The Promise of Darkness

Although I had barely started a post on our first stop in Alaska (appearing soon), after pretty much wasting this entire day (and then proceeding to waste the rest of it, more or less, only to find out I get/have to work a lot of days in a row upcoming, subbing), I got a visit from a friend and former student. (That would be Rod Hankemeier — which I had planned to repeat about twelve times in a row just to annoy other former student and more distant, in space, friend, Maureen (née) Bayles, wife/mother/audio star of modern media, who, he says, is jealous that I mentioned Rod previously on this forum and neglected her. Well, Mo, in honor of what is either the thirtieth, or twenty-eighth, and last year of Andrew Comment, here it is, my newest mantra — Maureen, Maureen, Maureen, Veronica, Mo, Maureen, Mo, Maureen, Mo…)

I have been at school a lot of late. It appears October will be a profitable month for me this year, although I wish I got the work for reasons less sad than people dying. However, this poor guy will take what he receives, even though I really did have some plans to get other things accomplished (raking and mowing, reading aloud into the computer, memorizing lines for Picasso…) that may have to go on hold.

Thursday (today for me, on which, even though early arising awaits for Friday, I am writing noticeably after 10:00 PM so I am not late with a post twice in one week) was truly a wasted day. I did see several episodes of House I hadnʼt previously. I also finally watched the neo-Nazi/models-on-parade-duty extravaganza of Starship Troopers (which actually wasnʼt quite as bad as I had thought it would be, although itʼs a long leap from Heinleinʼs novel, which I now have to reread). Then Rod visited, as noted in the beginning of this ramble, after which it was time for supper and then The Big Bang Theory and 30 Rock. I then tried to watch the Iowa Gubernatorial Debate, but Culver, trailing badly in the polls, had been coached to repeatedly attack Branstad, who was okay but feeling the need to touch all the usual Republican talking points. Bored, I looked at the onscreen channel guide and discovered that The Promise was on (about the making of Darkness at the Edge of Town). That album was my introduction to Springsteen and the E Street Band, and it was one of (probably too many) life-changing experiences for me. I had to watch that HBO documentary, which was good (too little music, though). And now itʼs after ten, and as of about an hour ago Iʼm working tomorrow.

Not too long after I moved to this town in August of 1977, two albums came out that took over my life. Darkness was one, and my musical tastes changed at the Bossʼs anthemic inspiration (and I instantly acquired the previous ones I had ignored, including everyone elseʼs favorite, Born to Run). His dark, brooding, lonely tunes and lyrics just shattered a lot of my comfy postcollegiate pseudoromantic emotional inner environments (kind of funny for a guy and his music, and that album, sometimes criticized for being comfily pseudoromantic, which I donʼt think he is at all, especially after listening to his articulate and thoughtful commentary in the movie tonight). I played Darkness endlessly, both on vinyl and an 8-track in my big blue Ford van, and I know it was the soundtrack as I wrote an old story (rediscovered last winter, along with The Book of Seasons chapters) about a bank teller getting kidnapped by aliens on Highway 61 north of DeWitt (still think about that nearly every time The Lovely One and I pass by the particular stretch of wood I had in mind, still there), also for the original shortest version of my adaptation of Everyman (that would be Everybody for three or four crews of Andrew students who thought I had invented that particular plot, although students in drama class should all know better) and of Medea. Hearing just bits of those songs fills my soul with a particular fall melancholy much wider and deeper than merely my moods from those late Seventies years. The documentary, playing pieces of songs, did exactly that to my emotional state tonight.

The songs are glorious (anthemic, as I and real critics have said) but bitter, filled with isolation and sorrow, utter depression and ambitions of hope. When I first heard it, the album seemed perfect. I still think it is, and I find I have not grown too familiar with the sounds or words on it. Thirty years is a long time to become too familiar with songs (which happens to old beloved music for me almost always — too familiar so no longer packing the whallop it did when I first heard it). Not Darkness on the Edge of Town, which I now feel the desire to hear straight through in those original studio versions. Strong, spiritual, sad, starkly robust and bleak.

I would like to write words that operate as powerfully and truly as those songs, that album do. Springsteen said tonight that the album is about trying to find your way to be/become adult without surrendering the passions and the things that made you live as a youth, discovering and believing in its compromised reality adulthood, which is exactly what my life was all about in my first five years in town, at Andrew (and which is exactly what I donʼt really want “Mantorville” to be about, stealing stuff from my past as it does; Arkham is not a kid fighting to figure out being grown-up, as I was). I know the Darkness songs helped me find my way to become who I am, for better or worse (and the Boss noted in the film that he realizes sin is a part of good lives as well as bad, and everyone must try to deal with it — wonderfully appropriate). I know perhaps more than two-thirds of those songsʼ impact is the music more than (in cooperation with) the words, which makes my vain desires for my little stories futile. But if he could turn the pop song into his great art, maybe thereʼs a glimmer of possibility for me and my selected genres, too. A dubious glint, but at my advanced age, maybe thatʼs all weʼve got. And maybe thatʼs good enough.

The other album, by the way (and for me equally deserving of a big portion of a post as I just gave to Darkness at the Edge of Town), was Rough MixPete Townshend and Ronnie Lane. A few years later (maybe?), I discovered the first two Dire Straits albums, together, in the racks at Pamida. And then The Clash. They all fit together for me. Somehow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

2 thoughts on “The Promise of Darkness

  1. Hallo!
    Weirdly, I just took some time to relax in the october sun with my ca-player and “darkness on the edge of town” (one of my favorites, too) and facebook. 🙂 Catching up on ypur blog… great posting, I thought.
    And please say “hi” to Rod, whenever you see him again.
    sunny regards, chris

    • Hello Chris. Good to hear from a classmate from so far away. It has been a sunny October in Iowa too. 🙂

      Take care,

      Rod

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