The regional, national & transnational imagination of Bruce Springsteen

Image © Danny Clinch

Finally watched the excellent Thom Zimmny documentary The Promise which accompanies the re-release of Bruce Springsteen’s seminal 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. There aren’t many artists as inextricably linked to a specific region as Springsteen is; New Jersey provided him with, not only a stomping ground on which to hone his particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll, but also a cast of characters and endless, evocative settings in which to place them. Yet, the Boss’ ouevre has always had wider concerns than those of Madame Marie, Sandy, Rosalita, The Cosmic Kid and their lives on provincial Asbury Park’s boardwalk. Nor has Springsteen’s music been wholly situated within the United States (anyone whose only image of Springsteen is the tub-thumping, flag-waving, America-championing, beefed-up ‘Born in the USA’, really needs to read this excellent cartoon primer on the far more ambiguous nature of the man and that song in particular).

Darkness marked a departure for Springsteen: gone were the lyrically dense,

Springsteen's regional imagination

freewheeling fairytales of the Jersey shoreline which made up his first two albums; gone too was the kaleidoscopic kineticism of Born to Run’s urban landscapes. Where these previous albums had spoken of escape from the boundaries of Asbury Park, Darkness considered what the protaganists did once they had transgressed that ‘Jersey state line’.

What really intrigued me about the Boss’ own observations in the documentary was the agonising over the sonic positioning of Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons’ saxophone. For Bruce it was an urban instrument; how could it be made to speak in the rural settings of that Darkness on the Edge of Town?