Sunday, April 27, 2014

Track Of The Week: Bruce Springsteen, "Dancing In The Dark"

Over the last week or so I have been on a big Bruce Springsteen jag, and have listened intensely to albums and songs that I took for granted years ago.  I've been especially struck by "Dancing In The Dark," the first Springsteen song I was ever really aware of.

From the summer of 1984 to the spring of 1986, songs from Born In The USA ruled the airwaves, making the former scruffy poet of Asbury Park into a massive pop star along the lines of Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Prince.  (And not to sound like a bitter old man, but that lineup beats the heck out of what dominates the charts today.)  He gained a lot of new fans in the mainstream who had little idea of his older material, and that was hardly a mistake.  "Dancing In The Dark," which announced Springsteen's presence as a pop star, has all the hallmarks of Top 40 in 1984.  Synthesizers carry the melody, reverby guitar is merely a texture, Clarence Clemons' once brash sax just coos a little at the end, and driving things forward is a propulsive beat from an electronically enhanced snare drum.  The accompanying video made the bid for popularity that much more apparent.  It shows The Boss grinning sillily, dancing around on stage and then bringing a young Courtney Cox out of the audience to cut the rug with him.  This was my first impression of Bruce Springsteen, and had no clue this man was capable of wrenching songs like "The River" and "Highway Patrolman."

It could be easy to listen to this song and think that Springsteen had sold out, but I actually think its sound makes it more subversive.  The musical textures are appropriately bright, but there are lots of dark undertones.  This is a song of hope prompted by complete lonely desperation, beginning with the great, almost frantic lines "I get up in the evening/ and I ain't got nothing to say/ I get home in the morning/ I go to bed feeling the same way/ I ain't nothing but tired/ nothing but tired and bored with myself."  The song's narrator seems to be trying to romance someone, but is losing his cool and just pouring out his emotions because he doesn't have anyone to talk to.  Just because the song has the same jaunty, shiny feel as other 1984 tunes (like say "Tenderness") that doesn't change its dark core.  By taking one of his tales of loneliness but wrapping it in an upbeat sound and drenched with 80s studio magic, Springsteen may have made a subtly subversive song a big hit.

Regardless of how well it's aged, I still enjoy "Dancing In The Dark."  Whenever I listen to this song it reminds me of the times in my life where I've moved alone to a new town, feeling cut off and desperate.  Since I've made these moves either as a graduate student or junior academic, it's also meant being poor and being far away from anyone I know.  It's something I've done way too many times in my life, but thankfully I'll never have to do again.  Listening to this song makes it easy not to feel nostalgia for being young and single, since it's a good reminder of just how miserable that lifestyle could make me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Growing up in NJ in the '70s and '80s, I heard my share of Bruce. I loved his mission statement: lyrics like Dylan, production like Phil Spector, guitar and drums like Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.

Now I'm an old fart, but I like what the younger generation has done with some of his compositions. For example, Lauren O'Connell did a wondrous re-imagining of Dancing In The Dark: