Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bruce Springsteen: Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band perform “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” which is a live recording at the Capitol Theatre, in Passaic, NJ, on September 20th, 1978. The song is the last track on Side 2 of the album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s fourth studio album, which wes released by Columbia Records on June 2, 1978.

The song, like most on this album, speak of circumstances overcoming hope—a sad, perhaps tragic, reality for many today. It is about the lives of ordinary working class people, such as my father and his friends were, but fast forward a few decades. Whatever dreams such individuals once held were overun by the responsibilities of work and family and the (sometime) failures in both areas of life, resulting in dislocation, alienation, loss of dignity and tragic losses that take forever to grieve. Life is no easy struggle; few are born into a good life.

When you live like this as a young person, you tend to not forget, no matter what you “achieve” later on as an adult. Some see this song and album in a different way than I do. For example, one critic, David Marsh, for Rolling Stone magazine writes (July 27, 1978) that the album is not of despair: “[…] Darkness on the Edge of Town is about the kind of life that deserves survival. Despite its title, it is a complete rejection of despair.”

Perhaps so, but it’s not 1978 (or even 1980), and much has changed and not so much for what used to called “the public good.” We have regressed in many areas of public policy, which has influenced the public sphere, including most notably in social media, which has failed to understand the meaning of public good. (It takes only a few minutes on social media to encounter this absence.) Despair has turned many people into toxic bombs who feel inclined to poison the well from which most of us drink. Even so, we can learn from the despair and see what it is saying. Having despair is a telling sign that expectations have not been met, that something is not right, is not fair, that the deck is stacked, that the dice is loaded. That it can be fixed, but it won’t.

As Leonard Cohen says (1988): Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/That’s how it goes/Everybody knows.

Despair and hope can reside in the same person, often at the same time. Putting on a brave face will not make it better for such individuals; it will only make it better for some of those he encounters in the most superficial and insincere of relationships. It can be said that a “darkness on the edge”, or periphery, of a place, whether it is literally geographic or poetically present, does not linger in one place; it can and does often move to the centre. What is hope, but an apprehension and a recognition of a dark reality, and despite such a reality there is a holding on to a profound belief, an abiding faith and an expectation that it will “soon be light.”

Soon, however, is an imprecise word. It has always been that way.


The E-Street Band:
Steven Van Zandt: guitar, vocals
Garry Tallent: bass
Clarence Clemons: saxophone
Danny Federici:  keyboards, accordion
Roy Bittan: keyboards
Max Weinberg: drums

Darkness on the Edge of Town
by Bruce Springsteen

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

Everybody’s got a secret Sonny
Something that they just can’t face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
Till some day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag ’em down
Where no one asks any questions
Or looks too long in your face
In the darkness on the edge of town

Some folks are born into a good life
Other folks get it anyway anyhow
I lost my money and I lost my wife
Them things don't seem to matter much to me now
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
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town

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