On June 2, 1978 Bruce released Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Radically different from the romantic, word-drunk mini-operas of his first 3 albums, this album was lean and mean. The bittersweet nature of life was openly admitted and the music became more focused–no
jazzy experiments, no bar band by the sea funkiness. The music hinted at folk and country, while packing a sonic boom of rock guitar.
This anniversary also marks my conversion to the Church of Bruce. Thirty years ago I sliced off the cellophane wrap on my vinyl copy of Darkness and all truth was revealed. I joke, but the album did make me a diehard fan–a Tramp. (you know–Tramps like us . . .). I hadn’t bought any of the early albums, my teen ears were more attuned to Skynyrd, Aerosmith and ZZ Top. I thought Bruce was too soft. Boy, Darkness certainly buried that notion.
I may have been impressed as a youth by Darkness and its musical power, but as a Boomer rapidly approaching middle age, the power in Darkness is even more in the lyrics. My favorite Springsteen lyric still rings true:
some guys just give up living
and start dying, little by little, piece by piece
some guys get home from work and wash up
and go racing in the streets.
The power of Darkness is not the belief that everything will work out fine. Its power is in acknowledging that we may be screwed, but persevering anyway.
Before going off to play the album, check out this essay by the critic Joyce Millman, who maintains that Bruce found his adult political voice on Darkness. Also, dream about being at this recent show: the entire E Street Band, in a theatre show, playing all of Darkness (and all of Born To Run) in album order.