In mid-November, Bruce Springsteen will release (I suppose the technical term is "re-issue") Darkness on the Edge of Town, which has always been my favorite Springsteen album, which surprisingly enough is not mentioned apparently at all in the liner notes of the re-issued record. We live in a world where everything is done bigger, which applies with full force and effect to the re-issue of thirty-plus year old albums much the same as it does to all other things. Thus, the album is not simply being re-issued in a re-mastered, super high-tech and jazzed-up form. Nope. One of the options to purchase is a six-disc box set (3 CD/3 DVD), which essentially provides you with enough Springsteen to ensure that you can watch and/or listen to him non-stop from date of purchase to end of world. Not that there is anything wrong with that. And not that that represents a radical departure from the way in which many of us who enjoy his music listen to it presently.
Tonight on HBO is the premiere of the 90-minute documentary film, "The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town", which comprises one of the three DVDs in the box set. With the Yankees on the tube fighting for their post-season lives, tonight 'NTSG happiness is spelled "DVR". While I tend not to be too much of a DVD watcher - we have an entire cabinet of them at home that I have purchased but never watched - particularly music/concert DVDs, I am very much looking forward to seeing this film. A few years back, when Born To Run was given the re-issued, box set treatment the most enjoyable of all of the enjoyable parts of it for me was the documentary film - "Wings for Wheels" - that was part of the package.
The remarkable thing about the first film and, by all accounts, this latest documentary as well is the manner in which the viewer is taken into the process by which Springsteen and his band created this music. Much of the footage was shot present tense - as the record was being made - by a friend of Springsteen's who hung around the recording studio with a hand-held video camera, which allows the viewer to see what was happening as it was happening and also to see, upon further reflection, what Springsteen and the E Streeters think now about what they were doing back then. It is almost like an exercise in non-malevolent voyeurism - allowing us to see the creative process through the mind's eye of the creator as it is being created. Peeping without fear of a police record. Nice.
Madness has its rewards — if in the end you don't destroy yourself. As someone who has been a big fan of Springsteen's music my whole life but whose knowledge of this period of his career came after the fact as opposed to while it was unfolding - I was only eleven years old after all when the Darkness album was released in 1978 - I find the ability to plumb the depths of his mind to hear from him what he was thinking about when he wrote the music he wrote, which music thirty-plus years later still resonates not only in the ears but in the hearts and in the minds of his fans.
Springsteen was all of twenty-six or twenty-seven years old when he became embroiled in the legal donnybrook with his manager Mike Appel that put the brakes on the recording part of his career at the most inopportune time - in the wake of his biggest success to date. At this point in time more than thirty-plus years further on up the road we have the luxury of seeing how the story has unfolded. But the Springsteen we see in this film did not have that luxury and the combination of anger, of fear and of mistrust - to a degree at least - of his own success. "We caught the band at a very pivotal moment — immediately post-success, and I'm in the throes of trying to figure out what I'm all about, trying to figure out what that success meant," he said.
Everyone has his or her favorite songs. Mine is now what it has been for as long as I can recall. It is "Racing in the Street". There is no such thing as a bad version of it and there is no greater example of its lasting power as a piece of music than listening to it as performed just one year at Giants Stadium. (I double-dog dare you to try to make it all the way through Roy Bittan's piano work without closing your eyes and getting lost in the moment entirely)
In the final verse of "Racing" Springsteen sings of a woman for whom three years has seemed to be an eternity (show of hands for everyone noticing the parallel between the time period in the song and the time period between Born To Run and Darkness) and for whom the ride has not only been long but rough:
I met her on the strip three years ago
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away
But now there's wrinkles around my baby's eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She sighs "Baby did you make it all right"
She sits on the porch of her daddy's house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
The starkness of the imagery has never ceased to move me. I know not for certain what the eyes of one who hates for just being born look like but I know that I hope like hell never to see them on the face of the woman I love. Powerful stuff then. Powerful stuff now.
Thirty-plus years ago, uncertain as to the direction of his career and his own life but apparently bloodied more than a bit by the learning process, Springsteen wrote, "When the promise is broken you go on living/But it steals something from down in your soul/Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference/Something in your heart goes cold." For those of us who have enjoyed his music and for whom his music has meant much, the promise has never been broken. And the journey thus far has been quite wonderful. Springsteen is indeed the soundtrack of the lives of some of us.....
.....time to drop the needle and pray.