Friday, March 12, 2010

Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen

“Dancing In The Dark” is Bruce Springsteen’s biggest hit from his best-selling album, Born In The U.S.A. While his break out album Born To Run revolutionized rock music, it was Born In The U.S.A. that transformed Springsteen into a popular music superstar.

Everything about Born In The U.S.A was iconic. There was the album cover by Annie Leibovitz:

And the music video for “Dancing In The Dark” directed by Brian De Palma (yes the same guy who directed Al Pacino in Scarface) featuring Friend’s actress Courtney Cox.

As well as Jon Stewart. . .

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This was the Bruce that most people remember, not the scraggly youth or the elder statements of rock, but rather the young clean cut, muscular, vivacious youth featured in this music video. And of course there was nothing more iconic than the song itself.

Maybe it’s the thumbing beat or the unapologetic synthesized backgrounds but for some reason people love “Dancing In The Dark.” Is this Springsteen’s greatest work? Probably not, but it's an fantastic example of Bruce’s ability to write great pop music infused with profound messages of hope and optimism.

The first verse introduces our protagonist getting up in the evening to work a night shift. He’s tired and bored, the monotony of life is getting to him, and he realizes that he needs a little help. Then the chorus hits, utilizing “you can’t start a fire without a spark” to symbolize the need for something, some impetus for him to get his life going. This is followed by the most haunting and intriguing line of the song “this guns for hire, even if we’re just dancing in the dark.”

“Dancing in the dark” is one of those great pop songs hooks. The alliteration makes emphasize the beat while its symbolism is open to interpretation. Dancing is a joyful act but in the dark there is mystery and fear. The idea of dancing in the dark is living life to the fullest without necessarily knowing what's down the road.

In the second verse, the character begins to experience clarity. He understands that “there’s something happening somewhere” which gives him hope that, something can change for the better in his life, “baby, I just know that there is.”

The last verse expresses a sense of urgency, “I’m just about starving tonight, I’ve dying for some action.” He needs a “love reaction,” he needs just one look to get him going. Even within this dire situation there's still a drive, a hunger that burns that won’t stop.

In the last verse instead of the line “you can’t start a fire with a spark,” Bruce reveals what this line symbolically means: “sitting around crying over a broken heart” and “worrying about your little world falling about.” What is keeping people from starting the fire in their heart is hanging onto sadness from the past and worrying that things could fall apart. It’s only by moving forward and looking to the light that things can improve even if you’re just “dancing in the dark.”

After being prominently featured in live performance, “Dancing In The Dark” disappeared from Springsteen’s live sets in the 1990s It wasn’t until the Rising Tour in 2002 that it reappeared as an encore and has since become and is now regularly performed.

Gone are the synthesizers, replaced with a violin and instead of the dance drum beat, Max Weinberg feverishly drives a rock beat. This new arrangement strips away the sounds that dates this song as an 1980s hit and brings out the universality and timeless power of this song.

Springsteen’s music expresses many different emotions, but watching Bruce perform this song live it’s clear that “Dancing In The Dark” is simply about the joy that come from hope. The smile on Bruce’s face isn’t forced, he can’t help it when singing this song. I know this because I can’t help but smile when I watch him perform.

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