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The Promise

Springsteen didn’t always deliver. It just seems like he did. I grew up with Bruce. I remember trying to figure out my sister’s copy of “The Wild the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle”.  A few songs skipped so I’d tape a penny to the arm of the record player to try to drive the needle into the grooves deep enough to get past the blemishes. None of this sounded like anything else at the time. Here was some grungy kid from the Jersey Shore. We went to the Jersey Shore every summer. I didn’t think anybody actually lived there. My brother got his kite caught in telephone wires one summer and the next year when we went back down it was still there, which I thought was charming.

It might have been the same year Springsteen was on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, both articles suggesting that Bruce was a product of hype while somehow oblivious that the articles themselves may have been…you know, adding to what they were bitching about in the first place. This kid. Could he really be as good as they say?

Turns out yea, and then some. Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town are two of the greatest rock and roll records ever released. The River wasn’t far behind…..a sprawling double record of frat-house rock and lonely desperation, sitting side by side and confusing just about everybody who loved to put labels on things. What did this guy want? Turns out he wanted everything. He wanted to be Elvis….but also Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash. So he released a stunning folk record called Nebraska that sounded like something pulled off the shelves at the library of congress. Then he wanted to turn rock and roll into a 4 hour spiritual experience, and on certain nights he did just that. The sheer bombast of Born in the USA was off-putting to lunk-heads who thought Bruce was wrapping himself in the flag so Reagan could get votes. But Ronnie was shown the error of his ways, and Bruce continued to work with local food banks in every town he played. His politics were all local. Feed people who were hungry. Make a connection. Break through the isolation of the 6 pack and the TV, waiting for oblivion so you could get up and do it all over again. If only for those few hours. “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Fuck. Nobody else ever said that to me. I thought there was something wrong with myself. Damn sinner I was.  “I ain’t a boy…no I’m a man.” Yea, that sounded  alright. Surrounded by 20,000 others we believed every word Bruce said. Nobody wins unless everybody wins.

That was the promise. It didn’t come true. But we didn’t blame Bruce. Figured he did his part. We’d sit and drink beer in the summer rain with car doors open to hear the tape deck, and our lives would improve until the beer was gone and we had to go our separate ways. Then we’d be lonely again. None of this was long term stuff….but a little is better than none at all. And a 4 hour concert was better than a 2 hour concert.

When the promise is broken you go on living
But it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken and it don’t make no difference
Something in your heart goes cold

We grew cold. Attempted to warm ourselves with drink and maybe stronger things. Tried to keep doomed relationships alive just to avoid being alone. We grew old while being bombarded with being young, and could never age in reverse  no matter what chemicals we tried. What did this music mean now?

“The Promise” is 22 songs from the Darkness of the Edge of Town sessions that were never released. Most for good reason. They’re not as good. But there are moments. The full band version of “Racing in the Streets” puts a lump in my throat (the stark version he did release makes me cry). I see that girl on the porch of her daddy’s house. In her torn dress. With dead eyes. There’s nothing left for her. Dreams become cruel. I know her.

And of course the song “The Promise”, which Bruce chose not to include on Darkness on the Edge of Town. For reasons unknown, as it may be his greatest single song.

All my life I fought this fight
The fight that no man can never win
Every day it just gets harder to live
This dream I’m believing in

I’ll never forget those days drinking in the rain with friends. All of us searching for what Bruce later coined “The Human Touch” (getting everyone made at him in the process). Dreams in those days may have been hangovers gone wrong. But it felt like fighting at the time. And it seemed worth it. All we needed to do was to look into the hard faces of our parents too see the fear Bruce was writing about, and we thought we could somehow become immune to the lines in the face if we held onto each other long enough. And hard enough. The night didn’t have to end. They could be endless. We could be young forever. And together, we could win the fights others lost by themselves. If the promise was broken, we’d all gather and make it right again.

Good to be young. Stupidity comes so easy. That may be what I miss the most. Being dumb makes it difficult to be bitter. Being bitter makes it impossible to keep our own promises. Maybe….just maybe, listening to these songs will make me feel like those days back when, when we trusted each other and were afraid to let go. For reasons we all know now.

In a bit…


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 9, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Hi there. Follower of Songaweek some time ago here. This is some interesting reading, I think. Being born in 1986, I basically missed the time that music by and large really meant something. Or so I’m told. I know I listen almost exclusively to Sixties and Seventies music, a little bit of Eighties, with proper doses of Springsteen, Dylan, and so on.

    Is it possible that music really can change the world for the better? For me, it seems like it’s kind of on the verge….almost there….but not quite. Bit frustrating.

    Curious to hear any thoughts about that. I find your writing admirable.

    Cheers from central Illinois,

  2. tf
    November 9, 2010 at 9:16 am


    I know it can change people. It changed me. It changed my friends. So in that sense, yes, music changes the world. It makes us look at things we might never look at. It makes us know people we might never have known. Imagine a world without Guthrie. Without Dylan. Would it be the same place?

  3. November 9, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Hmm…I had to ponder this for a bit. I guess it can bring some groups of similarly-minded people together. Perhaps “putting a dent in the established system” is more what I was after. Or maybe a less violent metaphor that connotes the bringing of peace and love to the people as a whole.


    Verbalizing these types of things is not my strongest point…. 🙂


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