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Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s greatest song – angry, dark and ultimately futile – this guy has lost!
”Descent into madness”
For me, whilst “Thunder Road” is an almost magical tribute to the Americana heartland imagery in a world where anything is possible, the extreme of this is the title track from his next album. Springsteen’s voice itself seems a lot lower and that coupled with the sparse arrangement and production definitely cover the record in a layer of despondency.
The characters on this album are having a tough time and some have just about reached the end of the road. If you want raw power – almost a primal howl in places – then look no further.
The song opens with quiet buildup, giving you an insight into a character who is clearly on the edge – he’s lost just about everything and is near breaking point – perhaps he was “Johnny 99”? This guy made wrong choices – any of us can – but he has to live with them – wherein lies the struggle. As a lyricist, Springsteen always delivers but on this he raises the game
Tonight I’ll be on that hill ‘cause I can’t stop, I’ll be on that hill with everything that I got
Lives on the line and dreams are found and lost I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost.”
This guy is giving up the fight – he’s gonna pay the price and seek some salvation / redemption however he can for what he has done. Losing everything but he will still be there – ready to pay the cost for wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town.
Those dark, soulless and insidious places where anything can be traded, sold, bought. His downward spiral is complete – with nothing more to offer he embraces what he cannot deny any more. The boy racer has grown up – but can’t leave all those things behind but ultimately they destroy him.
So what was the “Darkness on the Edge of Town”? Answer – his home and the temptation – he could never grow up leave those dark places – and that ultimately destroyed him.
And then how it ends – the arrangement gets more spartan and the tune fades with Springsteen howling away in the background – destiny fulfilled, there is nothing more this guy can do to save himself. Genius!