Monday, August 9th, 2010

Bruce Springsteen, "The Promise"

Man, I'm psyched to see The Promise, a documentary about the making of Bruce Springsteen's 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, my favorite Springsteen album (which is a little bit like saying, "the favorite part of my heart.") Directed by longtime Springsteen cinematographer Thom Zimmy, it's set to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, along with interesting-sounding documentaries by Errol Morris, Alex Gibney, and Werner Herzog (whose Cave of Forgotten Dreams is about prehistoric cave paintings and is for some reason shot in 3D.) HBO will be airing The Promise for me in October-and for you, if you want to see it too.

The song from which the movie takes its title was written in 1976, but went unreleased until it's inclusion on the 1999 rarities compilation 18 Tracks. Besides being a pretty great song, it serves as a cool sort of musicology document (or maybe just a "Bruceology" document; this is geek stuff, for sure) because its so prototypical of Springsteen's writing from that time period, from the opening lines-"Johnny used to work in a factory…" (this was ten years before Bon Jovi-feh!-would bring his brother, Tommy, to the docks)-to the chords, which are basically the same as those from "Badlands," which did make the cut for Darkness, appearing as the album's opener. You can hear parts of the song cropping up in "Racing in the Street," too, and also in the album's title track. There are distinct references to "Backstreets" and "Thunder Road" from Springsteen's previous album, Born To Run. And similar themes or melodies would show in the title track to the next one, 1980's The River, and "Highway Patrolman," from 1982's Nebraska, and "No Surrender," from 1984's Born In the U.S.A.

I see a 'Darkness'

It provides a good look, I think, at how a songwriter puts songs together, using bits of one here, a recycled idea there. And of how a talented artist can make a lot of good work out of a few seminal themes. Of course, people who don't like Bruce Springsteen would probably disagree, and say that this is just evidence that the guy writes the same song over and over again. But, you know, that's only proof that they have a shriveled lump of coal where their heart should be, and that there's no accounting for taste in New Jersey or anywhere else.

61 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

I'll submit–pompously–that this was his LAST great album–although I like most of what followed.

I will never forget the summer of 1978, waiting waiting waiting for this record–this was back when you had to walk (nine miles in a blizzard) to an actual record store to check the racks, which I did, faithfully, 2-3 x/day, much as I'd done with Born to Run.

When Springsteen came to Champaign that fall to tour behind the record, I bawled like a baby during "Badlands," which he opened with.

Yeah, it's geeky. All religions are.

iantenna (#5,160)

despite its inclusion as "the only bruce worth owning" in a lot of assholes-who-don't-know-any-better's record collections, nebraska is absolutely perfect from start to finish.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I can't argue that point. I came in early on this guy, and was obsessed–still am–with The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. So my own taste for him was formed on that loose, r&b-y sound of his band, which I came to miss as years went on.

I would've loved to hear a lot of Nebraska played as loud rock and roll, too, although I admire and understand its tone.

What often gets lost in assessment of Bruce are/were his abilities as a guitar player.

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

That's an awesome memory.

sunnyciegos (#551)

@Karen – you could argue that BITUSA basically is "Nebraska played as loud rock and roll."

buzzorhowl (#992)

So you're saying that Nebraska played as loud rock n' roll sounds like synth-drenched 80s crap? I disagree.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@KarenUhOh spoken like a fellow barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain.

iantenna (#5,160)

darkness is the gourmet bruce springsteen record. can't wait to see this!

Yes, because with songs like "She's the One" on it, it's an album without compare.

A 3D movie about a 2D subject. Werner on the loose.

LondonLee (#922)

The first Sprinsgteen album I bought (out of curiosity after reading a review of it in Record Mirror) and it's my favourite too.

'Racing In The Streets' made me cry once, not many songs have done that.

sunnyciegos (#551)

the live 'Racing' with extended coda is so powerful I almost never listen to it. Devastating.

Rollo (#3,202)

Nice to see this. I just listened to Nebraska for the first time yesterday. It bummed me out pretty hard.

sunnyciegos (#551)

It's empirically a great album, but I rank it pretty low personally. I just never wake up in the morning and think, "Today is the day I am going to put 'Nebraska' on." Doesn't happen.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Therein is my problem. The record is quite beautiful, but it's relentlessly punishing as narrative, and its tone drives home that point.

It accomplishes what it sets out to do, but it's tough to want to listen to.

Dave Bry (#422)

Yeah. The morning I wake up and say "Today is the day I am going to put 'Nebraska' on" seems all too likely be the last morning I wake up.

(Though, needless to say say, it is also a masterpiece-level album.)

iantenna (#5,160)

i spent an entire summer with a cassette copy of nebraska in my truck's stereo. i was already dead.

TH42 (#1,939)

Bruce has said that The Promise (the song) is a sequel to Thunder Road. Taken together, I think the two songs are the high point of his songwriting career. Thunder Road and the album it opens are all about teenage American romanticism. Jump on something with an engine and ride out of town without a plan and you'll find something better because everything is better than this no-account town.

The Promise (and much of the album that it didn't make it onto) is Bruce slapping that punk kid in the face like Cher in Moonstruck. Snap out of it. Because that's where the dreamers end up, sleeping in the backseat of a borrowed car. It's not a lesson against dreaming, it's just life. Life is sad and wonderful and it never goes according to plan.

Darkness is the first Springsteen album written by an adult.

And that comment was written by a 17-year old girl. Really? Happiness is adulthood.

TH42 (#1,939)

Haha. Fair enough. I've found the opposite though.

TH42 (#1,939)

PS-Unfortunately, I'm definitely a 17 year old girl when it comes to Bruce.

mrschem (#1,757)

Candy's Room.

lmcknash (#6,760)

with the pictures of her heroes on the wall.

sunnyciegos (#551)

Also, I love skinny '70s Bruce. That is all.

Dave Bry (#422)

Yes. He is the best Bruce.

Karen, I love the thought of you checking in every day at the record story to see if the the album had been released. Man, what a different world, huh? Now we get, like, twice-a-day reminders beamed to us via a variety of different screens and devices, for two months in advance, every time an artist has a new project on the horizon.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Those people at Record Service thought I was nuts.

What a stretch.

LondonLee (#922)

Couldn't you have just asked them when it was coming out? Records back then also had these quaint things called release dates.

(though I must admit to also doing the constant visits to the record store thing for much-desired new records just on the million-to-one chance it came out earlier)

KarenUhOh (#19)

London: honestly, none of them knew. In fact, it was almost more to the point that many anticipated releases had fuzzy release dates. It wasn't on Tuesdays, either.

When Born to Run came out, I have a very definite recall that the release date was concealed. Although it came with the back-to-school college inventory, so, that'd make it late August-first of Sept. Darkness was more of an early summer release, I believe.

There's a crazy-ass story about how and where I was when I found out it was in, but I've already monopolized this thread with my aimless critical hooha.

Baboleen (#1,430)

For me, the anticipation of a Bruce release, was kind of like the anticipation of a prom. Except the prom was, well, you know, the prom. Bruce's albums were exciting, and never disappointed. OMG, I was such a romantic!!!

Jimmy Kaplan (#6,738)

There's a basic problem with this article. It's wrong. The song was absolutely released by Bruce Springsteen:

Dave Bry (#422)

Whoops. Nice catch, Jimmy. Thanks.

I hadn't seen that "18 Tracks" album before. (I checked the 4-CD box, "Tracks," and didn't find it.) But I hope that doesn't make the whole post wrong.

barleyherb (#6,774)

Can't blame you Dave. I thought the whole point of 18 Tracks was to be best-of-Tracks. Weird.

TH42 (#1,939)

The two best tracks on 18 Tracks are two of the four tracks that aren't on Tracks. The Promise and The Fever.

Dave Bry (#422)

Fixed now in text. Thanks to all who pointed out.

Vince Palko (#6,739)

One of the best mellow songs by the Boss.

Brian Bellew (#6,746)

I disagree with Karen Uh Oh who says 'Darkness' was Bruce's 'last great album.' It was always my favorite. That is,until 'The Rising' which is a phenominal record.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Brian, it's an utterly disagreeable point–which is why I tried to qualify it. It's a matter of personal taste, of course, and, as I hope I made clear, there's plenty beyond it.

It likely has much to do with the coalescence of Bruce's early music hitting me at a very formative, impressionable age–passion on my bathos, so to speak.

But rock on, honey.

Susan Banning (#6,747)

Thank you, The Awl: A paean to copy editors last week and now a tribute to the Bruce album that wrestles with "Tunnel Of Love" to be my favorite. My copy of "Darkness" remains my best birthday present ever, thanks to my brother. I remember it being really thick vinyl. Then a month later, I retreated to my room to listen to that amazing Passaic concert live over the radio … sweet. There was something sweet and innocent about those days and how hard you had to work to get the music you loved.

Leon (#6,596)

I just reached over (yes I can reach my bruce records from my bed) and pulled Darkness out of the crate. It seems about the same thickness as Kiss' Destroyer (I can also reach my turntable from my bed, and yes I was listening to Kiss).

Also – it appears I have two copies of Darkness on vinyl. I will fake a Bruce autograph on this and be happy to give it away at next NYC Commenter shindig. For a beer. Or at least a quarter water.

Frank Trocchio (#6,749)

I first witness the magic of Bruce in 1973 in asbury park nj when he was in cold blast and steel,playing in a little dump. He would play at the stone pony on sunday afternoon jaming with whoever would jump on stage.I worked at the Pony from 1976 to 1980 and I witness the magic.I first meat Bruce in 1976 at the side door of the pony where i was watching the door, and he said Can i come in this Door, I said sure Boss Man, he smiles and walk in and jumped on stage.Since then i seen Bruce in concert at least 30 times and from the first time to the last time I saw him in Raleigh NC in 2004//////GOD BLESS YOU BRUCE, AND THANK YOU FOR THE MEMORIES

KarenUhOh (#19)

I first saw him in mid-74, in a club in Champaign–Ruby Gulch. It was like nothing I'd heard before ever happened–and it was like all of it had been distilled into the 15 or so songs he played.

goldielocks13 (#6,748)

I never got into "The Rising"…even saw him in concert that year in Philly. I just found the songs too sad…that was until my husband died. I played nothing but "The Rising" for about 3 months straight and nothing but Bruce for about 9 months. He helped heal my heart and soul through his music.

Kim Moss (#6,752)

I have been a Bruce fan for since 1977 and from the first the time I heard his music I swear he was talking to me . But he has that way and I have seen him 30 times in concert and he always leaves a special place in my heart! Both my kids first concert were a Bruce show and I just want to say thank you to a band that has given me so much!

Kim Moss (#6,752)

Also I still have my shirt from the Darkness tour!

outlaw pat (#6,753)

Sadly, The Promise didn't make it on to Darkness. It would be been the best song on a very good album. This is not one of the better versions.

danajohnhill (#6,758)

First, thank you for this post. "The Promise" is my favorite Springsteen song, largely for the reasons you cited. It is the quintessential Springsteen track in form and theme.

But I must disagree with you on one point. Musically, "The Promise" has very little in common with "Badlands". The chord structure of the latter is basically a straight-up I-IV-V march (and a terrific one!), while "The Promise" is a much more subtle tune that relies largely on minor-to-major cadences.

Thanks again for the post. I am hopeful that one of the 1978 studio versions of "The Promise"–I know of two different ones–makes it onto the upcoming album reissue.

Simon Haren (#6,761)

I bought the new London DVD not too long ago and the jump from Live in NY or Barcelona to that, to me, shows that the Rock is calming in him.
One great regret is that Im too far away to see him live any time soon and that Im too young to have seen him when he was in a bar or would jump into the crowd or would play Thundercrack or tell you about Growin' Up without any stupid bears coming out.|
But, fuck it, no retreat no surrender.

Leon (#6,596)

I was at the last show of the 2000 tour when Bruce & the E Street band got together (setlist: and the first Encore started w Bruce doing The Promise by his lonesome at Piano.

Also amazing was Lost in the Flood, which the internet tells me now (I have not googled this concert in the ten years since I went) was the first time they'd played it since '78. Love that tune.

Also amazing was, seeing Bruce at MSG when I was 18. He was my favorite artist (still may be), the reason I survived HS in NJ (cliche but true), so seeing him in NYC, where I'd be moving to college in just a few short weeks after the show – probably the definitive 'transition' moment of my life.

Rich Voza (#6,772)

one minor disagreement: "the promise" was released officially on the "tracks" compilation set.

Lawrence Kirsch (#6,777)

With the much-anticipated release of a commemorative box set for Darkness on the Edge of Town slated for this Christmas, Bruce Springsteen's classic record is getting renewed attention in the music world. Details on the project are scarce; however, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Steven Van Zandt mentioned that about 10 unreleased songs will be included in the box set. Fans are surely hungry for any and all material they can get from the 1978 recording sessions and subsequent tour.

For our own preview of what's to come, we contacted Dick Wingate, who was intimately involved in the launch and marketing of the album and tour. He offers an insider's view of what the Darkness era meant to Bruce and the band, while painting an often-humorous behind-the-scenes account of some of the tour's highlights…check out the book The Light in Darkness, which one fan said, "… would also make a great companion piece to the much anticipated commemorative Darkness box set…"

Bruce's music is like no other…can't wait for the documentary!

i'm a frenchy fan of the boss and i've gone to see him on scene two times and i've never seen somebody giving more than him to the public….maybe some songs are better than others but every times he gives the max of his person to make the fans being satisfied….thanks Bruce for your tours.

Jimmy Kaplan (#6,738)

Nah – I forgive you! I'm really looking forward to the film!

Where are the lyrics, please?

bmolosz (#6,884)

Springsteen…no matter what the song, or how it is played…is and always will be…PHENOMINAL!!!

Peakcelln (#6,887)

Its Been Said this album Saved Rock-n-Roll; I think it just reminded it where it came from.

Saw Springsteen in Denver a few years ago and he played most of this album. Racin in the Streets was mind blowing. Its a quintessential song of the late 70's. How many of us were, or knew, someone who had a muscle car. Unfortunately the friend I had is still stuck in that era, even at 50; and this song always reminds me of him and those great times.

Bruce O'Keefe (#6,891)

The Greatest performer of my lifetime, first time I saw him was in Springfield MA, 9-13-1978, I became a member of the E-Street Nation for life, I have seen Springsteen all over our great country. In 2008 in Dallas, my daughter Molly got to go on stage with him.

Paul Tirgrath (#6,899)

I had "Darkness" on 8-track LOL… Wore that damn thing out in my car. Then saw him that year in Princeton NJ… But I was hopelessly hooked on Bruce since "75 and Born to Run.
Now I take my kids to see him and my 12 year old son is learning to play guitar so he can be the next (as if possible) Bruce.
"Got a '69 chevy with a 396, fuely heads and a hurst on the floor. She's wait tonight down in that parkin lot, outside the 7-11 story"… Priceless.

Peakcelln (#6,887)

Whats so ironic is my friend actually had a 69 Chevy w/ a 396 and a Hurst (Shifter) on the floor. I don't know what "Fuelly Heads" are, But I remember the engine was showroom, completely painted, chromed, and special wires. The front wheels could actually come of the ground when it took off…however, I didnt build it with him(He built it from scratch by himself) and his name was Steve, not "Sonny". But we did race in Rockland County (NY) and Northern NJ. What a song…

Peakcelln (#6,887)

…Still can't remember if it was a Camaro or a Chevelle…I'm pretty sure it was an "SS" though, so maybe that helps some of the Car enthusiasts out there.

El Bruce sencillamente es el rey,por su voz ,su música y su movimiento,y porque está bueno como un queso!!

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