Looking For A Spark In A Springsteen Song

by Kevin Burton

   My favorite Bruce Springsteen song was born of irritation and is marinated in frustration.

   I seem to have slipped into it comfortably, as one might slip into a t-shirt and jeans. 

   Here is how the song came to be, according to SongFacts:

   “Springsteen wrote it after his manager, Jon Landau, demanded a hit single for the album. After a brief altercation, he complied and wrote it that same night – a classic case of a manager or record executive getting an artist so fired up that the energy channels into a hit, giving them exactly what they were looking for.”

   The album was “Born in the USA” and the song is “Dancing in the Dark.”

   I don’t always get Springsteen. The mood of his music is often at seeming cross-purposes with his lyrics (see also “Born in the USA” and “Hungry Heart”). I didn’t understand “Dancing in the Dark” but one lyric always jumped out at me:

   “Man I’m just tired and bored with myself.”

   The place where Springsteen was when he wrote it, is the place where I am now.

   “Springsteen wrote this about his difficulty writing a hit single and his frustration trying to write songs that will please people,” SongFacts wrote. “His struggles pour out in the lyric, where he feels like a hired gun dying for some action. He even addresses an industry trope, which he surely heard many times before:
‘They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight.’”

   Just about starving. That’s me.

   I’m not exactly making the most of the gifts, talents and resources I have been given. Way too many times, a review of my day or week reveals missed, squandered opportunities. Most of the time it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

   For years I didn’t understand it fully  but “Dancing in the Dark” has a message I can relate to.

   “The lyric is rather bleak, as Springsteen sings lines like, ‘Man I ain’t getting nowhere, I’m just living in a dump like this.’ It doesn’t have a happy ending, but by the end of the song, he seems intent on taking some action, looking for just a tiny bit of inspiration to set him on his path – after all, you can’t start a fire without a spark,” SongFacts wrote.

   “By the last verse, there’s a touch of existentialism, as he puts things in perspective: ‘You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.’”
   “The deep, philosophical message was lost on most listeners who were entranced by the catchy beat, SongFacts wrote. 

   That was very true of me, but I’m all over it now.

   Springsteen’s expression of frustration took him to new chart heights.
   “Ironically, the song was a hit single – the biggest of his career in terms of US chart position. (Although Manfred Mann’s cover of Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light made number 1), SongFacts wrote.

   “Springsteen had over 70 songs written for ‘Born In The U.S.A.,’ but Landau wanted a guaranteed hit to ensure superstar status for Springsteen. ‘Dancing In The Dark’ provided just that spark; released as the first single (the only one issued ahead of the album), it started the fire that was ‘Born In The U.S.A.’”

   “Springsteen’s songs were soon all over the radio, and he found a whole new audience. Unlike many rock artists who are accused of selling out when they hit it huge, Springsteen’s star turn was welcomed (for the most part) by his faithful, who had spent many years spreading his gospel.”
   Maybe that’s what it is going to take for me, that creative burst, born of self-cynicism or whatever, that produces something I can be proud of.

  It all starts with that spark.

Join the Conversation


  1. Perhaps one reason I’ve always liked him so much is that his music is so conflicted. It’s always made a great deal of sense to me. Born to Run (to me anyway) was about wanting to rebel and go against what is supposed to be, yet not wanting to go it alone. Here he is, asking a girl to come run with him. He’s trying to appeal to her rebellious side as well, yet he’s wanting something stable and at least somewhat committed for both of them. “Baby we were born to run!”

    Tracy Duffy tlduffy1962@gmail.com


    Liked by 1 person

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