On last month’s Popdose Podcast, I endorsed The Light in Darkness, an oral history about Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town album and its subsequent tour as told by Springsteen fans. In full disclosure, its editor, Lawrence Kirsch, is a friend and I contributed an essay to the book (as did Popdose’s Farkate Film Flashback columnist, “Outlaw” Pete Chianca). But even though I’ve had my copy for about a month, it took a while for me to finally get through it. The reason isn’t (entirely) due to my laziness, but rather that I wanted to savor every word.
You see, compiling fan stories about a favorite artist, as Lawrence did in 2007 with For You, can be difficult. There’s the potential for repetition, and that possibility increases when you decide to narrow the scope of the book to one year in the artist’s life. So when you read it, you don’t want the stories bleeding into each other. You just take it in about ten pages at a time.
But Kirsch does a fantastic job of mixing things up. In between the memories of the concerts are analyses of the main themes found in the album, why the tour was such a pivotal moment in his career, and even an account of the songs that were recorded but didn’t make the final cut. Every Springsteen fan will be able to see themselves in the stories here. I got goosebumps plenty of times while reading because they hit so close to home. The book also serves as a cool document of what being a fan was like in the late ’70s now that virtually everything about the music industry has changed. Yeah, TicketMaster sucks, but does anybody else remember mail-order ticket lotteries?
Many of the dates on the seven-month tour are represented, but special attention is given to the nights that have achieved iconic status among Springsteen fans through bootlegs, including the Roxy, Capitol Theatre, and Winterland shows. But the highlight of the book is the 16 pages devoted to the legendary show at the Agora in Cleveland on August 9, widely considered to be Bruce’s greatest show. I call it The Night Rock Achieved Perfection, a belief that, according to the book, I share with Bob Seger (take that, Homer Simpson!). That bootleg kickstarted my collection back in 2000. I had only had a few cassettes up to that point, and that night’s show, especially the four-song, 55-minute roller coaster ride between “She’s the One” and “Rosalita,” made me want to track down as many as I can find, especially from the Darkness tour. And I finally learned exactly what caused Bruce to say, “I’m working here!” before the last verse of “Spirit in the Night.”
And if you do somehow get tired of reading, there are over 200 photos of the Boss and the E Street Band in action. For those of us who didn’t get to experience the shows firsthand, the shots are revelatory. They portray Springsteen simultaneously out of control and in complete command of his craft. On one page he’s sprawled out across the stage (or the piano…or the crowd) and on the next he’s staring down the audience, wielding his Telecaster like a weapon.
The Light in Darkness is a collector’s edition in a limited run, and is available exclusively through its website for $40 plus shipping and handling. With so many Springsteen-related books available this holiday season, you might not know where to begin to get the perfect gift for the Bruce fan in your life. You cannot do better than The Light in Darkness.