It had been a long-awaited album. His last, Born to Run, was four years ago. I sensed pressure was on for a great follow-up to that great album.
The first thing I experienced when the album came out in June, 1978, was the record jacket, both sides revealing a somber, skinny Bruce Springsteen (the pre-Born in the USA pumped up Bruce), standing alone in a cheap hotel room. The album name, Darkness on the Edge of Town, included song titles like “Factory,” “Badlands,” and “Adam Raised a Cain.”
Bleak. I wanted Born to Run back before I even played one song of Darkness.
Of course, I was a very young man then, and probably the last to know just how naive.
I gave the album many listens. With each, I was taken to places like “Candy’s Room,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Promised Land.” The entire collection of soulful, searching songs was speaking to me about greed, inequity, disappointment, desperation, identity, satisfaction, love and hope; in other words, what real life is made of, not Top 40 life, and certainly not my own.
I was confused by the chaos all these human issues brought to me at once. Nonetheless, I appreciated how Springsteen ached to tell stories, as if busting out in Darkness, trying to bust apart the chains of man’s pain, warning “in comfort danger dwells; only on the dangerous cliff edge does one’s true self reside.” But I wasn’t sure if that’s what he was really saying.
There was an emptiness in my life such that Springsteen’s edge was as close to any edge I could stand upon. I was living in Gaithersburg, Maryland, then, not the edge of urban life, life, or anything – only the fringes of suburbia. Somehow, Springsteen’s words eventually penetrated the edge of my consciousness:
– 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.
– I take her to the floor, looking for a moment when the world seems right / And I tear into the guts, of something in the night.
– ‘Cause in the darkness, there’ll be hidden worlds that shine / When I hold Candy close she makes the hidden worlds mine.
– Some guys 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.
– End of the day, factory whistle cries / Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes / And you better believe, boy, somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight / It’s the working, the working, just the working life.
– Some folks are born into the 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 / In the darkness on the edge of town.
In time, I sensed a testiness of my own. Discontent with machine shop work, empty experiences, boredom, unfulfilled dreams. So, I began to write songs; eschewed folk guitar and formed a rock band; became a freelance artist; worked as agency ad man before eventually finding a teaching career.
This rousing, creeping, crawling and often raucous stanza of rock and roll impressed me. Perhaps only at the edge does one gain best perspective. Slowly protruding from my shadow, Darkness prompted a head-on collision with my own life’s chorus.