Bruce. Musician. Poet. On a recent drive back to my hometown, I listened to an interview with The Boss at the Toronto Film Festival for the screening of The Promise, a documentary about the making of his album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Bruce’s gravely voice took me back (30 years!) to Mrs. Garfield’s English class where Monica Doslak and I used to sit, scribbling about marriage to Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe on each other’s spiral notebooks, and penning my first real piece of fiction – Netti Spaghetti and the Meatball Kid..
When asked about his success, Bruce termed the feeling “survivor guilt”, because he and his band survived Asbury Park to achieve success. The musicians weren’t trying to be bohemian, or best the beat poets. They didn’t read or write tomes about the Road. They lived in a darkness that was simple and created one where it was safe to explore.
When The Boss sang, “They can’t hurt you now,” on the track Because the Night, I believed him, disappearing inside music emanating from the family’s turntable. I took cover from forces unseen – those that would take away the family shoe business and my father’s livelihood and those of my own teenage angst. I hid from every day which looked good on the outside – national honor society, class vp, varsity volleyball – but days which contained plentiful rumblings underneath, including the malcontent of a middle child.
In my hometown, darkness reigned. We cruised out to Gore Orphanage Road, listening for the screams of children who supposedly burned in a fire years ago. Late night, we drove past parties we weren’t invited to, in order to stalk boys we thought we might date. When dusk descended over the lake at Andy’s beach house, the gloom of the water enveloped my naked body as I skinny dipped to prove that I could be cool – and stupid too.
Tonight I ‘ll be on that hill, Bruce crooned in Darkness on the Edge of Town and I recalled the sledding hill behind the Golden Acres Nursing Home where evening would fall and bodies would tumble on top of each other. Those winter nights we spent listening to Bruce inside a Chevette, a Subaru, a Citation or a yellow Spitfire that only a few rode in, whatever magical bus was not being used by siblings or parents.
Shadows crept up on us at the sandstone quarries where there were no neon lights or glare of video games. Boys would rather fumble with a girl’s bra strap than adeptly maneuver the remote control of an Xbox. After family dinners, we would bolt from the comfort of pot roasts and NYPD Blue to get to that edge and went past it to find Newport cigarettes and stale pot, Old Milwaukee beer and petting sex, fast friendship and even faster betrayal.
There had always been darkness and we liked it that way. We could be someone else, run off, forge a new road divergent from the back streets. The Boss belonged to me, to Monica, and everyone else in that small town from which we came. Even if we never shared our miseries with each other, Bruce Springsteen’s music tapped into our anguish and became our bond.
Bruce represented our sense of place, persuading us to make a home in the darkness of backseats and craters of sandstone quarries. His music, his words, gave us the brashness to seek out our own edge and stand in it, no matter the cost.