Rarely Bruce Springsteen does not leave his characters with at least a small glimmer of hope, something to believe in for redemption. One of the few songs where all seems lost is Something In The Night, third track of the album Darkness On The Edge Of Town. If the title track of the album and Racing In The Street see their protagonists preparing to pay the price for their mistakes, if Badlands and The Promised Land present men ready to fight, still full of hope, Something In The Night and its “alter ego” Streets Of Fire portray defeated young men, with no further options, overwhelmed by fire, an element that appears in both songs. Something In The Night, despite its relative musical simplicity, is also a remarkable example of how Springsteen knows how to give his songs a musical arrangement that is fully suited to the stories they tell.
LOST IN NOTHING
Something In The Night is set in the province of New Jersey and, more precisely, in the musical homeland of Bruce Springsteen: Asbury Park. The street traveled in the night and in solitude by the protagonist/narrator is Kingsley Street, one of the four streets of Asbury Park that form the glorious Circuit, sung by Springsteen himself and other Jersey Shore musicians. Five years earlier, in 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), a boy proposed to his Sandy to leave that place in decline, now devoid of the prospects it boasted in previous decades. Now that boy, or someone like him, wanders alone in those streets, without a girl by his side and without a job or, at least, something to do.
AN ACCELERATOR AND A RADIO
One of the peculiar traits of Bruce Springsteen‘s narrative is the strong link between the songs and the records that form them. Also in Something In The Night we have a man driving a car. Other than that guy from 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), or the one from later Thunder Road and Born To Run, this guy could be the driver from Racing In The Street or the one from Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The first is facing the sadness of a girl with broken dreams, the second has already lost his money and his wife and is face to face with his revealed secrets and his price to pay. In Something In The Night we find a man who wanders alone in the night, looking for a glimmer of light that will make the world appear to be a fairer place. He tries it with the thrill of speed, pressing the accelerator to the floor, and with music, turning up the radio to the point of covering the weight of his thoughts. But in both cases it is in vain.
SPRINGSTEEN’S SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS
If in the first albums Bruce Springsteen‘s awareness of injustices and social inequalities does not emerge or remains hidden among the verses of the songs, in Darkness On The Edge Of Town this awareness emerges vigorously. In Something In The Night, one of the hardest and harshest tracks on the record (and perhaps of his entire discography), two lines most of all enclose that consciousness: “Well now you’re born with nothing and better off that way, soon as you’ve got something they send someone to try and take it away”. The first brick: “You’re born with nothing“. American society presents strong inequalities for which many people happen to be born and grow up in families that don’t possess anything. The second brick: “Soon as you’ve got something, they send someone to try to take it away“. It is the definitive unmasking of the deception of that runaway American dream. The schemes of American society predict that the strong crush the weaker. Does America give everyone a chance to make it? A huge lie for Bruce. On the contrary, the institutions allow someone to come and take away the little you have managed to earn. So it’s better to have nothing, so as not to have the nagging feeling of being unjustly robbed. But there is a risk: that of finding yourself wandering aimlessly, looking for something indefinite in the night.
THE END OF LOVE AND HOPE
The gloomy picture is further blackened in the sequel to Something In The Night. The narrator, addressing others like him, lonely and broken people, acknowledges the defeat. Once upon a time there was love and friendship, but they are just a sad memory (“When we found the things we loved, they were crushed and dying in the dirt”). There is no way to rebuild them, because someone has demolished them and doesn’t even leave you the chance of picking up the pieces (here again the complaint against those who hold the reins of political and economic power). Now those young men wander through the night wounded and blind, waiting for a time that will never come. Instead, the time of reckoning will come and even in that case no one will be willing to make discounts (“Nothing is forgotten or forgiven, when it’s your last time around“).
SONG OF A BREAKING BEAUTY
Few songs create such a strong bond between the lyrical component and the musical/singing component as Something In The Night. In this Bruce Springsteen confirms that he is a very fine arranger, as well as a composer. Springsteen lends the desperate narrator the voice of defeat, starting with the long musical introduction, in which, over an anguished piano and guitar melody, Bruce screams the sense of failure. The singing is drawn out, the voice is that of a tired, confused, perhaps drunk person. Even the musical arrangements are artfully thought out. The song flows as slow and haunting as the story it tells. Then, after a more solemn special, in which the choirs also enter to reinforce the moment the protagonist acknowledge his destiny, here comes the stroke of genius: in the last verse, the rawest of all, the singing is accompanied only by bass drum and low tom. Dry and deep sounds, without melody, to mark a time (perhaps a heartbeat) that is dying. Finally, in the outro the desperate cry of the protagonist returns, the swan song. If a song’s ending choices make sense, then it’s no coincidence that Something In The Night ends with a hard out and not with a classic fade out. It is the end of the hopes of a man who, burned and blinded, seems to have reached his place in hell.
Browsing through websites reporting Springsteen‘s setlists and concert statistics, we note that Something In The Night was among the least played live songs in the last century. A destiny that involved many songs taken from the first albums. But Something In The Night is so beautiful and poignant that many of Bruce‘s admirers have waited for it as one would expect a precious rarity. So with the new millennium some live versions have returned, including the one that, also on video, was recorded at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on the occasion of the release of the celebratory box set of Darkness On The Edge Of Town in 2010. A performance that shows even more how much Springsteen “feels” and interprets, with facial expressions as well as with his great voice, this poignant song.
Read also: Lost In The Flood
Next Review: Candy’s Room – 12 February 2024