Bruce Springsteen says he and the E Street Band were on a mission when they made his "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album 32 years ago.
Springsteen opens up about the career-altering album in the documentary "The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town," which premieres Tuesday at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film, which played Monday for press, features contemporary interviews with Springsteen and his band along with rehearsal and studio footage as they made the 1978 record, which he calls a "reckoning with the adult world" after the phenomenal success of his "Born to Run" album three years earlier.
Before the premiere, Springsteen will discuss his music in a public chat with actor Edward Norton, who became friends with the rocker after they met at a concert about 10 years ago. "That record, there's no way to overstate how much that record was a part of my life," Norton said in an interview. "I've seen the film, and it's amazing to see him at that age going through the creative process on it. Any artist, I think, will appreciate the chance to see someone who is as great as he is at that age struggling and struggling and struggling to get things to where he hears them in his head."
After its Toronto premiere, "The Promise" will air Oct. 7 on HBO, then will be included in a CD and DVD boxed set release of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" due in stores Nov. 16.
Directed by Thom Zimny, who made a similar making-of documentary about "Born to Run," "The Promise" captures Springsteen in a burst of creativity after a three-year studio lapse, when he was unable to record amid a court fight with his former manager. Springsteen says he wanted the album to reflect the "deep despair and resilience" he saw among the small towns where he grew up.
"One of the things that's amazing to me is he's considered this quintessential American working-class artist, yet so much of his work has challenged the idea that America lives up to its ideals in some ways," Norton said. "He shows people and artists that you can live in a culture and place and love it and still question it, still challenge it."
Unlike "Born to Run" - for which Springsteen wrote nine songs, eight of them appearing on the album - "Darkness on the Edge of Town" was honed into a 10-song cycle from about 70 tunes he wrote, according to his band mates. The songs included such castoffs as "Because the Night" and "Fire," which became hits for Patti Smith and the Pointer Sisters.
Springsteen jokes that if a song did not work, he would pull out the fragments he liked and try them elsewhere, like taking car parts from one vehicle and sticking them into another to make it run. He shares failed lyrics for the album's opening anthem, "Badlands," and describes a version of the slow, meditative tale "Racing in the Streets" in which the narrator's melancholy girl, who "cries herself to sleep at night," was not even in the song.
Sound mixer Chuck Plotkin describes Springsteen's poetic instructions for how the dissonant assault of "Adam Raised a Cain" should sound next to the album's more melodic tunes. Springsteen told Plotkin to think of a movie showing two lovers having a picnic, when the scene abruptly cuts to a dead body. This song, Springsteen said, is that body.
The "Darkness" songs were leaner and angrier than those on "Born to Run," advancing from the earlier album's sense of youthful anarchy and escape to growing resignation to a "life of limitations and compromises," Springsteen says. "'Born to Run' and 'Darkness,' they're the beginning of the story," Springsteen says. "I'm beginning to tell the story that I tell for most of the rest of my working life."
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