HIDDEN WORLDS THAT SHINE
Celebrating 40 years of Darkness on the Edge of Town
June 2, 2018

Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen's fourth album and follow-up to Born to Run, was released on June 2, 1978. It remains a timeless, stone classic. Forty years later, we've asked artists, fans, and friends of Backstreets — writers, musicians, photographers, and more — to reflect on the Carter-era masterwork that feels just as relevant in 2018.

"Everyone takes different things from a record," singer/songwriter Pete Yorn told us during the course of our discussions. "If I analyze a record and what a song means to me, sometimes it's a universal thing that everyone sees in the song, but a lot of times it has something to do with what's gong on in your own life."

You'll find that's true in these reminiscensces and tributes to the power and promise of Darkness from Eric Alterman, Eric Bachmann, Tom Batiuk, Serge Bielanko, Chris Carrabba, Ken Casey, Danny Clinch, Cerphe Colwell, Tom Cunningham, Gerry Duggan, Patterson Hood, Dennis Lehane, Greg Linn, Nils Lofgren, Lisa Lowell, Eric Meola, Joyce Millman, Mike Ness, Lauren Onkey, Pat Riley, Luke Russert, Mike Scully, Pete Souza, Frank Stefanko, Soozie Tyrell, Michael Weiner, Dick Wingate, and Pete Yorn.

As collected by Gary Graff, David Menconi, Christopher Phillips, and Bob Zimmerman, who gets special thanks for spearheading this project.


clip courtesy of Dick Wingate

ERIC ALTERMAN
Author It Ain't No Sin to Be Glad You're Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen

I remember making my sister drive me to Korvettes on Central Avenue in Yonkers to buy Born to Run, for three dollars and 24 cents the day it came out. NEW-FM had been playing the hell out of it, and it was driving me nuts. I can't exactly place Darkness that way. The initial impact wasn't the same. First of all, I define Western civilization pre- and post-Born to Run. And because Born to Run already existed, there couldn't be anything like it. But Darkness, in the beginning, sounded to me like it was Volume 2 of Born to Run. It sounded like that, when I first got it — I was 18 in 1978. But of course it's nothing like it at all. It's about living with the failure of Born to Run. It's about being born to stand still. (Or actually, being grown up to stand still.)

I've gone through a lot of stages with Darkness. I was recently making a case to a friend of mine that 1978 was the best music year of all time. It might have had something to do with the fact that I was 18, but it was also the year that Darkness came out, Some Girls, Elvis Costello's second album came out, the Clash's album reached the United States… I was just hearing the best music there ever was.*

* Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy, the first David Johansen album, the second Talking Heads album, Patti Smith's Easter, Dylan's deeply underrated Street Legal, Bob Seger, The Last Waltz…. And there are some just really good albums: Blondie, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, The Cars. The first Police album. A decent Ramones album, a not-terrible Bob Marley album. And some "interesting" ones: Devo, Kraftwerk. It was, as the saying goes, a "very good year."

I don't remember the first time I heard the album. I saw Bruce in 1976 at the Palladium, and in 1977, and he was playing a bunch of songs that would appear on Darkness. I also saw him at Nassau Coliseum in '78, at the beginning of that tour — that would have been right when Darkness came out. Then I saw the three nights at Madison Square Garden in August, and I definitely knew those songs by then.

The first time I really felt the Darkness songs was at those three Garden shows. I had been waiting for Bruce to be big for a long time, and I went every night. On one hand, there were jerks there, making noise during the songs — I couldn't believe it. But on the other hand, there was something about the power of those songs at Madison Square Garden that was just about the most powerful thing I've ever felt in my entire life. Hearing those songs surge through me, at the age of 18, and being part of this enormous organism… it's what people are describing when they talk about religious experiences.

There was something about the "power" songs on Darkness that spoke to me as an 18-year-old in a way that they don't anymore. I don't care if I ever hear "The Promised Land" or "Badlands" ever again, even though I named my book after a lyric in "Badlands." It's partly that I've gotten older, and probably been overexposed to them in concert — it's a combination.

But the thing about Darkness is that its gifts are hidden inside there. They're deep inside. Like in "Something in the Night," which doesn't sound like it has any melody at all, or in "Adam Raised a Cain," which was very important to me as the son of my father, and it's now very important to me as a parent, as a father to my daughter.

Darkness is about living with disappointment. Which is another way of saying "growing up." You may not hear that right away — what you hear right away is "The Promised Land" and "Badlands." But over time, and maybe as you get older and experience some of this, it comes through. And who knows, I don't think artists really know what they're doing, while they're doing it. They're doing one thing, and they're doing other things that they don't know about. But Bruce later said something so wise, that the "greatest challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence." Born to Run is pre- that challenge, and The River is... well, it's about a lot of different things. But that's what Darkness on the Edge of Town is about, that struggle.

Bruce left a lot of great songs off of Darkness because they didn't fit in with the statement that he was trying to make — and that statement is a very complex thing. I don't think there's ever been anything like it in rock 'n' roll. There weren't that many grown-up rock 'n' roll albums before Darkness. There was Blood on the Tracks, and John Lennon's first solo album. I'm sure there are others, but mostly, rock 'n' roll was about what Born to Run was about: I wanna be free, I wanna have a party, I wanna break out of here. "We gotta get out of this place." And Darkness was about learning to live with what you can't change. Which makes me think of that line from Tunnel of Love — another "adult" album and probably my favorite Bruce record. But Darkness, this moment of "I can't go on I must go on," embracing life in the face of disillusion, disappointment, difficulty.... There are some great novels about that. But I don't think there's another rock 'n' roll album about that.

Like I said, I can live without hearing most of the songs on Darkness live. But when I heard him play the full album at the Meadowlands [in 2009], the songs that he hadn't typically been playing were really powerful to me. "Something in the Night." "Streets of Fire." Just the intensity he brought to the performance. And maybe he was connecting to this earlier part of himself, too. Because those other songs are part of his contemporary repertoire; he plays them hard, but there's nothing new in them any more. Whereas with the deeper cuts, he was probably having sense memories just like I was.

I almost never put on Darkness. But when I heard it performed that night, it brought me back not only to the moments when I was hearing it for the first 100,000 times, but also to the moments of my life where I tried to find a way to stay true to my ideals in the face of the natural disillusionment that life brings. And in that respect, I would call it a masterpiece.

— as told to Christopher Phillips


courtesy of Dick Wingate

ERIC BACHMANN
Musician Archers of Loaf, Crooked Fingers

Darkness is my favorite Springsteen album, for a lot of reasons — like how damn loud the drums are, which is so great. But mostly it's because Bruce just sounds so bitter. He's still trying, playing music, making records. But the lyrics are all about giving up your dreams and how it's all a waste of fuckin' time. I guess that was after Born to Run, when things had gone bad with the manager, and there'd been the big push but I guess it had not done as well as everyone hoped. He sounds quite beaten down, and I love that paradox of him giving just everything while bitterly saying, "Give up. Get rid of your dreams. You're gonna fail." Song after song, that's the underlying current. He's not stopping, though. Somehow, there's still a lot of positivity in it. And how the hell do you sound so positive in the sound and energy with lyrics like that? That album has aged well, too, gotten better with time. I particularly relate to it now because after how long I've been doing this, it keeps getting harder to maintain."

— as told to David Menconi


Tom Batiuk, 1979

TOM BATIUK
Cartoonist Funky Winkerbean

One of the toughest things for an artist in popular culture to have to deal with is time. If you're fortunate enough to have a long career, you're faced with a couple of choices. You can take that something special you've created and continue doing it over and over — which fans will say they want, but really don't — or you can break your toys periodically and risk new directions. From a distance, I've watched Bruce navigate that particular minefield, and have drawn inspiration from the way in which he challenges his audience to take that risk on and follow him to different places. Of course, this only works if the work is good. Bruce has that part down cold.


Serge Bielanko, right, with his brother Dave in Marah - photograph by Bob Zimmerman

SERGE BIELANKO
Writer, Musician Marah

Darkness on the Edge of Town, more than just about any book or record or movie I've turned to repeatedly in my life, is a handbook for American dreamers. Sometimes, standing out in front of my house in the pre-dawn black, the silence split only by some distant siren cutting across town or some dog barking two blocks away, there are these huge blues that rise up in my guts. I look at my lawn in the dark and I wonder how the hell it became mine. I turn and see the lights of the house behind me, and I think about the woman sleeping inside there, and the little girl. "Who the hell am I?" I ask myself. "What the fuck is all this?"

That's when I remember Darkness. I remember the voices that tumble out of it. People desperately trying to reconcile their lives after so much youth, so many dreams are gone. Instead of roaring out onto highways that lead to never-ending glory, these people circle the old familiar blocks over and over; they stare at the ceiling late in the evening and wonder what happened to what was supposed to happen. And God, how I like those people. Those voices. I get them. Sometimes: I am them. And then sometimes, because I've listened so intently to each one a million times: I'm not them at all.

The narrative voices of Darkness are years away from Human Touch, from Lucky Town. That satisfied acceptance of love/ of family/ of hard work/ of a decent life are still more often than not at war with yesterday's dreams and visions. I feel that way sometimes. We all do, I think. I used to listen to this record and stare at the cover, at that young man's face, that empty uncertain face, and think to myself that the Darkness on the Edge of Town... that it was coming; that it was creeping in, like the impetuous barreling night.

But now, I'm not so sure. I look at my dreams from when I was a kid, generic American whims: to be a ballplayer, to be a rock star, and I hold them up next to what I've actually become.

A husband.

A daddy.

A guy with a lawn he needs to get mowed.

And alone at my curb early in the morning, I embrace completely what I've become. These days, that Darkness on the Edge of Town: it seems to be moving off into the distance. Maybe that's what those voices were trying to tell me/ to tell us. Who knows. Still. As time goes by, I find I'm content to circle these damn blocks less and less and less.


courtesy of Dick Wingate

CHRIS CARRABBA
Musician Dashboard Confessional

Darkness was a brilliant record that I didn't get at first. I didn't see the brilliance of it at first, and I remember digging in my heels to try to understand what was really going on here and what was missing from what I expected. And eventually what I figured out was that it was better than I expected.

You carry into any listening experience your own expectations. I don't think I was ready for Darkness on the Edge of Town when I first got it, but I listened and listened and listened. I listened to Born in the U.S.A. first; that came out when I was record-buying age. Then I listened to Born to Run, which I thought came after Born in the U.S.A. — and I thought he'd blown away Born in the U.S.A.

And then I got Darkness on the Edge of Town because the guy at the record store said it was the best one, and I just didn't get it. I was pretty young, still — I was 10 or something — and it was just too much for me. I wasn't there yet. But I listened and listened, and it helped that my cousin was pretty cool and he knew stuff about music. He said, "Keep listening to it," and it became among my favorites and then became my favorite for many years to come.

I guess in my youth I was probably just waiting for the chorus that never came. I wouldn't say that's a chorus-laden record like Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A., although it obviously does have choruses. I can only assume the music kind of embedded itself in me, so everything began to sound like a chorus, eventually.

I learned a lot about how to be verbose from Darkness on the Edge of Town. I'm a little too verbose with my writing, and Springsteen, as verbose as he is, really learned how to be succinct in a striking and important way. I don't think I've learned that yet, but I've definitely taken some lessons from Darkness on the Edge of Town. And I also learned, sonically... that record is just immense, and I remember not really understanding what everything was. I remember not being sure how an organ fit into rock 'n' roll, what it really did, and listening to that record I started to understand everything. I was studious with that record. I don't know where I would have been without that record — or any of his records.

— as told to Gary Graff


Ken Casey sings "Badlands" - photograph by A.M. Saddler

KEN CASEY
Musician Dropkick Murphys

Darkness is my favorite album of his, and I think it's all summed up by the song "Badlands." From the first time I heard that song, I loved the simplicity and power, and I think it sums up everything Bruce is about. Any time you talk about pure power, that song comes up. The straight-ahead driving drumbeat, simple and pure, really attracted us. That's where the power is in rock 'n' roll, not overcomplicating the situation.

"Badlands" is the one Bruce song we cover. For what we try to do, it's all about how a record comes out of the gate and hits you, you know? We messed around with it some for years, but we never put it out there until we started doing it live. We do it a little bit faster, but we try to keep it very close to the original. It's not an every-night thing, more like something for the encore here and there because we want it to be surprising. It's one the crowd always really knows, and the response is always amazing.

— as told to David Menconi

DANNY CLINCH
Photographer The Rising, Wrecking Ball, High Hopes

I was probably 14 when Darkness came out, and I heard it from my best friend Mickey's older brother. We got turned on to a lot of things by him through osmosis. I grew up in New Jersey and Springsteen music was around all the time, so of course it clicked for me even though it was kind of a different record from what I was used to hearing — just a little bit darker, more moody. It did take a little while to grow on me, but it did.

My father grew up the next town over from Freehold, where Bruce spent a lot of time growing up, and my dad's a blue-collar guy. He's a house-painter, recently retired, and not much older than Bruce. Kind of a greaser guy from the other side of the tracks, and a gearhead. He had a lot of cars. A lot of Bruce's songs remind me of the romantic vision I had of him growing up. "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," and especially "Racing in the Street," because he was always racing cars. And back then you could buy a car for $25, not bother registering it, beat it into the ground, toss it off and just get another.

The only part about "Racing in the Street" that wasn't my father was that opening line, "I got a '69 Chevy with a 396," because he drove a '32 Ford Deuce Coupe. That was his hotrod that he chose to remember, and he talks about it to this day; he wasn't a muscle-car guy, he was more of a '50s guy. Then the Darkness box set came out, and there's an alternate take of "Racing in the Street" where that line is changed to a '32 Ford with a 318. Son-of-a-gun, there it is! That completely blew me away when I heard that.

— as told to David Menconi


courtesy of Cerphe Colwell

CERPHE COLWELL
Disc Jockey, Author Cerphe's Up: A Musical Life with Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, CSNY, and Many More

Years ago Bruce Springsteen said, "I'm in the middle of a long conversation with my audience." For all of us on radio, Darkness on the Edge of Town was the album we waited to hear as that conversation continued. From the very first time when Bruce was a guest on my show at WHFS in Washington, DC, he had been a good musical companion. Now, with the aftermath of Born to Run and the complicated lawsuit that kept him from recording, we suddenly found ourselves craving new Bruce Springsteen music. My radio audience was acutely aware of the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding Bruce during this period when he could not produce new music. His live performances morphed into high-quality bootlegs and became storied events. His concerts at DAR Constitution Hall, Georgetown University's McDonough Arena, and Carter Baron Amphitheater had become real-time urban legends.

In a post-disco radio world, we loved Bruce's honesty. He told us everything about himself in his songs, and his beautiful gift of music from the heart never lied. Up until this time, we would ask… and Bruce would deliver. Suddenly that conversation had stopped due to lawsuits.

Finally, work began on his fourth LP. Early on with Darkness on the Edge of Town, I heard from Clarence and Steve that the recording sessions at Atlantic Records studio in Manhattan were not going smoothly. I visited them once and witnessed Max repeatedly hitting his snare for hours, trying to perfect his drum sound… the studio wasn't right for them. The lawsuit was over, but the drama continued. Later that summer the sessions moved to The Record Plant, and Darkness was completed. I spent a weekend as a guest at Clarence's home in Sea Bright and listened to the album for the first time. Hearing "Badlands," "Prove It All Night," "Adam Raised a Cain," "The Promised Land"… it was worth the wait.

From the first time I heard Bruce and the E Street Band when they played the Childe Harold and all the glasses and bottles behind the bar rattled… to their unprecedented 1975 ten-show engagement at The Bottom Line in New York that Rolling Stone called "one of the 50 moments that changed rock and roll" …to Bruce's powerful "The Rising" with a 125-person choir at President Barack Obama's Inauguration… that musical conversation and brotherhood has remained visionary.

One of the times I emceed and brought Bruce and the band on stage to a sold-out concert at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, I blurted out, "this is what we've been waiting for!" Bruce returned the favor by signing the jacket of Darkness on the Edge of Town, writing, "Good intro!" Things turned out exactly the way all of us early believers felt: he was the future of rock and roll.

TOM CUNNUNGHAM
Disc Jockey The Bruce Brunch

I feel lucky to have had the good fortune to see Bruce and the E Street Band perform Darkness on the Edge of Town in its entirety a couple of different times. Most notably, at my most favorite and most sacred of all concert halls: the late, great Spectrum in Philadelphia on October 14, 2009. The thought of that show still takes my breath away.

The first show that I saw on the Darkness tour was in that same building. Gary Busey came out and sang "Rave On" that night. Having had just read Dave Marsh's cover story in Rolling Stone called "Bruce Springsteen Raises Cain," with its revelatory references to Busey's role in the motion picture The Buddy Holly Story, I was even more blown away that night than usual. Forty years burning down the road, I still consider that article to be the greatest thing that I've ever read about Bruce Springsteen. And don't get me started about the time, also in Philadelphia (Labor Day, 2012), that they opened the show with five songs from Darkness…

The album remains, and will always be, a foundational part of Bruce's career. It's bedrock. It's essential!

Back in April, I was a panelist at Monmouth University for their Tuesday Night Record Club discussion about the album. I was in a question-asking mood that night, and I wondered outside of a Sessions Band concert, could anyone in the room recall a Bruce Springsteen show that didn't have at least one song from the album performed? Taking into account that this was a room of tried-and-true, long-standing fans.

Not a hand went up.

Bedrock. Essential.


photograph by Gerry Duggan

GERRY DUGGAN
Comic Book Writer Deadpool, All-New Guardians of the Galaxy

I was taking my son home to New Jersey for a visit, and we were listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town when I snapped the picture above. My son is about the same age now as I was when I first heard the album. Some roads dead end, and some are straight shots out of town to freedom. I've taken both roads at times in my life. The view outside my window keeps changing, the passengers in my car keeps changing, but Darkness is an album whose odometer logged a million miles and now has flipped all the way back and zeroed out. Brand new. Again. 


courtesy of Dick Wingate

PATTERSON HOOD
Musician Drive-By Truckers

It's kind of the record that saved my life as a teenager. Darkness came out the summer I was 14 years old, and it really was perfect for me. It probably did more to shape my idea of what a record could be than any other album I've ever heard, especially with "Something in the Night" and the title cut most of all. "Candy's Room," of course. All of 'em, really. Even though I've probably listened to The River more, I still think Darkness is the greater record. The remastered version sounds so good, and I love The Promise, too — I love that version of "Racing in the Street." The Promise truly stands as a Springsteen record in its own right. Even though it's not really the case chronologically, I think it's kind of the missing link between Darkness and The River.

— as told to David Menconi

DENNIS LEHANE
Author Mystic River, Shutter Island

The summer of '79, my brother had given me Born to Run for my 14th birthday, and it was the purest case of love at first listen I'd ever experienced. So I saved up and got Darkness a few weeks later. I was unsettled at first. I'd just left Born to Run, where the arrangements are so exuberant, even if the lyrics aren't, and then I stepped into the Darkness landscape, where people are left "running, burned, and blind" with the "things (they) loved crushed and dying in the dirt," and the arrangements occasionally resemble dirges. Trust me, that leaves an impression on an adolescent.

But fairly quickly I locked into the power of the album — the first time I heard "Candy's Room" and "Racing in the Street" back to back did the trick. I have distinct memories of listening to those two songs over and over with the smell of the night coming through the basement window screens, so that puts it squarely in the summer time, which means I must have responded fast to the album.

The songs that always take the top of my head off are "Something in the Night," "Prove it All Night," and — still to this day — "Candy's Room" and "Racing in the Street," both of which take their place in my personal Springsteen Top Ten. That piano coda that leads us out of "Racing in the Street" just levels me, every time.

There's such an understanding, even a love, of human folly on the album. It's never condescending even though it acknowledges the futility of the dreamers' dreams. We know the narrator of "Candy's Room" is delusional when he tells us that "what she wants is me," and we know the lovers in "Racing in the Street" are way past the point that "washing these sins" from their hands is going to do shit to save their relationship. But we never lose respect for them just because they're delusional.

It's as if Springsteen was saying the American Dream might be bullshit, but the American Dreamer is the sum total and collective soul of all that's worthy in us. I notice some of that vibe in my books sometimes, which is why I had a long riff on Springsteen to open one of the chapters in Mystic River. My books often have sad endings, but they're never pessimistic, I'd argue. Springsteen's work — Nebraska being the notable exception — has always felt that way to me: melancholic, to be sure, but hopeful, too.

Only one other pair of albums — Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street — can compare to the one-two, back-to-back punch of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. It's the coexistence of the albums that ensures immortality. Sticky Fingers isn't as great unless it's followed by the beautiful mess of Exile. Same with Born to Run and Darkness. They need each other. Born to Run, for all its mournful moments, is Innocence; Darkness, man, that's Experience.

— as told to Bob Zimmerman


courtesy of Greg Linn

GREG LINN
Artist Relations Legacy Recordings/Sony Music

In the summer of 1978, I was at a summer camp in Canada. One of the counselors had brought his record player for our bunk, and he only had a few albums. The one that we played the most was Darkness on the Edge of Town. I could not fully appreciate it at 15 years old, but over time it has become one of the most important albums in my life. 


photograph by A.M. Saddler

NILS LOFGREN
Musician E Street Band, Crazy Horse

When we were kids, we sat in a dark room and listened to both sides of a record, in complete silence and awe... and I probably haven't done that since 1967. Because I've been busy! By '68, I was already on the road with Grin as a professional musician. So basically, everything except the work at hand — the next batch of songs, the band, the gigs, the rehearsal, the crew — you're just really preoccupied. So with Darkness on the Edge of Town, I remember in the hearing some of those songs on the radio late '70s and early '80s, from a distance, and as a fan, going, "Oh, that one's great… that one's great." But I didn't really have time to sit down and listen to the whole album.

I got more of an affinity for those tunes when I saw Bruce live. I saw a Roxy show in L.A. right around when Darkness came out, and at the L.A. Sports Arena in the early '80s. It was more in the live setting that those songs had visceral power to me. Traditionally, with most great acts, you make a record with really good songs, and then on the road, maybe 40 shows in, the songs take on an even more powerful presentation. So between the radio and a few live shows, seeing those Darkness songs being played, they really made an imprint on me.

I've talked before about going up to Bruce's house in early 1984 — I had the blues, he invited me up, we did some jamming, and I spent a weekend listening to the Born in the U.S.A. record. Got some pep talks from a peer and a great friend, someone I continue to greatly admire. Months later, he called and in his very low-key way, said, "Hey, why don't you come back up? We'll do some jamming, maybe I'll get the band together to jam." I realized that Bruce never puts the E Street Band together just to jam… so, without saying it, in my mind this was an audition. Before I headed up to New Jersey, I asked a bootlegger friend, who had countless Bruce shows, to come over to my house. If it worked or it didn't, I didn't want it to be because of lack of effort or preparation. And one of the main records I focused on was Darkness.

I remember writing the charts for "Badlands," "Adam Raised a Cain," "The Promised Land." These were songs, again, that were really sold to me live, or as I heard them distantly on the radio, bombing around the circuit, making our way through the music industry. "Prove It All Night," of course, and "Darkness on the Edge of Town." I wanted to get up there with some chord charts for songs they're going to have to play, no matter who's in the band. So that Garry doesn't have to yelling chords in my ear, and we can play for a couple days and see it feels, to Bruce, the guys, and to me.

So with that in mind, we kept looking through the tapes for tracks to write chord charts for, and most of them — the powerful ones that came to mind first — were off of Darkness. That record more than any. At the time, I don't even know if I knew exactly what songs were from where, but I came to find out that all these songs were all off of Darkness.


photograph by Joseph Quever

Those songs have aged spectacularly, because over the years they've had a deeper imprint — not just on the audience, but on us. When something works, it works. And when you're out there, especially in a live setting, you just really want it to work. And if it does, it's a gem that you nurture and take good care of, and it continues to become even more powerful over time.

Playing the full record live was great. First of all, I was like, this is probably one of the only nights in history where I don't have to worry about Bruce changing the setlist! The [written] setlist has become more and more useless as time gone. Which is fun! But it was a funny point in my mind as my first reaction: jeez, I can really just focus and actually know what the hell is going on.

The deeper cuts… "Streets of Fire" was like something that I knew all my life without ever hearing: it's just a classic chord progression. "Factory" is one of my favorite country songs ever — because it's authentic, and for decades now, what I consider true country, the old Hank Williams school of country, has been gone. Quite a while ago we resurrected "Factory," and as a beginning pedal steel player, that was a great song to jump on the pedal steel. And "Candy's Room" is just a bizarre, wonderful thing — it was actually challenging to learn, because there are some oddball chords in there. Even though you hear it and you understand it musically, you can't call out the chords like "Louie Louie." You're like, "What the hell were those chords?" And it's funny, because even we do that sometimes in the band — and Steven and those guys have played it a million times. Bruce wrote it! And it's still like, "How does that go?"

It's unusual for almost every song on a record to regularly come in and out of a show. Usually you try to get three or four songs that work well. For the tour behind an album you might try to do six to eight, but then as you get into your normal playing, you hope to have two or three great ones from every record. But Darkness in particular just has all these songs that continue to be mainstays in the live show. It's just a great, powerful record.

— as told to Christopher Phillips


Lisa Lowell, left, with Soozie Tyrell and the Sessions Band - photograph by Riku Olkkonen

LISA LOWELL
Musician The Sessions Band

As a Jersey Shore teen in the late '60s into the '70s, I grew up hyper-aware of some of the earlier displays of Mr. Springsteen's artistry. I'm talking pre-album stuff, where I experienced him as a very exciting live entertainer. I not only dug his musical influences, but I was also admittedly one of those souped-up girls who didn't mind dancing myself into a frenzy in a crowd. His concerts never felt like anything less than a spiritual possession, injected with romance and soulful jubilance.

Later in the '70s, though, I lost touch with the Jersey Shore scene — I was going through the hoops as a harmony singer in New York to try to earn some dough. Living in Soho, I'd become steeped in the rawer CBGB's and new wave Mudd Club sounds. I had ingested enough jazz to choke a horse. By 1978, I was back to trying to write a good song. Songs had become my focus again.

When I heard Darkness on the Edge of Town, I was struck mostly by its austerity. A sharp contrast to Born to Run, with its extravagant orchestral stuff going on, Darkness gave me pause. In my mind, I thought, jeez, Bruce is resonating with what's in the air here — kind of a breakdown to rock's rawer roots. Punkier stuff. It was cool, dirgy, and unredemptive. I was open to that. But when I heard "Candy's Room," he really hit paydirt with me. I thought it was one of the most romantic songs I'd ever heard. Because he was portraiting a woman, like a painter. He saw her, even as he was experiencing his own emotions with that kind of intensity and physical passion. It had serious depth. In Darkness I think I reconnected with Bruce's artistry, seeing him as a writer of great range.


photograph by Eric Meola

ERIC MEOLA
Photographer Born to Run, The Promise

During his late-'70s concerts following the release of Darkness, Springsteen was fond of introducing "Thunder Road" by telling the story of our 1977 road trip from Salt Lake City to Reno, in which he describes a sign that read "Welcome to America, the land of peace, love, justice and no mercy."

On that short odyssey across Nevada, one event in particular changed our lives forever — a lightning storm of epic proportions set fire to the dark desert sky. In the shimmering mirage of the desert's anvil, and in the neon night of an American dream, a song called "The Promised Land" took shape in Bruce's mind. Part populist homily, part national anthem, it is an anguished cry for redemption.

The opening harmonica notes never fail to bring me back to that storm, and to the darkness on the edge of those small towns; and the refrain that ends each stanza is a clarion call in these xenophobic times, to the promise of a promised land.


courtesy of Dick Wingate

JOYCE MILLMAN
Music & Pop Culture Critic

September 25, 1978. I was a college student, majoring in journalism. But the type of journalism I really wanted to write — rock criticism — was not being taught at my school. So I was learning how to be a critic by reading Rolling Stone, Creem, the Boston Phoenix, the Cambridge Real Paper, and anything else I could get my hands on. Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Ariel Swartley, Kit Rachlis were my teachers. And all the music I'd ever listened to was the syllabus.

More than any other record, Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the reviews I had read about it, taught me how to think critically about music, to put it in the context of the wider world, look for meaning and connection. And I connected to Darkness, with its gray-shaded stories about working-class people following their restless dreams, in a way I had never connected to a record before.

Anyway, it was September 25 and Bruce was playing the Boston Garden. I had seen one of the first shows on the Darkness tour only four months before at the much smaller Music Hall. That had been my first time, and the experience was so core-rattling that the show was all a stunned blur to me now. The Garden show was going to be different. I was ready for it. I was going to lock onto and savor every song. My sister Randi, the miracle worker, had procured us floor seats in the third or fourth row (I don't know how I managed to lose my ticket stub over the years, but, it's gone). And if you've ever seen an E Street Band concert up close, you know what I mean when I say that being there, in that moment, was like standing in a hurricane.

So, after the show, another of my sister's miraculous connections — specifically, the amazing Tracy Roach, queen of Boston FM radio — handed us backstage passes. I'd never been backstage at a concert before. I peeled the backing paper off the fabric access pass and slapped it onto my thigh, because that's where Tracy and the other cool chicks were wearing theirs. Randi stuck hers on the lapel of her jacket. We mingled in a meet-and-greet room with other guests (radio jocks, local musicians, PR people). I saw the Boston Globe's rock critic being ushered into the inner sanctum. Finally, Bruce emerged and made the rounds of the tables where we all sat so nonchalantly. Yes, being nonchalant backstage, to the point where you practically ignore the star, is apparently how it's done. Nobody was freaking out, nobody was bubbling over with enthusiasm. It was all just, "Oh, look, there's Bruce Springsteen. Yawn. What's he doing here?"

Springsteen came over to our table. He was very, very skinny. He was wearing a brown leather jacket, a white T-shirt, and tight faded black trousers that laced up the front. (Hey, journalism students notice these details.) His voice was hoarse. One of the guys got up and gave him his seat, he chatted with a few people at the table, but I can't remember what he said. I was too busy trying to look nonchalant. I couldn't make myself talk, anyway. I was experiencing severe sensory overload, probably as a result of the strain of all that nonchalance.

Then he stood up to leave and one of the women at our table dropped the nonchalant veil and asked him to sign the backstage pass on her thigh, raising up her leg and holding onto his shoulder for support. My cheeky sister jumped up and asked him to sign her pass — which was still attached to her chest. Bruce looked down at her, chuckled, and obliged. While this was going on, I was trying to peel off my pass so I could hand it to him, but it was stuck hard to my sweaty jeans. And then it was my turn. I wish I could say that I talked to him and told him my take on Darkness, what it meant to me, like a proper critic. But I wasn't a proper critic, yet. I was a student who lucked into a backstage pass and now he was signing it, while it was still stuck, ridiculously, to my leg. Please… don't judge.

In the middle of that backstage scene, I was aware of being on the outside looking in. Sure, I was inside, in a small sense, and that was cool. But something was nagging at my conscience: If you were on the inside, could you still be a critic and write with honesty? Decades later, after I was established in my career, I felt a shiver of recognition watching former rock critic Cameron Crowe's autobiographical film Almost Famous, as Crowe's rock critic surrogate starts hanging out with his favorite band and struggles to walk the fine line between being a journalist and being a fan. That night backstage with Bruce, I glimpsed that fine line for the first time, and knew that, soon, I would have to choose sides. Backstage passes and schmoozing with the star were fun, don't get me wrong. But it wasn't where I was meant to be. I was meant to be outside, admiring at arm's length, writing it down, decoding What It All Signified. And that's when I knew for sure that I was a born critic.

I think I managed to keep my critical perspective when I was being paid to write about rock 'n' roll. But, contrary to popular opinion, critics aren't all brain and no heart. We're fans, too, maybe the biggest fans of all; we just express it differently. Inside, we're still the kid who heard a record that changed her life, and we need to try to make it change your life, too.

One last scene from September 25, 1978. After we got our passes signed, my sister and I coolly slinked (or so we thought) out of the room. When we were in the hallway and certain that no one was looking, we started jumping up and down hugging each other. And then we walked out into the empty Garden parking lot at 2 a.m. to find the gates padlocked shut with our car stuck inside. Oh, the glamorous life of a rock critic!

— originally published on Millman's blog, The Mix Tape

MIKE NESS
Musician Social Distortion

I would have to say that this was probably a risky record for Bruce to make, coming off his breakthrough Born to Run. Darkness is raw and stripped down, something I really admire about it. It's also interesting to me now, listening again and hearing the beginning of a career that is now such a huge part of American culture in music history.

LAUREN ONKEY
Senior Director, NPR Music

I was almost 15 when Darkness on the Edge of Town was released, finishing up my first year in high school in Bridgeport, Connecticut. When I think about the album I'm flooded with very specific memories of place and time. I vividly remember the evening I first heard it on the radio: I can see my white bedroom furniture, yellow shag carpet and GE stereo turntable/radio/8-track combo. Born to Run made me a Bruce fan in '75, and by '78 I was a full-on music nerd — I kept up with music news in all the magazines I could get my hands on, and I'd picked up the news that the new Bruce album was finally, really coming out.

I heard the first cuts on WPLR in New Haven from a DJ named "Stoneman." Stoneman was on weeknights from 6-10, and once a week he did an hour previewing new albums. He'd been talking about Darkness for a few days in advance, and so that night I was glued to my little stereo. My first thought was that it felt different than any Bruce record that had come before: sparse, hard, almost lonely. I bought the record a week later and obsessed on it all summer.

I was fascinated by Bruce's new look, the stark cover photo, the black and white inner sleeve, and the cool typewritten lyrics. The album rocked, but it also kinda screamed — it seemed heavier than anything I'd encountered before. I didn't drive yet, so I didn't hear it in cars, and I didn't have any kind of portable stereo — so I heard Darkness mostly in that bedroom, by myself, listening and thinking and digging through the lyrics. It challenged me: the lyrics were so…. grown up. There was a hardness about the record that also felt strangely uplifting, empowering. How could those two things go together?

Maybe because I experienced Darkness first in that hothouse of teenage isolation — where truth be told I probably studied it as hard as I studied anything in graduate school — I've carried the album with me ever since. It's a record I've never tired of and never really gotten to the bottom of. The songs feel durable, the arrangements and sounds not really of their time but almost out of time.

Ultimately there's something deeply spiritual to me about the record — so many of the songs get at how abusive we can be to ourselves and to each other, but push to ask how it is we should respond to that reality, because "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." Darkness songs are about choosing to get back up after loss and disappointment, after screwing up, after failing: "I'll be on that hill/'cause I can't stop." It's not a heroic or glorious feeling. As much as I love "Badlands" — especially Bruce's joy and bluster playing it live — Darkness for me is about a more daily, lifelong commitment to getting back up. That's what I hear in the coda at the end of "Racing in the Street," as beautiful a piece of music as Bruce has ever recorded: the E Street Band locked in as an ensemble, with a faith that saves.

PAT RILEY
NBA Coach/Executive Miami Heat

As I look back and recall that time in my life, there was a major shift about to take place that would change me forever: how I was perceived by people, and what my calling was going to be. I'd been a depressed traveling secretary in the NBA — handing out boarding passes, booking hotels and planes, many mundane duties I hated, had to do to survive. It was "the working, the working, just the working life" that Bruce writes about in "Factory." Then, in 1979, I became a coach.

I came from the same background as in those songs, same kind of city, same kind of parental upbringing, in Schenectady, New York. Irish Catholic, Catholic school, altar boy in a factory town where 75% of the people worked for General Electric. My Dad was a minor league baseball manager, and he worked the GE cafeteria when he wasn't managing. Most of my friends' fathers worked there too, or were forever firemen. Which is what most of their sons became, too. With pride.

I got out and somehow, 15 years later, achieved my dream and became a coach. And then a Championship Hall of Fame coach. I have learned to expect the unexpected over the years, and prepare myself for surprises. Listening to his songs and reading Bruce's words over the years should teach you that you are prepared for all that life brings to us. Just stay tough.

It could be that your dream doesn't happen when you're raised in "badlands." But I found the place, and I live it every day. I'm just so proud to have paid "the price you've gotta pay." Those lyrics resonate so deep with me. It just digs deep into who I am, my existence, and what I experienced.

I never had a hot rod when I was growing up, but my brother had the coolest 1952 midnight blue Ford, built in his high school machine shop. It was loud as hell and a screamer when you ripped into it. I would drive it while he was sleeping, pick up my girl, Mary, and he never knew about it — until his girlfriend asked him about the rumor: what was he doing riding around town with another girl?

He kicked my ass.

Now, I ride around Miami in a 1949 black, chopped, Hurst on the floor and fuelie- injected Mercury. A Billy Gibbons creation, and I can assure you that my music blasting with the gears is all Bruce. It's not a '69 Chevy with a 396, but it will do, and it takes me back to the time when life was great even when we thought it wasn't. You learn in life that any painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you — it's not. It's one thing to know that you may be going through something challenging, but then you realize that you have been prepared for it your whole life.

You have been mentally ready for these times, because we have been taught that whatever difficulties we face in life, they are not unexpected. And we, through strength, faith, and family, cross that bloody river and get to the other side. And what we do when we get there is, we can thank a guy named Springsteen, forever, one of us, who also educated each and every one of us who pays attention to what he produces. Yes, yes, For tonight, tonight, the highway's bright, out of our way mister you best keep… 'Cause summer's here and the time is right for goin' racing in the street.

To Darkness.


courtesy of Luke Russert

LUKE RUSSERT
Correspondent NBC News

For me, the Darkness album has always defined the introspection that comes to a man in his late 20s and early 30s. The carefree, fun-chasing life is winding down, according to society's clock. However, while a man has ascertained a certain status or a certain reputation, and harbors hopes for the future, society is still reluctant to make him a full man. It's this weird purgatory: you're supposed to be responsible, but you won't be given all the responsibility just yet. In that purgatory you hold onto a sense of restlessness. A restlessness that shows itself in trying to hold onto the freedom of the past, the romanticism of youth, but simultaneously acknowledging the serious demands of the near future that you're going to have to own. Your spirit isn't quite dead, but it's going to be confined. 

This story is told through all the tracks, but a few that stand out for me:

In "The Promised Land," the young man is chasing that mirage and trying to take charge. We've all been in that place where we want to "take one moment into my hands." Let me prove myself.

In "Prove it All Night," the young man asks his love not to be beat into the submission requested by "polite" society. Not to hear their voices, because they'll never know. Come out and live, there's plenty of time to be standard.

"Candy's Room" sees the young man's true love run up against a truth about love. It's not just men who can fake it, make love cynical and transactional.

"Factory" is the submission to society, the job that's expected because the man is expected to provide. On a personal note, this song was my grandfather's life and one that had a deep effect on my own father. While he loved his dad, my father told him early on he would not be a garbage man punching the time clock, no matter how hard he had to work. My grandpa told him in return he'd help him get to college the best he could.

The title track, "Darkness on the Edge of Town," is where the story ends, where the young man is on that hill with everything that he's got. He hasn't quite given in, there's still some fire in his belly, but reality is sinking in within the darkness of the night and the town. The never-ending fear we all have, that this is what and maybe all that we are in this world.

Bruce records are like close family members; I can't outwardly say that Darkness is my favorite, but it's the most special to me personally. That's probably because I can relate to the character, as we're around the same age. I'm sure if Backstreets asks me about Magic in thirty years, I'll be of mind with the character from "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." However, I carry that young man in Darkness and listen to his story frequently. Not a week goes by where he isn't confiding his story in me. Usually I'm driving, and usually the sun has set. 


courtesy of Dick Wingate

MIKE SCULLY
Writer The Simpsons, Parks & Recreation, Everybody Loves Raymond

I had been waiting three years for this day. My expectations couldn't have been higher. I was 21 and had worn out my copies of Greetings, The Wild and the Innocent, and Born to Run. Even my numerous bootlegs — purchased in strange record store back-rooms hidden only by hanging beads for some reason — were starting to scratch and skip. I didn't understand all the legal issues that had forced me to go three years without a new album from Bruce and the band, but I'm pretty sure my life-long hatred of lawyers started then.  

But the wait was finally over: Darkness on the Edge of Town was finally being released.

I was supposed to be working at whatever dead-end job I had at the time (it was either my driving instructor or hospital janitor period), but the day Darkness hit stores, I was hanging out at Belmont Records in Springfield, Massachusetts, waiting for the UPS truck to arrive with their shipment. I helped the manager, John Dougan, (also a huge Bruce fan and now a music writer and professor), unload the boxes, and the two of us tore them open and pulled out the first two copies.

We loved the cool cover shot and flipped the album over to the list of songs on the back, imagining their greatness solely by their titles: "Badlands! That's gonna rock!"... "Candy's Room! You know that's cool!"... "Streets of Fire! Wicked!" (Remember, I'm a Masshole)…  "Prove It All Night", "The Promised Land", "Adam Raised a Cain", "Racing in the Street"... How could they not be amazing songs with titles like these?

Yanking the needle off whatever album was playing in the store at the time, we blasted Darkness through the store and quickly realized we were right — the songs were amazing. The album was amazing. It remains amazing. Wicked amazing.


photograph by Pete Souza, 1978

PETE SOUZA
Photographer Director, White House Photo Office, for President Obama

Darkness was my introduction to Bruce. In 1978, I was at grad school in Kansas after moving there from Massachusetts. It pains me now that I was oblivious to Bruce before that, even though I was a college student in Boston when Jon Landau wrote his famous review across the river at the Harvard Square Theatre.

In any case, at Kansas State University I was subject to non-stop disco music at the bars. How I hated it. I didn't listen to much music other than the recycled albums I had brought from Boston. That summer, one of the writers for our college newspaper asked me if I wanted to drive to Kansas City to see Bruce Springsteen; the writer was going to review the concert, and he wanted me to take some pictures. Sure, I said, although I confessed that I didn't know Springsteen's music. Call me out of touch.

I will never forget that night. Our tickets were in the balcony at Municipal Auditorium. (I had been denied a photo pass.) From the moment the band launched into "Badlands," I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer energy of Bruce and the band. The show never seemed to end; I thought to myself, "How does he have the stamina to do this?"

Things became lax during the second encore, and I managed to maneuver my way out of the balcony, down to the floor, to within 50 feet of the stage. I had snuck in a camera with a 200 mm lens (this involved an elaborate scheme of gaffer taping the camera and lens separately to inside a pair of baggy jeans), and I was able to snap a few memorable shots of Bruce and Clarence that I still treasure to this day.

The next day I purchased the album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and a life-long love affair with Springsteen's music had begun. And even though I have every album — er, CD — Darkness for me is still number one.

I had an opportunity to finally meet Bruce backstage after the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial in January 2009. And the first thing I told him was that I had been a big fan since Darkness in 1978.   


"Among the Cabbage Roses" - photograph by Frank Stefanko

FRANK STEFANKO
Photographer Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River

Most Springsteen fans are aware that I have photographed the album cover for Darkness on the Edge of Town, celebrating it's forty year birthday this weekend. Photographing that album and all the other images I made with Bruce over the last 40 years were some of the happiest and most exciting times in my life.

I was especially moved by Darkness, because I felt it was a departure from the first three albums. Although containing some of Bruce's most memorable songs, especially Born to Run, the earlier albums and the characters were of the Jersey Shore, or the streets of New York City. There were girls, cars, street punks, and that barefoot girl sitting on the hood of the Dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain. These visions continue to resonate to this day and they helped to define who Bruce was and where he came from.

But then, after a three-year layoff, Bruce grew up in many ways, and Darkness was a peek into a more mature world. It was a world that went beyond the boardwalk and touched the lives that existed in our heartland and dealt with more mature and sophisticated themes. Working real hard to keep your hands clean... looking for redemption in a hard land. The album had a more grown-up feeling; the band never sounded better, and Bruce's departure from the first three albums demonstrated that he was growing, vital, and destined to become one of the most important artists to emerge in our lifetime.

I feel privileged to have contributed my photographs to many of these projects over the last forty years, and to have been a small part in bringing the characters in Darkness to life photographically. 


photograph by A.M. Saddler

SOOZIE TYRELL
Musician E Street Band, The Sessions Band

I was 21 when this beauty was released, and every song on Darkness still rings true. It's timeless. "Badlands" and "The Promised Land" resonated for me in 1978, as I'd just moved to NYC the previous year to further my career as a musician. That's also the time I met Patti [Scialfa], and later, Lisa Lowell. I first heard the record on the radio at Songbird Sounds rehearsal studio on West 20th Street. WNEW-FM, I think. Classic memories! 

MICHAEL WEINER (1961-2013)
Executive Director, Major League Baseball Players Association

I've spent virtually all of my professional life working for a labor union. Darkness honors the dignity of work. "Factory," for sure, but also "The Promised Land," where getting up in the morning and going to work each day is part of living the right way; "Badlands," where facts are learned by working in the fields and at the wheel; even the title track's disdain for folks born into the good life.

More fundamentally, though, Darkness is about the dignity of struggle. Every song portrays a struggle — some successful, others not, most with outcome uncertain — but always with respect simply for the effort itself. "Racing in the Street" says it most poignantly, at least to me, when Bruce laments those who "just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece" while quietly saluting those who "come home from work and wash up, and go racin' in the street."

Darkness resonates as it and we age because it wrestles with what it actually means to come of age. Maturity, to a large extent, is reconciling the idealism of youth with the realities of adulthood. Darkness doesn't sugar coat. We can only fantasize how nice it would be if dreams came true. We've got a head-on collision smashing in our guts. The things we've loved, for heaven's sake, are crushed and dying in the dirt. But Darkness, for all its darkness, impels us to the struggle. We've packed our bags and we're heading straight into the storm. We'll drive that dusty road from Monroe to Angeline. We wanna spit in the face of the badlands, damn it.

Darkness, this many years out, still inspires as it dignifies all who work, all who struggle, all who dare to go racing in the street.

— as told to Bob Zimmerman, 2010


courtesy of Dick Wingate

DICK WINGATE
Marketing Manager at Columbia Records, 1976-1979

I met Bruce at my college radio station WBRU in Providence in 1973 and was thunderstruck seeing the original E Street Band. Only a few years later I became Bruce's product marketing manager at Columbia, in 1976.

During the long interval between Born to Run and Darkness (resulting from his lawsuit with Mike Appel), and after he shaved his beard, I remember taking him to Yankee Stadium with Mike Pillot, head of album promo at Columbia. Only two people recognized Bruce the whole day — and we took the subway there, too! I already began to realize that when the new album came, I would have a challenge.

In early '78 when I was invited to the studio for the first label playback of Darkness, I was stunned at the leaner sound, the more adult themes, and the shorter, darker songs. Gone were the street characters so prevalent in the operas of Born to Run, and above all it was intensely personal. It was clear this was a new Bruce, and it was my job to communicate to the Columbia staff all of this, as some expected Born to Run, Part 2.


Dick Wingate, left, with Springsteen at the printer - photograph by Doug Yule

I met with Bruce to discuss the marketing approach, and he said if it were up to him the album would just appear in the store with no advance warning. He never wanted to be marketed again like he was with Born to Run ("Rock and Roll Future," etc.). I agreed that there would no hype headlines, no old photos of him with beard, earring, or sneakers, and only simple album and single release announcements. Bruce or Jon Landau approved every ad layout, press photo, radio/TV ad and merchandising material. He even requested to go to the printer to see the quality of the album covers coming off the press. No artist had ever requested that before.

We let the music and live shows do the talking, did live radio broadcasts around the country, and shot his first music video in concert in Phoenix, resulting in the classic "Rosalita" performance where the girls jumped on stage and tackled him and kissed him. It was not in the script, trust me.

PETE YORN
Musician

It probably wasn't until after college when I first got into Darkness; I wasn't really into Bruce until my early 20s, around 1996. I was from Philly, so I knew a lot of his tunes, and there were some tunes I liked, but in the mid-'80s around Jersey, Born in the U.S.A. was just too mainstream for me. I love Born in the U.S.A. now — it's one of my favorite records — but at the time I rebelled against it. So it wasn't until later that I got deeper into Bruce.

I remember the first song somebody played for me from Darkness that I didn't really know before was "Candy's Room." It was one of my older brothers. He was like, "Fuck, dude, this song rules, check this out." Just a typical brother-to-brother type thing. The whole intro with that double high hat, I don't know if he has any other song that has that feel. And it's an empowering song, it's a pump-you-up song when it kicks in: "Baby if you wanna be wild!" So that was the first time I was like, fuck yeah, Darkness! And "Racing in the Street," I've performed that few times — never the full song, but I have a bootleg from the Stone Pony where I did the first couple of verses of "Racing in the Street" into one of my own songs, and I've done that a few times.

It's a damn good record. But more than anything, for me, what takes that record over the top is the lyrics. They really resonate with me. Like "Poor man wanna be rich / Rich man wanna be king / And the king ain't satisfied til he rules everything." Of course from "Badlands." That sums up the record, why it's an important record for me. It's kind of a cliché, but it's human nature to always want more. If you have one thing in your life — I feel this myself — if you have something good, you want something else. You need something else. If you've got a blonde, you want a brunette after a while. If you have great athletic skills, you want to be an artist. For some people, it can fuck up their life, this never-ending cycle that doesn't really end.

I don't know if Bruce always felt it himself, or if he's just really keenly observing this as human nature in other people. I do wonder that — does he feel it? And he's putting it into a character? Or is he just a lightning rod of the human condition, where he's just able to see it?

He was always introspective and always really able to write about people. But I feel like Bruce must have felt it, the record before: Born to Run, the cover of Time and Newsweek. I don't know what your dreams are as a kid, wanting to become a rock sta, but it doesn't get any better than that. I don't know what his priorities were —this is just me spinning on it — but it could be that he achieved as much he could as a rock star at that point, and then maybe he realized, I still feel unfulfilled. Maybe he realized that after whatever was burning in him, the struggle to get all this stuff going and become whoever he was becoming, to write these songs… after he blew up so big, maybe there's a moment of, "Okay, yeah, we did it! We did it!" But sooner or later, that's going to fade away, and the struggle is going to rear its head again. That daily life struggle. And I feel like he had that perspective on it after Born to Run.

He's said that Darkness was his "samurai record." I totally get it — I feel like it's his warrior record. I think he's referring to this ongoing struggle to keep your faith, to find fulfillment, be productive, and appreciate what you have every day. And while you're doing that, knowing that there's this darkness on the edge of town, that it's always going to be there, and it will never go away. Maybe it's the fear of death hanging over everyone's head. No matter how fulfilled you think you are in a moment, no matter if you achieve all your dreams, the darkness will always be there.

I still feel that burning, that darkness that will never go away. And I see it in other people. And that feeling of, "What do I do now?" It's more intense for some people. I find it's most intense for artists. I've always been drawn to the darkness. I think it's why I write songs.

But the cool thing about Bruce is that he makes me think of all that stuff, but then he makes me feel like it's okay. It makes me feel good. Whether it's hope, or faith, somehow you're like… someone understands. And if someone understands the way you feel, that makes you feel good. And it's okay, because it may be that darkness that makes you want to be a samurai. It becomes empowering. Once you acknowledge it and know it's there, you know you've got to be a fighter. Always. That, in a nutshell is what really resonates with me about that record. The darkness… it's cliché but it's true: no sun without rain. The darkness is what's going to make the light seem brighter.

— as told to Christopher Phillips


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#91 IS HERE!
Our massive new issue honors a very Big Man. More than half of the 116-page, perfect bound Backstreets #91 is a tribute to the life and music of... do we have to say his name?

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