So close, in fact, that he and Landau, while trying to come up with a name for the new album, jokingly flipped through the film–titles index of Andrew Sarris' classic text, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. Springsteen's choice was American Madness; Landau's, History Is Made at Night.
Bruce Springsteen credits Jon Landau as being "a big help to me. He helped me see things – to see into things – and somehow it would come out in the songs. It's hard to explain. There's a certain little consciousness barrier that gets broken down. What happens in a funny sense is if you grow up in a particular house where the concept of art is twenty minutes in school every day that you hate, and there's no books, no music, there's nothing – well, until you bump into someone who grew up in a house that had a lot of books and different stuff, it's [difficult]. That's a problem for a lot of people – a lot of my friends. You just don't bump into [anyone who's] going to make you more able to use whatever brains you've got.
"That's why the importance of rock & roll was just incredible. It reached down into all those homes where there was no music or books or any kind of creative sense, and it infiltrated the whole thing. That's what happened in my house, you know."
A mutual friend told me that Springsteen had said that the songs on Darkness on the Edge of Town are about "people who are going from nowhere to nowhere." I wonder if this is correct.
"Yeah, that's what I always thought. That's why a lot of the action always takes place around cars. It's like everybody's always in transit. There's no settling down, no fixed action. You pick up the action, and then at some point–pssst!–the camera pans away, and whatever happened, that's what happened. The songs I write, they don't have particular beginnings and they don't have endings. The camera focuses in and then out."
Springsteen says that he recorded thirty songs for the new LP and then made his final selection on the basis of "those I felt were the most important for me to get out. I wanted to put out stuff that I felt had the most substance and yet was still an album."
One of his best new songs is "The Promise," which remains unreleased. I ask why.
"Because too many people were interpreting it to be about the lawsuit. [Springsteen and former manager/producer Mike Appel sued each other, but settled out of court last summer.] I wrote it before there was a lawsuit . . . I don't write songs about lawsuits."
We talk for a while about the inordinate amount of time it seems to take Springsteen to make a record. He's developed a keen sense of humor about this.
"The main thing is you owe your best. That's how I feel toward myself. I just couldn't understand why people would rush to get out an album by a particular date and then regret it afterward. I mean, a date is just a date, except to the machine kind of thing.
"I was at the Spectrum [in Philadelphia] the other night, and some kids ran backstage and said, 'Hey, that one was good, it was worth the wait,' and that makes it for me, you know. I've never had a kid come up to me and say, 'Hey, what were you doing all that time?' or, 'What took you so long? I don't get it.' That's how it rings true for me. That's the big important connection – you see what matters to the kids. They want to have the stuff, but if it's not the best you can do, it's not worth doing. Not for me, anyway."
What about "Factory"?
"I wrote that song in about half an hour. See, that's the funny thing – the album took a long time, but most of the songs were written real fast. It was just figuring out what to do with them. 'Factory' – that's like everybody's old man or something."
I mention that there are a couple of songs about fathers on Darkness on the Edge of Town. Springsteen looks thoughtful.
"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, there are. I wrote three songs that had to do with that, and one didn't get on. And that might have been the best one, but it just didn't fit. It's a song called 'Independence Day.' We've never played it, but it was a ballad, and we had too many slow songs. So . . ."
He leans forward: "But 'The Promise' and 'Independence Day.' Those were two that I got that'll definitely be on the next record. Which should be about another three years." We both laugh.
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