportunity to thank him. None of them will go home disappointed. He’s got time for all of them and he doesn’t make a big deal about it. If you press him on the subject, he’ll just get thoughtful and reply, “My music gave me everything that I got, I was nobody, I had nothing … I will never put anyone in the position of being humiliated. It happened to me for too 1ong.”

And if any other musician in the world said that to me – as you’ve no doubt noticed – I’d wait until I stopped laughing and then it would be news sheet mince-meat time. But this geezer is unique; when Bruce Springsteen comes out with emotive statements like that don’t sneer, I BELIEVE.

When Springsteen played New Orleans on his last American tour a middle-aged woman reached up from the stalls and handed him a ring, saying that it had been her grandmother’s engagement ring. There was a plethora of precious stones encrusted on the ring and it was obviously worth thousands of dollars. Springsteen thanked her for the thought, but said he couldn’t take it. The woman refused to take it back, told him that she wanted him to keep it and disappeared back into the darkness of the auditorium. Shaken, Springsteen handed the ring to the hall’s management after the show and told them to keep it safe in case the woman ever came back to claim it.

She never did.

“It gives you a feeling of responsibility, a real heavy feeling of responsibility,” Springsteen reflects. “I had all these kids coming up to me all the time we were making the album and they’d say, ‘We know it ‘s gonna be great, we know you’re gonna do it, it’s gonna be great!’… I don’t wanna let the people that have supported me down. And it ain’t good enough just getting by, I wanna take it all the way, every night…”

There ain’t nothing else that he can do.

All duded up for Sunday night, the last of three Springsteen dates at the Palladium (all ten thousand-plus seats sold in under two hours) this is a partisan crowd, hard-core Springsteen followers since the early days. They’re mostly in their late teens or early twenties; wild and loud but without the glass- chucking violence so beloved by the mob-handed morons with a mile-wide yellow streak down their backs who contaminate gigs back in the good ol’ Yew Kay.

“These kids that come to my shows, they ain’t here for trouble, they’re here to have a good time,” Springsteen tells me. “They get kinda noisy and excited but the last thing on their mind is busting somebody’s skull.”

Before every show he plays Springsteen talks to the Security and tells them that he doesn’t want any rough stuff. He tells them that if there is any heavy-handed bouncer antics he’ll do everything in his power to make sure the individuals responsible are looking for a new job in the morning.

What he doesn’t tell them is that if they start beating up on the kids then they better be prepared to go through him, too; he personally dives into the audience to sort out Security- provoked aggravation. It happened time and time again on his last tour.

“You guys work here?” he demands. “These guys you’re roughing up are my friends!” And his fans love him for it…

“But the Security at the Palladium are okay,” he grins. “Never any trouble here. They know me.”

About half of the crowd are from New Jersey and a lot of them remember Springsteen jamming in the Upstage club, which he remembers as “some of the happiest nights of my life”.

“If there was ever a chance of any of us making a living through music, we figured it would be through Bruce”, says his guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt of the E Street Band.

Bruce_Springsteen_Parsons_.jpgSPRINGSTEEN had first picked up a guitar (for mirror-posing purposes) at nine, the day after gawking at Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, but he didn’t start playing until he was a friendless thirteen year old, two years after the nun’s rough justice in the Catholic class-room. His distaste for organised religion (“The smell of the convent made me literally throw up”), his lack of self-respect (“I definitely did not dig myself”) and his loneliness (“It was a very solitary existence, I didn’t have the flair to be the class clown, it was like I just didn’t exist”) left a life of such awesome nothingness that he was soon practising eight hours a day to fill it.

“My sister, my youngest sister, she’s sixteen and she’s very pretty and very popular. There’s no way that she’s gonna sit in her room for every waking hour.” He grins ruefully. “I didn’t have that problem.”

By the time he was fourteen he was in his first band, by sixteen he was so good that when he practised in a garage kids would stand on milk crates with their noses pressed against the window panes to watch him.

At first none of the countless bars and clubs in New Jersey would allow him on their stage because he refused to play Top Forty golden greats. Then he was given a chance to strut his stuff at the Upstage and struck while his plectrum was hot. From then on he packed out the club for four nights a week until he finally met his first manager, Mike Appel. They decided to be Elvis and Colonel Tom but it really didn’t happen that way at all.

After the CBS contract in the early ’70s came “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and “The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle”, both in 1973, with only a handful of songs – “Lost In The Flood”, “Spirit In The Night”, “Incident On 57th Street”, “Sandy”, “Rosalita” – giving a clue to the quality to come, the rest of the records too verbose for comfort, Springsteen subsequently getting lumbered with one of the New Dylan albatrosses that in those days they were giving away instead of Green Shield stamps.

Springsteen went into the studio for a year or so to record his third album, m-producing it with Appel and . Rolling Stone scribe Jon Landau, and when he came out again the shit was already poised to splatter against the proverbial (an, man. “Born To Run” was grandiose, heroic, magical, worthy ot some unholy alliance between Phil Spector and Leonard Bernstein, a romantic fantasy of sleazy street-life, enormously accessible.

As the hysterical hyperbole af the CBS publicity machine went into overdrive, Springsteen played ten sold-out dates at New York’s Bottom Line to consistently ecstatic audiences, “Born To Run” became a platinum album and the single of the same name broke into the American Top Twenty. Top of the world, Ma! Then everything began to fall to pieces…

Jon Landau had written an incisive, sensitive, trenchantly subjective article on Springsteen tor Rolling Stone in which he succeeded in expressing the unique brilliance of the man in intensely personal terms; Landau spoke of his love for his girlfriend asleep upstairs as he worked at his typewriter, of what the music he had grown up with had meant to his life and how witnessing Springsteen that night had been the purest exposition of the rock *n’ roll spirit that he had seen in many years. Landau’s piece remains one of the best articles on Springsteen.

But CBS instigated all-out critical backlash by latching on to one quote from the article – “I have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen” – taking it completely out of context and using it as the masthead for the hard-sell marketing technique overkill that rebounded on the record company and Bruce himself with a vengeance. “At Last London is Ready For Bruce Springsteen!” was another one, and I remember sneering at it as l walked down City Road, N.1, on my way to work one night late in 1975.

In fairness to Springsteen, no one was innocent when it came to the extravagant claims being made on his behalf except for Bruce Springsteen himself. As soon as he saw the “FUTURE OF ” quote screaming from a “Born To Run” advertising billboard he was on the blower to the Fat Cats telling them to cut the crap. And when he discovered gratis I Have Seen The Future etc “badges being handed out at one of his gigs, well …

Meanwhile, back in the boardroom, Appel and Bruce were having the initial argument over the distribution of the newly acquired wealth that would eventually degenerate into a permanent rift twixt manager and musician, both parties filing million-dollar law-suits against the other alleging breach of contract.

Jon Landau became Springsteen’s new manager and Appel filed an injunction preventing Landau from entering a studio with Springsteen and preventing Springsteen entering a studio at all. There followed nearly three years of lay-off and litigation. When Bruce should have been out on the road consolidating the “Born To Run” victory (he loves touring, says he’s always fascinated by what his hotel room will look like, how big the bed will be, what colour the carpet and wallpaper will be, if there’d be any weird pictures on the wall: Ain’t he a lovely bloke?) he was in front of the legal bar.

The basis of the disagreement between Appel and Springsteen is routed in Bruce’s naivety when it comes to contracts and Mickey’s when it comes to same. Appel had always told Springsteen that he paid the E Street Band far too much money but it wasn’t until the royalty cheques for their first hit album began getting delivered by the truckload that Bruce realised how little say he had over the fruits of success he and the boys had been working towards for the best part of a decade…

“We’d suddenly made all this money and contracts we’d signed three years before became important. It wasn’t so much the money… I wanted my songs. Mike had the publishing rights to all my songs… when I signed those contracts I didn’t even know what publishing was! That whole period was just a time in my life that seemed completely out of my hands. Business is something that I’m pretty easily intimidated by…”

Remarkably, Springsteen holds no grudges against Appel.

“Even when we were in court… he was still a guy that I kinda liked and knew that he kinda liked me.” The final proof that Springsteen survived all the hype, the two years in court and the looong time in the wilderness of enforced retirement is “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”. He has returned with infinitely more maturity, power, soul and tire on his fingertips than he ever had in hi ? life. “That album… it’s about people refusing to let go of their humanity.

No matter what they go through, no matter what life does to them, they never lei go of their humanity.”

“BROOOOOOOOOSE!!!” from three and a half thousand throats and the lights go on as the E Streeters hips the opening chords of “Badlands”: the same epic, awesome waves of invigorating beautiful noise as before; hut Springsteen, striding the planks grinning, his Fender hanging loose on his back, gripping the hand mike tight in both hands, dapper in black jacket and strides … once he starts spitting out the lyrics, makes it plain where he’s been all this time, how he’s not the same anymore… “Lights out tonight/Trouble in the heartland/Got a head-on collision/Smashin’ in my guts, man/I’m caught up in a cross-fire that I DONT UNDERSTAND/BUT THERE’S ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE, GIRL!!” “I was disappointed that the reviews of the album said it sounded depressed,” Bruce told me later. “I spelled it out (or ‘em on the first track

“I don ‘i give a damn for the same old played our scenes/Honey, I don’t give a damn for just the in betweens, Honey, I want – the – heart – I- want – the – soul – I want – control right now.” Raw, exhilarating, inspirational… the superlative dictionary is right down the dumper, John. Springsteen – be it in conversation, on record and ESPEClALLY on stage often appears too good to be true. You look for the catch, the flaw, the giveaway. And you look and you LOOK and you keep looking until you finally concede that there isn’t a catch. He’s the one.

After two years of showbiz decadence, all the free albums and concert tickets, Springsteen is the only geezer I’d actually pay money to go and see. He’s the only person who makes me feel like a fan again. “I believe in the Love you gave Me/l believe in the faith that can save me!/I believe in the faith and I pray that someday it may raise me… above these… badlands!!!”

This is joyous, optimistic rock music. It’s what rock ‘n’ roll should have been about and rarely was. He’s not, unfortunately, the future of rock’n'roll; he’s so good, so vital, so honest that he shows the majority of the rest of ‘em up for the squalid cretins they are. The day he quits is the day the music really dies… this guy, this rocker, has actually got some backbone to his work, some MORAL FIBRE. “Yeah, there’s a lotta morality in the show, and it’s a very strict morality. Anybody that works for me has gotta understand that. I know how I’d feel if I paid money to see a show and what I wanted wasn’t delivered. It comes back to the responsibility thing…”

I’ve seen great gigs before; The Clash at Harlesden in ’77, The Who at the Rainbow in ’71, Bowie in Newcastle earlier this year, the Pistols on the Jubilee boat trip or at the two Screen On The Green dates, but what Bruce Springsteen does transcends all of those without a photo-finish. This ain’t just the best gig I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s much more than that. It’s like watching you’re entire life flashing by and instead of dying, you’re dancing.

Springsteen sings a love song and he doesn’t make you smirk the way you would at some fat- zero axe-hero mucho macho man; he makes you ache for the girl you love, he makes you remember her and wish she were here tonight so you wouldn’t have to go home alone and without her. I didn’t know music could do that to YOU.

And Springsteen documents the conflict between father and son better than anyone since Steinbeck in East Of Eden. There’s the raging “Adam Raised A Cain” but the real killer is the unrecorded “Independence Day”, possibly the most poignant, moving ballad he’s ever writ ten. I was close to tears. At first I thought it was because either I’m too sensitive or else I’m getting soft but then I realised that rock ‘n’ roll rarely gets this real.

“Well, Papa, I don’t know what a was with the two of us/We chose the words and, yeah, we drew the . lines/This house, no how could it hold the two of us/I guess that we were just too much of the same kind/So say goodbye, it ‘s Independence Day/All boys must run away… come Independence Day/Oh say goodbye, it’s Independence Day/All men must make their way/Come Independence Day… ” You want it, you take it you pay the price…” Springsteen, apart from everything else, is also a born performer, frequently jumping off stage and running into the heart of the auditorium, one hand on the mike and another wrapped around a kid in a display of genuine affection.

The E Street Band is a revelation; Danny Federici on organ and Roy Bittan on piano, Steve Van Zandt on guitar, the golden sax of The Big Man Clarence Clemons as always the most important instrument after Springsteen’s impassioned, howling voice and with it all nailed down solid by the relentlessly strident rhythm section of Garry Tallent on bass and Max Weinberg on drums. The sound is as full and vibrant as on vinyl but Springsteen’s meticulously perfectionist attitude to sound checks and the electric urgency applied to performing live by everyone on stage takes Springsteen’s music to awesome, unprecedented extremes of excellence.

Springsteen_New_York_.jpg“Something In The Night” and “Streets Of Fire” were both recorded for “Darkness” in just one take. The latter is yet another gem on stage, Springsteen alone at the front of the darkened stage, haunted, tortured, agonizing like some tormented Prince Of Denmark yet totally believable.

“When the night’s quiet, and you don’t care anymore/And your eyes are tired/And someone’s at your door/And you realize… you wanna let go/And the weak lies and the cold walls you embrace…” The vocal building, the bitter bile of undiluted fury rising in his throat. “Eat at your insides and – leave – you – face – to – face with STREEEETS OFFIII-RRRE!!!

And “Factory”, possibly the most accurate recording of the drab, dull, soul-destroying boredom of working-class existence ever put on black plastic. Kraftwerk, Devo and all those other industrial-togged turds … do you really believe – and you can add your darling Davie-poo to that list – that their product is “industrial factory folk-muzak of mass-man in the machine- age” undsoweiter. You do? You poor; deluded git. I bet you never done a day’s work in your miserable life.

“Early in the morning factory whistle blows/Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes/Man takes his lunch, walks out into the morning light’s the work, the working, just the working life/ Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain, I see my daddy walking through those factory gates in the rain/Factory takes his hearing, factory gives Him life/It’s the work, the working, just the working life/End of the day, factory whistle cries/Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes/And you just better believe boy/Somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight/It’s the work, the working, just the working life… ”

I love that song. But then I’m still a bit mutt ‘n’ jeff from Distiller’s so then I’m biased. Springsteen performs all of “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”, all of “Born To Run”, early songs like “Spirit In The Night” and “Incident On 57th Street”.

He performs great songs that he gave to other people – “Faith” (Robert Gordon), “Fever” (Southside Johnny), “Because The Night” (Patti Smith) – all of them cutting the cover versions to shreds, smouldering lust paeans, love bites back
That’s Bruce’s one fault to my mind – he’s too GENEROUS: nobody else in the history of rock ‘n’ roll has given songs of that quality away. Still, I guess he can afford it, the geezer is a genius, after all. And when he’s played for nearly four hours and it’s way past midnight and the houselights have been on for over half an hour but we just won’t go away, we refuse to leave the auditorium, we just stand on our seats and scream BROOOOOOOOSE!!! MOOOOOOORE!!! BROOOOOOSE!!!’ he comes back and plays on, all old Juke Box giants, Buddy Holly songs, “Quarter To Three”, “Devil With The Blue Dress On” and many, many more (no, 1 didn’t take notes). And then you’re heart sinks because it’s all over.

What can I tell you, kid? God, I wish you could have been there.

BRUCE has collapsed,” his manager Jon Landau tells me thirty minutes after the end of the show. “We’ll have to cancel the interview. He’s in a state of exhaustion. He can’t talk to anyone now.” Usually, I’d know that I was getting served bullshit and the rock star I was ready to interrogate had pissed off back to a.gram of coke in the Ritz and was at this moment writhing around in the back of his limo with leather strides around his ankles and a big, fat groupie sitting on him.

With Springsteen it’s different; all I can think is… Christ, I hope he’s gonna be all right.

But I stick around inside the Palladium, just thinking about the gig. Shit, I got a plane to catch early in the morning so I might as well stay up all night. I couldn’t sleep after a show like that anyhow. “You can come backstage and meet Bruce if you want to,” Landau tells me and my heart starts a-pounding. Kid, I’ve met ‘em all… Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, the Pistols, Mike Batt, you name it. Never in my life have I felt awe at the thought of meeting a musician before … Well, I was afraid I’d be let down. Of course, I wasn’t; he’s exactly what he seems to be – open, honest, warm, personable, friendly, funny, probably the most likeable geezer I’ve met in my life. Five feet nine inches with a muscular, tanned, athletic build, an easy smile and a hoarse, rasping laugh, he’s relaxed and talkative, ready to listen and you feel like you’ve known him all your life.

As you’ve no doubt sussed, I was meant just to say hi and split but me and Bruce got talking and we just couldn’t stop. He talks about the album for a while and when he asks me what I think of it and I tell him it’s nowhere near as accessible as “Born To Run” but after repeated playings it stands up as by far the best thing he’s ever done, he actually breathes a sigh of relief.

“Phew, that’s good… that’s what we want people to react like when they hear it.” But, Bruce, surely you ain’t worried about it… you must know how good it is…

“Ah, people tell ya so many different things… I just want the people who care about me to know what I’m trying to do. See, it couldn’t be an innocent album like ‘Born To Run’ because things ain’t like that for me anymore. The characters on the new album ain’t kids, they’re older – you been beat, you been hurt – but there’s still hope, there’s always hope. They throw dirt on you all your life and some people get buried so deep in the dirt that they never get out. The album’s about the people who’ll never admit they’re buried too deep to get out.”

Bruce talks about the three nights he sold-out Madison Square Garden in the summer. “I don’t usually like playing places that big but that was for all the long-time supporters, so they could all get in and see us…”

On the first night he brought his sixteen-year-old sister Pam on stage after dedicating “Sweet Little Sixteen” to her.

And before the final encore on the last Garden date he was dragged back on stage by his Italian mother Adele (his father, Douglas, is Irish, once a factory worker in New Jersey and now a bus-driver in Northern California). Bruce was screaming in protest as Adele dragged him to the mike, “Aw, Mom’. I can’t do anymore! I just played four hours! I can’t do no more!”

The Garden dates were typical Springsteen gigs; intimate and chaotic both, more like a great party than a rock ‘n’ roll show, yet paradoxically the greatest rock ‘n’ roll show in the world.

I inform him that I was at Madison Square Garden a few days ago, standing out front and trying to sell two ELO tickets that CBS had given me. After getting hassled by the local spivs and unable to unload the tickets I decided to take a look inside and use the tickets myself. After seeing that the Garden was just another Wembley and reluctant to watch an ELO show, I decided to leave. But though, the Garden was geared to take thousands upon thousands of – people into the auditorium, there was no provision for letting people out. All stairs, all halls, all escalators were strictly one way. Travelling in the opposite direction just wasn’t allowed. Eventually, I got out. I had to get thrown out by the cops, Bruce. But this fat cop called ‘Heavy’ was very nice about it, he only bounced me on the pavement once and waved his nightstick at me but never hit me with it.

Bruce cracks up with laughter. “Hey, I never thought what would happen if somebody wanted to get OUT of one of my shows!!”

And the dogs on Main Street howl, ’cause they understand.

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