Artists are defined by two central fundamentals: their songs and concerts. For years, concerts were used as promotional tools to sell records, bring awareness to the act and hopefully sell a few t-shirts. Little money was made and it was more or less a brief glimpse at their favorite artists in the flesh. When the Beatles played Shea Stadium in 1965, they played a mere 29-minutes. As the sixties progressed, the Grateful Dead appeared and within a few years, Led Zeppelin took concerts to new heights with festival grooviness and flashing arena-rock presence. For bands like the Dead and Zeppelin, the records weren't enough. The concert became an extension of the record and in many ways, a more vital experience. Tapes were shared, stories told and myths were born. In the entire rock era, no other artist has a greater and more extensive legend than Bruce Springsteen. From stories of intimate in-your-face clubs shows early in his career to the misquoted myth of the five-hour show, the adoration and fervent followings Springsteen has amassed over the decades is almost unparalleled and on full display in a new book chronicling the 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, The Light in Darkness.
To this day, I can't go to a Springsteen show without someone telling me a tall tale about how they saw Springsteen "play an eight-hour show…and then he took out a broom and swept the floor of the club." It's almost laughable, but understandable. In 1978, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band embarked on their most discussed and legendary tour of their career in support of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Now, to fully understand the importance of this tour, a brief history needs to be given. After having a small cult following, Springsteen broke into the mainstream with Born To Run in late 1975 and a lawsuit by Springsteen to dissolve his contract with manager Mike Appel. This led to a countersuit where Appel kept Springsteen from recording a follow-up to Born To Run until it the legal proceedings were resolved. Once both parties came to an agreement in the spring of 1977, Springsteen and the E Street Band took to the studio recording upwards of thirty songs which were finally released in May of 1978. While the 1977 tour is viewed by many as some of the most staggering the band would ever do, it set the template for the 1978 tour. Springsteen's Born in the USA trek may have been more epic and his jaunt in support of The River more exhausting and epic, none of them would have been possible without the '78 tour. Springsteen decided to blend his new material with his older material which led to show times around the three-hour mark. To this day, three-hour shows are largely unprecedented, but in 1978 it was virtually unheard of. It's one thing to do a lengthy show and another to keep the audience's attention, which Springsteen and the E Street Band did with ease. This was also the last tour where the band played theaters as arenas were necessary come 1980 in places other than the Northeast.
Clarence and Bruce
The Light in Darkness is a document of the 1978 tour and in all honesty, it's surprising that Springsteen and his management team hasn't done something similar before now. In their need to always do things on specific anniversaries, they often miss the boat and low and behold, a group of fans beat them to the punch. What provides The Light in Darkness with an authentic voice is the first hand reports and stories it provides. These aren't so much embellished accounts, but earnest and brutally expressive stories of how music became something more than a distraction but a life force. I'll admit, some of the stories feel repetitive and a little too much emphasis is given to the Darkness album in the text. Yet, to the credit of the writers, they were trying to give the 1978 tour context and it's impossible to do so without a look at the Darkness record. However, as you page through the book, it's impossible to deny the sincerity of the entries. These are truly revealing stories no one can deny and the intensity of some of them match Springsteen's music and concert performances. The book very easily could have turned into a messiah-like worship of Springsteen, but by revealing the stories of where everyone was at a certain point in their lives, gives the book a lift up from your standard fan publication.
The real treasures of the book are the hundreds of pictures and memorabilia that fill the pages in between the stories. Newspaper ads for the shows, flyers for on-sale dates, pins from the Madison Square Garden stand, concert tickets, specially made posters, backstage passes and special promotional items not seen for years. Aside from a time machine, this is the closest anyone can get to truly placing themselves in the thick of the action from over three-decades back. Up until now, the closest anyone could get to reliving this tour was through bootleg recordings, but now The Light in Darkness puts the tour into perspective in a little over two-hundred pages. The soft cover book is full of many revealing pictures, stories and loads of insight into the tour that truly defined the Springsteen legend. For anyone who was unable to attend the 1978 tour, The Light in Darkness is an essential buy as it places you in the thick of the action. For those who were lucky enough to be there, then it's the greatest souvenir they ever could have.