Happiness is a new Springsteen box set

Yesterday was an exciting day. It started like every other day. My alarm clock went off at 5:20am, and I promptly invited it to go do something inappropriate to itself. I took Rosie out, I got ready for school, and I went to work, where I spent approximately eight hours torturing—I mean teaching—the youth of America.

Then when the bell rang at 2:10, I dashed out of school as fast as I could to get to Best Buy.

Because yesterday was the release of the long-awaited box set re-issue of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

In general, I’m vehemently opposed to album re-releases. In most cases, it’s a transparent ploy by a greedy record label to get more of my hard-earned money, and in several cases, it’s made me wind up hating the band when the “special features” that are included wind up being a different album cover and a free mp3. (Cough Linkin Park’s Reanimation cough.)

Even Bruce has been guilty of this in the past. Before iTunes made everyone’s life easier, if you wanted the song “The Promise,” you had to buy 18 Tracks in addition to the Tracks box set. And if you lurk on the Bruce message boards, there are a lot of people who are still bitter about that one, even twelve years later.

I know all of my non-Bruce-fan readers have either stopped reading by this point or else are asking, “Sara, why on earth would you spend $80 on an album from before you were born that you already had? Especially when you’re so Bruce obsessed that you already had most of the outtakes that were included with it!”

If you’re asking that, you need to go listen to the album. Right now. Stop reading and go listen. I don’t care if you do it streaming somewhere or if you pay for the album, but go listen. I’ll wait.

You so didn’t just listen to the whole album right now. I’m a teacher, you can’t fool me.

 Fine, I’ll explain why you need to.

When anyone asks what my favorite album is, my standard answer is Born to Run. And I stand by that choice. But it’s only a partial answer that I give to people who I know won’t get why I have to list two albums. The REAL answer is Born to Run AND Darkness on the Edge of Town. Bruce has often described his albums as a conversation that he’s been having with his audience for the past almost forty years now, and these two albums are a perfect example of this. I tend to rank Born to Run above Darkness when I’m giving the short answer of what my favorite album is, because I love the optimism and hope found on Born to Run. It’s an album full of potential and possibility and the idea that if you want it bad enough, anything is possible.

Darkness is a continuation of that album, but it’s what happens if the characters from Born to Run DON’T make it out of that town that “rips the bones from your back.” If they can’t pull out of that “town full of losers” to win. It’s a more mature album. It still has a lot of the optimism from Born to Run, but it’s a more practical type of optimism. The characters from Darkness have felt more pain than the characters from Born to Run. They’ve tried and they’ve failed, and (despite the advice that Homer Simpson would give) they’ve lived to tell their tale and then pick themselves up and try again.

But in case you still don’t get that this album is one of the most amazing albums ever made, here’s my explanation of why I love it so much:

The opening track: “Badlands”—The only album opening track that’s even in the running to compete with this one is “Thunder Road.” It sets the tone of the album and makes it clear that Bruce is going to make no apologies for anything. It’s a highlight of any live show, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, but especially on the Rising tour in the wake of September 11, it was cathartic, because Bruce was reminding us that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” The song tells us that yeah, life is hard and doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but it still can be okay, as long as you can keep faith, and hope, and love alive.

“Candy’s Room”—In the documentary “The Promise,” which is part of the re-release package, Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa, said that there isn’t a love song on Darkness. Patti, I’m a big fan of yours too, but I beg to differ. It’s a gritty love song, but still a love song. (No Reno jokes, please.) Candy isn’t perfect, and you could interpret the song as her being a prostitute in the Holly Golightly sense of the world’s oldest profession. And the narrator knows he’s not her best choice because he can’t provide for her the way other guys can. But that’s not going to stop him from trying because he loves her. What girl DOESN’T want that? (Minus the potential gold-digging aspect of it… although to each their own.)

“Racing in the Street”—A personal favorite of mine. And I’m still convinced that whoever wrote the score of Pretty Woman owes Bruce money for ripping off the intro to this song for the music when Julia Roberts and Richard Gere actually wind up kissing each other in bed. Start watching at a minute and 17 seconds. Not that Bruce needs more money, but cut the man a check if you’re going to steal from him!

But Racing in the Street is flat out amazing.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous song, but more than that, it’s about finding something to put some meaning in your life. Because some “guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece.” But some guys “come home from work and wash up, and then go racing in the street.” Love it.

“The Promised Land”—Bruce has often said this is his favorite song of his, and it’s one of mine too. And it’s why I say Darkness IS an album with optimism in it. Because it’s not an upbeat song. In a lot of ways, it’s an angry song. Life isn’t going the way the narrator expected it to. But it’s about getting past all that and finding “somebody itching for something to start.” Because unlike the characters from Born to Run, this narrator explains that he’s not a boy, he’s a man. And he believes in a promised land. And when Bruce tells you he believes in that, it’s impossible to not believe in it yourself.

I could probably write a full length blog post for each of the songs on the album, but I’m not going to (mostly because I want to dive into the dvds from the box set). But if you’re not familiar with the album, go check it out. And if you do already know it, the new box set is epically worth the price tag even without taking all the dvd footage and outtake cds into account. Because the remastering job on Darkness itself is incredible. This is how this album was meant to sound.

And I don’t care how much it’s going to piss off my next door neighbor, I’m listening to it at the volume it should be heard at. And you should too.