It was 1978.  I just graduated from high school and I was going to Michigan State University when I first heard Bruce Springsteen’s  Darkness on the Edge of Town. I’d heard of Springsteen before, right?  Didn’t he do Born to run?  Wasn’t he the guy who on the cover of Time and Newsweek Magazine in the same week? Yes. Yes and Yes. Listening to Darkness opened my eyes and expanded my horizons. Springsteen sang about outsiders who tried to make sense of their place in the world.  He championed the underdog, who battled bravely but still ended up with a broken heart or worse! He sang about characters I identified with...He sang about me.  Right about that time I met two “rabid” Springsteen fans in my dorm named Laura and Meg.  Laura was from Bruce’s home state of New Jersey and was a fan for years.  Meg hailed from the Detroit suburbs and learned about Bruce from WMMS radio in Cleveland.  (It didn’t hurt that both girls was very cute).   Both had seen Bruce in concert.  “It was a life changing dance marathon that left you breathless and begging for more!”  The only thing I could compare it to was Phil Collins and Genesis.  “Not even close.’  said Laura.  “You can’t compare the two."  “They are not in the same league.” chimed in Meg.  To prove it, she played me a live recording of Bruce’s legendary 1978 Winterland concert in San Francisco.  Back in the day, live recordings were rare.  The only way to get them was thru “a friend of a friend of a friend” in a brown paper bag.  They were called “bootlegs”.  Here’s what was on the Winterland triple album.

Disc One (73:16)

01. Badlands (5:34)

02. Streets Of Fire (5:29)

03. Spirit In The Night (7:44)

04. Darkness On The Edge Of Town (5:46)

05. Factory (3:55)

06. The Promised Land (6:10)

07. Prove It All Night (12:39)

08. Racing in the Street (9:53)

09. Thunder Road (6:02)

10. Jungleland (10:03)

Disc Two (68:14)

01. The Ties That Bind (4:33)

02. Santa Story (3:46)

03. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (4:14)

04. The Fever (8:29)

05. Fire (3:09)

06. Candy's Room (3:12)

07. Because The Night (7:37)

08. Point Blank (8:37)

09. Mona / Preacher's Daughter (3:51)

10. She's The One (8:54)

11. Backstreets (11:52)

Disc Three (45:59)

01. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (10:50)

02. Born To Run (4:50)

03. Detroit Medley (9:22)

04. 10th Avenue Freeze-Out (6:29)

05. Raise Your Hand (5:32)

06. Quarter To Three (8:56)

My first bootleg experience blew me away.  Hearing Bruce “live” was the best!  Not only were there songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run and a few older albums, but there were a few brand  new tunes I’d never heard of before including Because the Night and Fire!   I loved these songs live, but I was curious how the studio version sounded.  Meg explained they probably would land on Bruce’s next album.  The River was released in 1980 and it didn’t contain either song,.  Of course, Patti Smith recorded Because the Night and had a #5 hit and the Pointer Sisters took Fire to #1 in 1979, but I was still disappointed.   I understand it’s the artist’s vision and not mine, but how could Bruce leave these great songs off his records?  Didn’t he know how cool I thought they were?

Bootlegs have always been an alternative source of collecting material from your favorite rock ‘n roll singers.

From recordings of live concerts to studio outtakes, they can offer a glimpse into the artist freed from the constraints of the studio and record company.

More than that, Bootlegs often went against the wishes of the artist.  Springsteen is said to have despised bootlegs until he finally faced the inevitable, they were not going to go away, ever!

A few years ago I heard a bootleg with some studio outtakes from the Darkness recordings sessions.. It contained many unfinished versions of the songs that eventually ended up on the album.  To my surprise, Because the Night and Fire were also there.  But they too, were incomplete.  It was as if the master had decided these songs didn’t fit anymore.  They didn’t need to be completed.  I was more disappointed than ever.

That was until last year when I heard about The Promise and the promise it held for me.  I got up Tuesday morning and the first thing I did was download the album on itunes.  Eventually, I’ll buy the deluxe set.  That way I can also have the remastered Darkness album, the video on the making of The Promise and a “bootleg” concert from the Darkness tour in 1978.)  Reading the liner notes from The Promise brought clarity and some forgiveness.  The sermon was delivered by the Boss.

Over the past summer in anticipation of this release, I went back to this music I’d abandoned thirty years ago.  it was like revisiting old friends who’d been awaiting your return to close the circle on an important experience that somehow had gotten interrupted thirty years ago.

I’d been out of the recording scene for three years, I was in my-twenties and already trying to prove I wasn’t a “flash-in-the-pan”, a a “one-hit wonder”, a creating of the record company star-making machine. I knew who I was (well, I was pretty sure) and who I wanted to be.  I knew the stakes I wanted to play for, so I picked the hardest of what I had, music that would leave no room to be misunderstood about what I felt was at risk and what might be attained over the American airwaves of popular radio in 1978.  Power, directness and austerity were my goals.  Tough music for folks in tough circumstances.  As the band and I played thru “Darkness” at the Paramount Theater in the winter of 2009, I felt my original song selection pick up the years and continue to hold the congruity of a young man’s choices made so very long ago.  They also fell pretty nicely into the adult man’s journey I find myself on today.  At twenty-seven, that is what I’d hoped for, that i”d written something that would continue to fill me with purpose and meaning in the years to come, that would continue to mean something to me and to you.  The original “Darkness on the Edge of Town” has done that for me and I hope it’s done that for you as well.  I owe the choices we made then and that young man their respect.

Still...a lot of sweet and important magic was momentarily lost, so to everything there is a season.  Let me introduce you some of my old friends, “The Promise: The Lost Sessions from the Darkness on the Edge of Town”.

via liner notes: Bruce Springsteen The Promise

Thanks, Bruce.  All is forgiven.  In case you’re curious, I love the album.  It’s not anything like Darkenss.  It actually  feels more like The River or Born to Run.

No song on "The Promise" belongs on "Darkness on the Edge of Town." The 21 songs, many of them unknown except to the most avid of bootleg collectors, are imbued with the ambition of "Born to Run," the influence of the Jersey shore -- aka "home" -- and traditional Springsteen themes, like the search for sanctuary and redemption.

It is, as Bruce Springsteen and his team suggest, a complete album trussed together, and not a collection of outtakes, like "Tracks," with the result being more "The River" than "Darkness II," a collection that represents a transitional phase in an artist's life.

The music from The Promise resonates 32 years later.  I would rather have heard it in 1978, but I'm glad I’m still around to enjoy it today!  And I'm sure Meg would agree, Because the Night really rocks!

See the video from the Title cut.

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