Monday, November 15, 2010

Joe Posnanski on Springsteen's The Promise

Springsteen's album, The Promise, goes on sale tomorrow.  The CD includes a digitally remastered version of Darkness on the Edge of Town and 21 previously unreleased songs. The box set also includes three DVDs, including the documentary by the same name.

Fans must read Joe Posnanski's personal reflection on the song "The Promise" and Darkness on the Edge of Town.  For those unfamiliar with Posnanski, he is a Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated.  After reading his Springsteen essay, I would encourage him to write more about music.  Here is a taste:

Springsteen wrote The Promise for the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album. People who follow the Springsteen story know that the time when he wrote The Promise, that time after Born To Run made him a star and before Darkness made him an adult, that was a strange time for him. He was locked in a searing legal battle with his manager Mike Appel over creative freedom -- the thing Springsteen called his musical soul -- and he was also struggling with what it meant to be a huge success for the first time in his life. He hated success and loved it, and hated himself for loving it.

And the music poured out of him like sweat. He was 27 and hungry, still hungry, but he was not entirely sure for what. He was listening to punk music. He was listening to Hank Williams. The Born to Run sessions were legendary for Springsteen's refusal to compromise, his 14-month insistence on making every single song sound exactly like what he was hearing in his head no matter how many different ways he had to stretch the songs. But at least with Born To Run, there was a clear vision everyone could understand. Springsteen simply wanted to make the greatest rock and roll album that had ever been made. That's was 25 year old musicians did. The kid had ambition.

But nobody quite knew what Springsteen was trying to do with Darkness, maybe not even Springsteen himself. The band learned song after song after song. Some of the songs sounded like hits, but Springsteen seemed uninterested in those. This was the time when he would give "Because The Night" to the punk star Patti Smith -- her biggest hit. This was the time when he gave "Fire" to The Pointer Sisters -- their biggest hit. He gave "This Little Girl" to Gary U.S. Bonds ... and it would become Bonds' first hit in almost 20 years. He gave an older song, "The Fever," and "Talk to Me" to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He gave "Rendezvous" to Greg Kihn. In the documentary about Darkness, Springsteen's guitarist and foil and alter-ego Stevie Van Zandt would say, seemingly without irony, "It's a bit tragic in a way. Because he would have been one of the great pop songwriters of all time."

The one thing Springsteen knew for sure is that he didn't want to be a great pop songwriter. He did not want hits, not then. He did not want to repeat Born To Run. He wanted to say something, and he wanted to "leave no room to be misunderstood." He didn't want to try to make the greatest rock and roll album of all time, not this time. He wanted something else, something harder to describe. "I wanted to make an honest album," he would say. The band rehearsed and recorded "The Promise" for three months, trying to get it just right.