March 17, 2013
Well they’re still racing out at the trestles / But that blood it never burned in her veins. / Now I hear she’s got a house up in Fairview / And a style she’s trying to maintain. / Well if she wants to see me / You can tell her that I’m easily found. / Tell her there’s a spot out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge / And tell her there’s a darkness on the edge of town.
Lost loves never want to see you again, of course, but even as a callow youth with heart intact it was clear that was actually the point of Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 masterpiece Darkness on the Edge of Town. Thankfully, it’s a lot harder to fall out with the Boss.
In the early 1980s – a time when Duran Duran inexplicably held sway and Bob Dylan had retreated into born-again preaching – I first stumbled across Springsteen’s working-class anthems on a battered vinyl record stuffed at the back of a crate.
It is now legend that the album that became Darkness on the Edge of Town was originally a different set of recordings that Springsteen only released in 2010 under the title The Promise. Fresh from the breakout success of Born to Run the man feted as ”the future of rock’n'roll” was labouring on his new album when he heard the punk explosion and realised that his work was already outdated.
”I culled my music to the toughest collection of songs I had, songs that still form the philosophical core of what we do today, swept the rest away and headed on,” Springsteen wrote in the liner notes for The Promise. ”At 27, that is what I’d hoped for, that I’d written something that would continue to fill me with purpose and meaning in the years to come, that would continue to mean something to me and to you … I owe the choices we made then and that young man their respect.”
Recognising when everything has changed and acting accordingly is a rare skill for young men. It’s all too clear that we blokes often stumble around trying to fix things way beyond the point of no return – be it a failing relationship or dead-end job. Springsteen populates his music with good men rising above adversity and bad men trying to put things right – a blessed relief in a world where spivs and high-flyers seem ascendant.
In Darkness, the protagonist’s ”Trestles” were the surfing spots on the coast of California, mine was (believe it or not) an old trestle railway bridge tucked into a hidden river valley. Just as there always seems to be a ”Mary”, so it is most have a quiet place where possibility can still trump reality.
When Springsteen came to the Melbourne Showgrounds in 1985, my younger self – complete with long-departed mop of blond hair – was immortalised as a smudge in The Age’s picture of the crowd. Bruce sang 30 songs that April night – Darkness was not one of them, but in a seemingly endless set-list he knocked off Twist and Shout as a finale.
The twists were only just beginning and life was never again so simple. Soon I was working a long way from home and within five years, aged just 23, became a father. That’s when you truly land yourself in a Springsteen song.
The man himself wasn’t immune from personal failings, and a short-lived marriage spawned 1987′s Tunnel of Love album. Like Dylan before him, the blood on the tracks were there for all to see, particularly in Cautious Man, a tale about a drifter trying to honour his marriage vows even as the road calls him back.
Melbourne has only called Bruce back twice since 1985, a three-night solo stand at the Palais Theatre in 1997 during the Ghost of Tom Joad tour, and one night of The Rising at Docklands in 2003. As it happened, those two concerts book-ended my own journey from small-town galoot to settled city father and (yikes!) grandfather. In 1997 I was on the run and camped out in a Dublin studio apartment behind Croke Park Stadium – where the best the locals could manage was three interminably long nights of country singer Garth Brooks. By 2003, I was back in Melbourne and whingeing about the acoustics to the sweet soul who would become my wife – Wendy.
So thanks is due to the evergreen Mr Springsteen. His latest album Wrecking Ball is as strong a statement on fairness and yearning as Darkness was 35 years ago. The Boss may now dine with presidents, but the promise has been kept …
Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop. / I’ll be on that hill with everything I’ve got. / Where lives are 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.
The album ends with those words and Springsteen’s fading voice humming the chorus into infinity. We’ll probably never know why the girl with the house in Fairview turned so hard, but when the darkness turns to grey perhaps straining to hear the echo goes with the territory.
■ Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at Rod Laver Arena on March 24, 26 and 27, and at Hanging Rock on March 30.
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 200 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 Order Now and Save on Shipping During the Wrecking Ball Tour2013: The Light in Darkness