Bruce’s Darkness To Nebraska (A Song Cycle To Badlands)
In 1973, Terrence Malick Directed Martin Sheen & Sissy Spacek, (as well as Warren Oates), in the art film “Badlands” more than rumored to be Bruce Springsteen’s favorite film. It’s based on the mid West murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Carol Ann Fugate in 1958.
In June of 1978, Bruce released: “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” one of, if not, his finest albums. You’ll note that the opening song on side one is titled: “Badlands”…I believe this is no coincidence. Although the song itself does not appear to reflect the film directly, I believe it was influenced by it. The album does reflect more of a city scape than that of a rural killing spree. This was to come later in “Nebraska.” Some people deserving a-lot of credit for “Darkness” include engineer Jimmy Iovine, the entire E-Street Band and photographer Frank Stefanko who took the fantastic cover photos of Bruce that seem to fit the album so well. I remember listening to this album when it was released in 1978. We all agreed it was like nothing else we had ever heard before. At times Bruce seemed to cry out like a wounded animal with his city scape angst. This was all done in a good way and very tastefull as only “The Boss” could pull off. In listening to it now in 2012, I note how much bruce’s voice has changed since then. His newer material features a much more toned down artist without the full throat crying in his vocals. Some people may or may not like this change? Personally, I prefer the 1978 sound of “Darkness.”
Then in 1982, Bruce made another one of his unpredictable turns in the music business. Instead of just releasing another studio album with the E-Street Band, he released a four track cassette demo as a full album titled: “Nebraska.” This time he really took “Badlands” to the wall! He did not pull any punches by not letting people know this was about the film and the true story of two 1950’s killers. This time he made it perfectly clear and in a very unfamiliar depressing way. “Nebraska” any way you cut it is a real downer. But, it is saved by Bruce’s sheer talent. In 2012 I could not help but think of “Atlantic City” now in the drink thanks to hurricane Sandy. It makes “Nebraska” even that much sadder now.
“Nebraska” is a great folk album but it does not come anywhere near the scope of “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” with it’s writing and of course production. These are two totally different approaches to making an album but I beleive in some strange song cycle way, the two albums are connected. Maybe it’s just because of Bruce and or the film “Badlands” that I believe that? I guess it’s kind of a wild ass statistical guess without being able to ask Bruce directly.
Anyway, if you have somehow missed listening to both of these great albums…give them a try. I also recommend the film “Badlands.”