When Darkness on the Edge of Town was composed, Bruce Springsteen was involved in a lawsuit with his previous management. The legal dispute left him in limbo, but he continued to write, and the quantity of songs piled up. Springsteen was writing songs at the rate of a man possessed by the three souls of Motown legends Holland, Dozier, and Holland. So it’s worth digging deeper into the title track. We’ll look into the deeper meaning of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Darkness on the Edge of Town” here. Eventually, he and the band got to work, producing a dismal record about slogging forward in the face of uncertainty. Springsteen’s characters frequently run to or away from something. However, the characters in Darkness on the Edge of Town are either stuck idling or rushing into walls of work and broken families.
Springsteen overcame the lawsuit and the next-Dylan anticipation to create a minimalist and forlorn album with the E Street Band. It was the second chapter of his most productive period. He pared down the notebook-busting collection to ten songs, using elements of rock ‘n’ roll history to comment on the wrath and melancholy that surrounded him.
It is all in the name.
He came up with the title before composing the lyrics, but was then pushed to find words worthy of such a magnificent song title. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” portrays a broken man whose normal existence becomes claustrophobic once he loses everything.
Now some folks are born into a good life
And other folks get it anyway, anyhow
Well now I lost my money and I lost my wife
Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now
For better or worse, it comes down to who and what you know.
Springsteen’s persona, based on New Jersey friends and relatives, lives terribly under a bridge on the outskirts of town, a duality of real existence and symbolic no man’s land. He’s a man at the end of his rope, succumbing to apathy after a lifetime of despair and loss.
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
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town
In the darkness on the edge of town
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is more like a lament than an anthem. There is no closure or hope in this story, and Springsteen never lowers the heavy darkness that hangs over the man because this is not a fairytale, and the nasty truth is that some people live devastated, hopeless lives. Telling the tale is a little success because people want to be seen or heard, but when you’re stuck in a ruined town, you run out of options. Although Born to Run was Springsteen’s commercial success, he continued to write one-way transmissions at this time in his career. He spoke a language from a lonely place, far from the comforting myths of American idealism. Before becoming a renowned figure in American society, Springsteen had to go through it, and his souvenirs were depictions of suffering.
The sorrow of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” became folk songs on his quietly powerful sixth album, Nebraska. But it was still four years away, and after the success of Born to Run, Springsteen and his band were on a fast track to becoming one of the most successful groups in history. What followed was not a series of tracks designed to keep the pace going. If anything, Springsteen intended to apply the commercial brakes, as Max Weinberg’s drumming on Darkness on the Edge of Town maintains a dirge-like speed. After removing the production layers of its predecessor, the band is exposed, much like the aging characters in the songs. Springsteen had a concept for the album, and this time, he wasn’t going for radio. To demonstrate his prolificacy, he left off a smash like “Because the Night,” which Patti Smith later recorded for her album Easter.
The Sound of Dreams
The album’s bookends, “Badlands,” and the title tune, sound like fantasies colliding with reality. A Springsteen performance provides a communal experience of hymns and gladness, bringing the highs and lows of everyday existence into light, directed not by a preacher but by a folk journalist describing American life. You can’t get to the exultant melody without suffering. Though Darkness on the Edge of Town sold less than Born to Run, it grew in popularity over the years and became a fan favorite. Springsteen is the antithesis of Norman Rockwell’s sentimentalized depiction of the country. If Rockwell had depicted “Born in the U.S.A.,” it would not have been a protest. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a song about conscience rather than protest.