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Review Darkness On The Edge Of Town, song by Bruce Springsteen

Aggiornato il 15 Apr, 2024 | Words and Music |

Have you ever felt the need to get rid of a weight inside you in order to continue to live? Read the lyrics of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, the last song from the eponymous album, released by Bruce Springsteen in 1978. This mid-tempo rock ballad, full band but based on a dramatic piano motif, tells the story of a man who raced on cars and who, because of this passion, lost the love of his woman and finds himself having to deal with his mistakes. In a symmetrical album, in which each song is paired with the one occupying the same position on the other side, Darkness On The Edge Of Town is strongly linked to Racing In The Street, which closes the first side. Darkness On The Edge Of Town, very powerful live, is among the songs most played in concert by Springsteen with the E Street Band.


Springsteen‘s discography, especially in what are considered his greatest masterpieces, Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, is dotted with references to car racing. The reference is not so much to track racing, but to clandestine races on the streets. A lot of kids, as early as the Fifties and still in the Seventies, gave vent to their passion for speed. The search for an identity emerged even more, but their lives did not allow for a glimpse of great prospects. Already from the title we understand that the races took place in the suburbs, in the dark streets on the edge of town. In this case the setting is in the improvised circuits around the Trestles, the old abandoned bridges. A very cinematic image.


Right from the movies Springsteen found inspiration for this song. Myths like James Dean and Steve McQueen, in particular, seem like the perfect faces for the story told in this song. A man was racing cars, but he soon realized that his woman would not have followed him on those four-wheeled madness. She has now found a more serene accommodation in the wealthy neighborhood of Fairview, while he finds himself living in a spot under a bridge, where there are no bright lights of the city, but only so much darkness. That’s where she can find him, should she ever think to look for him.


The link with the contemporary Racing In The Street is evident. In this song the driver is in the prime of his activity, as he rages on American roads and wins races with Sonny, the partner with whom he built their souped-up 1969 Chevrolet from scratch. Then he meets a girl and conquers her, but soon things deteriorate. She doesn’t follow him in his competitions and waits for him at home alone and disappointed. He tries to resume the relationship, trying to “wash these sins off our hands” down to the sea. In Darkness On The Edge Of Town the man is now alone, the woman is gone and he just has to pay the price for his choices. He gets rid of his secrets, before they drag him down “where no one asks any questions or looks too long in your face.”


If it is true that there are those who are born lucky and there are those who somehow go looking for luck, many instead fall for having chased glory where it could not be found. The last verse is the pivotal moment of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The man is abandoned and has no more money, all he has to do is face himself and look for a way out. He doesn’t give up: “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.” A heavy price that can be found in other songs in which there are women and men struggling for their lives. Those who face “dust clouds rising from the desert floor” and head straight into the storm (as in The Promised Land). Places “where the dark of night holds back the light of the day” as in The Price You Pay, included in the following The River, but also written in the period of Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Women and men exhausted by life experience, but who don’t give up, still looking for redemption.


The title track of this great album is a song with a double musical intensity. The introduction based on a piano melody also accompanies the first verse, in which only the bass drum and the hi-hat dictate a staid rhythm and Springsteen‘s voice is really dark. Then the band comes into play. Bass and drums enter angrily, while the organ and the guitars fill the sound, increasing intensity. In what is now a hard-hitting rock number, Springsteen‘s voice takes on the raspy, rushing power that made him famous. All the verses lead to the line that gives the title to the song and to the album. It’s not a real chorus, but the central musical theme of the song, in which Springsteen also performs an impassioned countermelody to himself. The only musical break follows the second verse when guitars, organ and piano reinforce the dominant musical theme. The song finish of the studio version descends into a fading that takes up the introduction and brings the whole album towards a melancholic closure. The live versions, instead, have a stronger ending. The vocal power with which Springsteen shouts the word “town” in concert in the very last verse before the instrumental finale is particularly striking: an intensity full of anger. The version in Live 1975-85 is a significant testimony.


Springsteen‘s passion for cinema, which emerged above all in the second half of the ’70s, is also confirmed by an interesting curiosity. His famous 1978 album, at first, should have been called American Madness, a title taken from a famous film by Frank Capra, released in 1932. The plot of the film, which tells of the events about a banker involved in a scandal during the Great Depression, had nothing to do with the stories told in the album, but the title could still have been evocative. Then Springsteen, once the song Darkness On The Edge Of Town was written, decided to elect it as the title track of his new album.


Read Also: Badlands


Dario Migliorini


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