The Promised Land

A box set reissue of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ came out this week. It is my belief that music box sets are perhaps the biggest rip off in modern society.  The ‘Darkness’ set, called ‘The Promise,’ features 21 unreleased tracks and a documentary on the making of the album — one of my favorite albums ever — but I won’t be buying it.

Nonetheless the event merits discussion. Or, at the very least, ‘Darkness’  merits discussion for being a great rock record. Like any great record, it hits me in the guts. The music is forceful and soulful and all that. The lyrics are tight and evocative and detailed.

But what really makes ‘Darkness’ appealing to me is that I dig it on an intellectual level. I dig the process behind it. I dig that more than any other Boss records (at least the ones I know, I’m not an expert) ’Darkness’ is emotionally focused. As a somewhat creative person — or at the very least a person interested in the process of creating — I dig that if you look closely, you can see the wheels turning behind the songs.

‘Darkness’ reminds me a lot of a great novel or film. Not because it’s particularly cinematic — ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Nebraska’ have it beat in that category, but because of the way it establishes a consistent voice, consistent themes, and then works enthusiastically and and with confidence within that space.

It’s a hard balance to strike. On one hand, you want to be ambitious. You want to say something important and dramatic and powerful. You want your songs or poems or short stories to be, like all ten tracks on ‘Darkness,’ universal declarations of hope and despair. But on the other hand, you don’t want to lose yourself in the mess. Because that emotion, if it comes from somewhere, comes from you. This for me is the artistic Promised Land. It’s what I strive for when I write fiction; it’s what we strive for on this blgo when we are feeling ambitious.

Anyway, if you want to spend more time thinking about ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’ I point you to this NPR interview of Springsteen by the actor Ed Norton.  He talks a lot about the album: about the songs he leaves off, the mood he wanted to set, etc. etc. Comes highly recommended.

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4 Responses to The Promised Land

  1. Ted says:

    In high school, I got the Jimmy Buffett box set. It was fun and all, but I think it was more a way for me to affirm my fandom than to actually provide lots of cool stuff. There was a lot of music, but the extras in that box set were really lame.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Great post.

    I love how different artistic media are so very much like each other: music, painting, writing, sculpture. The way Springsteen distills a story and makes you see it and smell it and feel it, well, that’s a goal to shoot for.

    What you say here:

    You want your songs or poems or short stories to be, like all ten tracks on ‘Darkness,’ universal declarations of hope and despair. But on the other hand, you don’t want to lose yourself in the mess.

    That’s the crux of it. Nicely said.

    I’m not as familiar with Darkness as I am with Nebraska and Ghost of Tom Joad, but I’ll be looking at it more closely.

  3. Eric says:

    Ted,

    Jimmy Buffett is a separate category. He is not a musician, he is a cultural icon.

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I appreciate it. Darkness is a lot more rocking than Nebraska or Ghost of Tom Joad. I feel like those albums — Nebraska especially — are powerful in their incomplete-ness. Darkness is a bit more of a finished product. It’s more hopeful, less stark.

  4. jake says:

    check out the great companion book to Springsteen’s new Darkness box set: http://www.thelightinDarkness.com