Springsteen spent weeks alone just trying to get “the drums to sound like drums”, as the documentary explains. While sonically sparse compared with the previous Born to Run , Darkness on the Edge of Town is an epic of American landscape, dispossession and resilience born out of a “huge amount of ego, ambition and hunger”. He wanted to write something truly great. It wasn’t greeted too keenly by much of the press. It didn’t sell too much at first either. Then he toured it. “When they saw it live, then they got it,” he says. Today it is a classic.
When he was recording it he was doing so with the intensity of a musician who didn’t know if he’d get another chance to make an album once this one came out. At a time when a three-year gap between albums was career suicide he read “where are they now?” pieces about himself.
The audience intensity is, though, a response to his own commitment on stage. He has toured relentlessly in recent years – 11 shows in Ireland alone since 2005 – and last time around he was playing almost three hours of bone-shaking brilliance without even the pretence of walking off for an encore. “You have to want to do it,” he says. “Also, you have to show, not tell. That’s why they call it show business. It’s not the ‘tell business’, it’s ‘show’ business’ ”
He talks about Sting once telling him, “You work too hard”, then later adding: “Oh, I get it, this is the only way you know how to do it.”
It becomes clear that, over the course of a couple of days, Springsteen has returned more than once to the notion of survival, of Darkness being recorded with an intensity born of an understanding that this could have been the last album he recorded. Stunted by the legal wrangle with his manager, Springsteen had to survive on live shows and the reputation of Born to Run . That album had made him a global star and was the thing that put him on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week in 1975. In a sense, it had the power to kill him too.by