Darkness on the Edge of Town

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Like many, if not most, longtime Springsteen fans (a/k/a Bruce Tramps - I kid you not), there's a special place in my heart for Darkness on the Edge of Town - both the album and the song. For you non-Bruce fanatics out there - hard to fathom, but they're rumored to exist :c) - he recorded Darkness in the wake of a bruising legal battle with his former manager to regain control of his career and his songwriting catalogue following the success of Born To Run. He was ultimately successful, but the price was his innocence. What replaced it, though, wasn't bitterness or cynicism, as you might expect, and as justifiable as those emotions would have been. Instead, remarkably, came empathy. And a determination to give dignity to ordinary people struggling to cling to hope in a world seemingly designed to snuff it out. The title song is the story of one of those people. 

In fact, "Darkness," the final song on the album, concludes the story of a character introduced earlier on the album, the narrator of "Racing in the Streets." Trapped in a dead-end job, married to a woman who is losing her love for both him and for life, he finds purpose in the street races in which he competes every night. Resolving not to give up on his marriage or his dreams, the song concludes on an early summer evening as he drives with his wife to the ocean "to wash these sins off our hands," with the promise of more racing in the streets beckoning.

As "Darkness" begins, he still races every night, out by the hills on the outskirts of town. But this is no longer enough for his wife, who has left him for a seemingly more upscale, but, it's implied, equally empty existence. Alone, he assesses what remains, and the cost of carrying on regardless. 

As in so many of Bruce's greatest songs, a car and the open road serve as metaphors. For an averge person's extraordinary struggle to shake off fear and despair. To look inside and find out what matters most. To find the courage to pursue that, while fully aware of the cost of the journey. A journey that will take them through the darkness on the edge of town. 

Darkness on the Edge of Town

They're still racing out at the Trestles
But that blood it never burned in her veins
Now I hear she's got a house up in Fairview
And a style she's trying to maintain

Well, if she wants to see me
You can tell her that I'm easily found
Tell her there's a spot out 'neath Abram's Bridge
And tell her
There's a darkness on the edge of town
There's a darkness on the edge of town

Well, everybody's got a secret, son
Something that they just can't face
Some folks spend their whole lives just tryin' to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take

'Til one day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag 'em down
Where no one asks any questions
Or looks too long in your face
In the darkness on the edge of town
In the darkness on the edge of town

Now some folks are born into a good life
And others folks get it anyway, anyhow
Me, I lost my faith when 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 that 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 the darkness on the edge of town


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