Tag Archives: dreams

Remember This? “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and Enlightenment

Darkness Edge of Town pics 002I’ve done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day

 

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.

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Wrestling November (and all inevitable change)

MeFtbll 48bit 800 color  dust081CROPPED FOR WEBWinter turned on a dime this week in Santa Fe. As if it was mid-January, everyone rushed inside from the cold and wind when the day before it felt like balmy September.

Similarly, as a twelve-year-old boy playing football outdoors in my seventh grade gym class, cold November temperatures chased us inside then, too. Suddenly huddled into a tiny room, its air devoid of humidity – made hot by a long row of forced air heaters below the locked windows – our class started a new unit of study. The air was also tinged with a smell, something almost sickly semisweet, but like rubber, too. What was it?

Ah, what the life of a twelve-year old boy is like.

“Am b-e-r-g, you’re up!” Mr. Geinger said. “Sparacino, too. Go git ‘em, men.”

Fortunately, being in the slight seventy-five to eighty pound weight class, this Sparacino kid and I were  mirror images of each other, neither able to pin a ghost down. My real enemy wasn’t Sparacino, but the large, foam rubber wrestling mat. This old, wrinkled, grayish-yellow rug I stood on looked like it’d absorbed every wrestler’s body fluids for the past thirty years. Sooner or later, I’d have to roll all over its decades of germs, not to mention scuffle with Sparacino and whatever viruses he carried around.

“All matches are three minutes, men. Are you ready?” When Sparacino and I nodded to Mr. Geinger, our rotund gym teacher who I feared might not be able to get up if he took to the mat, I knew there was no turning back. 

Round and round my thoughts went, repeating the phrases, “Keep moving. Don’t go down. If Sparacino can’t catch you, he can’t get you down there.”

“C’mon, Amberg. Git in there!” Mr. Geinger cried out.

“He’s stalling, Mr. Geinger, he’s stalling,” a student said.

“Be a man, Amberg. Git in there. You can’t avoid your opponent!”

Like Muhammad Ali doing his rope-a-dope dance, I circled the mat. It wasn’t exactly bona fide wrestling technique, but I didn’t care. Disqualification was far better than germs, even the humiliation of being pinned.

“Wadda ‘ya doin’ in there, Amberg? Git goin’. You can’t avoid your opponents in life.”

More circling, hopping and bobbing.

Eventually winded from my third rotation of no contact wrestling, I was caught by Sparacino and brought down like a branded steer. With my nose far too close to Sparacino’s armpit, not to mention the rest of my body pressed into the disgusting, soiled, scatter rug of contagious bugs, I was pinned in seconds.

“Am b-e-r-g …. Where were all the moves I taught ‘ya, the steps, the placement?”

Out of breath, my chest on fire, all I could muster was “… I was supposed to be where now, doing what – when?”

“Am b-e-r-g!”

A few months earlier, as I’d ventured into my new middle school surroundings, I’d dreamed of so many things coming true – having longer hair to flaunt, creating a cool bedroom to hang out in, and becoming more popular with the guys. Now I just wanted to come in from the cold and hide. Disappearing into in the wings, merely observing boys, was a safe place of compromise that put me somewhere between being popular and beaten up.

This is an excerpt from the chapter titled “Boys” in my memoir Maybe Boomer. It is part of a regular series of posts (titled “Stories From Maybe Boomer”) dedicated to special moments from the memoir.

 

Photo image taken by Paul Kane.

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