It’s only natural to choose escape over confrontation. Pure avoidance over wallowing in our miseries. And though I don’t think it’s exactly healthy to “wallow” for too long (if we do that, we would essentially become stuck), I still believe it’s necessary to come face to face with our negative emotions, whatever they may be, in order to ultimately feel better. Everyone may handle certain stresses differently, and solutions and judgments may, of course, differ among us, but I think the common theme that all humans try to grapple with is summed up in one neat word — resiliency.
I recently watched the Bruce Springsteen documentary, The Promise: The Making of Darkness of the Edge of Town. (Well, if I’m being honest, this was my umpteenth viewing of the film — I’m quite the fan.) In this documentary, Bruce and fellow E-Street bandmates discuss the musical and emotional undertones of the record Darkness on the Edge of Town and one pivotal theme that echoes throughout the album — one that truly strikes a chord (wow, I didn’t even make that pun intentionally) — is embodying a resilient spirit.
Born to Run (the album that precedes Darkness) depicts the struggle for independence as the characters attempt to figure out what life means and how to break out on their own. Someone on this record is always leaving or being left behind. However, in Darkness, it becomes quite apparent that you can’t just run away. The characters in this album may be driving, but they never stray too far.
“I wanted this record to have a very relentless feeling,” Springsteen said in the documentary. He wanted the music to emulate loneliness and uphold a stripped-down sound (they wanted “coffee black,” his manager Jon Landau conveyed).
In Darkness, Springsteen decided to write about his roots, about growing up in his small New Jersey town, and he wanted to talk about adult life that’s comprised of limitations and compromises and committing to such experiences. He essentially wanted to understand how to do that — how to come to terms with adult life. “There’s a part of life you can’t compromise with or you lose yourself,” he said.
The track, “Promised Land,” echoes his plight towards adulthood, and Bruce explains that the song takes the listener on a journey through deep despair, resilience and determination, and the desire to transcend limitations:
There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags, and I headed straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart heart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and broken-hearted
In the title track, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Springsteen is adamant about confrontation, about “not forsaking your own inner life force”:
Tonight I’ll be on that hill, ‘cause I can’t stop
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got
With our lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I’ll be there on time, and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town
In the bonus footage at the end of the documentary (always gotta look out for those extra features), we see Springsteen having a conversation with his fans, and one particular fan question always piques my interest. “Which character would you most want your children to understand?” he was asked.
Springsteen relayed that “Racing in the Street,” a sad song about “how we carry our sins,” is a song that has a deep emotional resonance.
“I suppose I would like them (my children) to be untouched with that particular sadness…but that’s not the way the world works,” he said. “I would like them to have that resilience and wherewithal to navigate through that kind of pain, because that’s what we all have to do.”
Ever since I’ve learned about positive psychology (I took a course on positive psychology, a relatively new field, my senior year of college), I truly took to the notion of what it means to be resilient and to cope with life’s stresses with putting our best foot forward. And while more effective coping skills ultimately lead to a happier mindset, I honed in on the truth that it’s also okay to be in the negative and confront whatever it is we’re going through, first and foremost. (Especially if you have a certain emotional disposition that makes you more prone to sensitivity, in my opinion.)
For me, Springsteen’s insight and incredible wisdom that pervades the Darkness record is powerful and relatable, giving us the feedback we may all need to be reminded of from time to time.
The dogs on Main Street howl, ‘cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land