When Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A. exploded onto the music scene in 1984, I had no idea who “The Boss” was. I grew up in a house where my dad was listening to “Outlaw Country” artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings while Springsteen was making a name for himself in rock ‘n’ roll circles, so hits such as “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” were foreign to me. As far as I knew, Born in the U.S.A. was this guy’s breakout album.
The first real memory I have of seeing Springsteen in action was in the video for the single “Dancing in the Dark.” I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the heavy synth lines in the song were something of a departure from The Boss’s usual guitar rock. I also remember thinking, despite the late-in-the-video heroics of a young Courtney Cox, “Man, this dude can’t dance.” The song was catchy enough, even though I wasn’t wild about the saxophone solo near the end. Yes, I didn’t know who Clarence Clemons was at the time either.
Beyond not knowing my rock history back then, however, I also didn’t really get the song, possibly because I was around 10 years old at the time and thought nobody wrote better songs than Michael Jackson (who, ironically, did not write a large majority of his own songs). The lyrics just didn’t make any sense to me. Something about writing a book and being bored and working as a gun for hire and, naturally, dancing in the dark. I was light years away from being able to decipher what any of that meant.
As a 40-year-old man, though, “Dancing in the Dark” reads a lot like my life some days. “I ain’t nothin’ but tired/Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself.” I don’t know how many times I’ve felt that way about myself in the past several years. “I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.” Yeah, there have been plenty of times where I just wanted to scrap everything about myself and start all over again. What I thought was a goofy pop song as a kid was actually a guy singing about hitting his midlife years and not knowing what in the world to do with himself. He just knew he wanted something. I can relate totally to that now.
I heard this song on the radio last week, and I completely “got it.” I had been working my way up to an understanding of it for the past few years, but it finally clicked. Sometimes these things just take a while, I guess. Now, the dancing and the sax solo? I’m still working on those.