Bruce Springsteen: Darkness And The Artist On Trial

Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town

Recorded in late 1977 through early 1978 and released in late spring of 1978, Bruce Springsteen’s album Darkness On The Edge of Town is a pinnacle of masculine artistic achievement. darknessontheedgeoftown_albThe album explores themes of male emasculation, suffering and redemption, sacrifice, ambition, courage, passion and desire, solitude, soul death, and solemnity. I consider this album the crown jewel of Springsteen’s catalog. It retains all of the fire and thunder of his early years. It captures the desolation and anguish Bruce paid for becoming legally entwined with an inadequate and jealous manager, a lesser man he battled in court for 10 months over commissions, contracts, and legal minutiae. Springsteen went on to become a musical superstar and a major torch bearer of American songwriting. Mark Appel, the former manager, contributed absolutely nothing to the music industry after his legal battle with Springsteen.
The wounds left in Bruce as a result of this legal battle and forced hiatus from recording, as well as the older wounds triggered up by the battle, gave the artist an edge and a determination to survive, live, and thrive by the force of his artistic will. This mix of suffering, grit, and redemption is captured perfectly in Darkness On The Edge of Town.

With Pete Seeger in 1996

Before proceeding, I thought it worth mentioning that as Springsteen has not yet released a substantive autobiography, this essay should be regarded as theoretical and speculative (though I tend to think there’s a good dose of truth in it). It is my contention that had Bruce self-reflected more closely and intimately in the years after his battle with Mark Appel, he would not have so prone to adopt the working class politics he imbibed from populist authors such as John Steinbeck proceeding the Darkness… release and tour and preceding the release of his album Nebraska. Had Springsteen sought repair through psychotherapy instead of the intellectual abstraction of progressive politics and the anti-authoritarian stylings of Pete Seeger and others, he would have confronted the horror and terror of having had a father who loathed his long hair and his guitar and whom sought to influence him as a teen to become a lawyer, a father who sought to destroy his artistic spirit through the lens of legality. Bruce was compelled to repeat this drama as an adult by unconsciously choosing an exploitative and unambitious manager, Mark Appel, who would once again put the artist’s creative soul on trial.

The last song on the album, “Badlands,” approximates most accurately the struggle to cope and survive with another trial on his original voice:

I wanna spit in the face of these…
Badlands, you gotta live it everyday,
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you’ve gotta pay,
We’ll keep pushin’ ’til it’s understood,
And these badlands start treating us good.

Replace the word “badlands” with the word “parents” and we see clearly a young man who was exploited constantly by his parents because of his great musical gifts. I personally relate and sympathize with this man’s experience given my exploitation at the hands of my parents, particularly my mother, for my gifts as a healer. I also had a father who sought to stifle my artistic voice, a man who nurtured secret hopes that I would join the military where “a man would be made” out of me. Springsteen had to fight to preserve his gifts and to retain his original sense of what it meant to become a man in the face of pressure from his parents. More on that in a bit.

Darkness Tour

The Darkness On The Edge of Town years for Springsteen were perhaps his most lucid, as evidenced by the heights of his band’s musical performances during the album’s tour that have long since become rock n’ roll lore, yet no one was the “adult in the room” to witness Bruce’s true plight. There was no true, benevolent father figure to help Bruce grieve the dampening of his childhood brilliance by a judging and somber father. To his credit, Bruce did work to build within himself that benevolent father figure and he did attend some therapy in the late 80’s and early 90’s, perhaps more. With Darkness.., however, his fans and listeners became his witnesses. He bore his soul openly during the album’s tour, saying this during the famous August 9th 1978 Cleveland show at The Agora:

They (parents) said, “You gotta get serious. It’s time that you put that guitar down. It’s okay for a hobby but you’re not gonna get anywhere with that.”

As with any subject that strays near his emotional suffering, Bruce chuckles off the path that leads to grieving and takes up a wild story instead. While the defense is magically charming and has earned Bruce the adoration of millions of listeners (including the fans in attendance that night), the roots of sorrow, anger, and terror remained untouched and unprocessed.

The wild stories of his younger years as a songwriter, stories of innocent players in the free market, have turned into somber stories of working class heroes, immigrants, and outcasts as Bruce has aged. His anger at his father’s profound judgement and betrayal remains ungrieved, hidden behind the chuckle and wink of a gypsy.

With Barack Obama in 2012

In terms of coping mechanisms, what saves us as children kills us adults. Nearly 40 years have now passed since Darkness… was released and one of Bruce’s primary dramas was relived. The coping the man has used to offset the horror of his father’s betrayal has now solidified and twisted its way through his personality. We can see it in his open support of socialist politicians such as Barack Obama and Marxist artists such as Tom Morello. Bruce has been unable to fully process what was done to him in childhood and what he re-enacted as a young adult. He has become a betrayer: of the promise his childhood once held before his father sought to kill his artistry, and the promise his musical career once held (Born To Run held the recipe to the next stage of evolution for rock n’ roll) before Mark Appel dragged him down into a year out of the studio at the fever pitch of his musical vitality. Bruce Springsteen’s politics kill the working class while his music seeks to build it up. The heights of artistic achievement of Born To Run cannot again be reached when there is no middle class left in the USA to support truly vibrant, virtuousic, and full music. Young musicians are not incentivized to practice assiduously and take artistic risks when their parents are on government welfare programs as a result of socialist politics, hardly lifting a finger to set good examples for their children. Bruce remains fundamentally split off from himself and his father’s treachery remains embedded in his personality. He never truly grieved the betrayal and in a certain sense, he has never truly left the courtroom of his childhood. His continued advocacy of progressive politics is our proof.

Senior photo

Darkness On The Edge Of Town bares open the artist’s core wounds for everyone to witness. All of the parts that saved him from his mother and father in the final trial of his musical childhood are in there. It is for this reason I venerate the album and always will. I encourage you to listen closely. Every honest work by an artist allows us to a chance to bear witness. Darkness On The Edge Of Town is the searing of the lightning along the crack that formed on Springsteen’s heart. It is the entrance of corruption into the town of his conscience. He has been trying to go back ever since. His wounded child is seen and loved. May the man find the peace he seeks and put down the banner of statism before it destroys the chances of anyone else reaching what he reached as an artist.

Finding My Voice

After a lot of thought and deliberation, I’ve decided to bring back this website after having it down for nearly a year and a half.

In the last two years I have worked very hard on myself through self-therapy, work with a therapist and also with a supervisor, a Masters in Counseling program that I’m debating taking a leave of absence from, and through self-education in order to offer, as a therapist, a service that is up to my personal and professional standards. This has been a process of digging deep and getting real with myself, getting more serious about the company I keep and how it affects my work as a therapist, delineating boundaries, and developing my character with the structure of steady self-employment. You can see the fruits of this work over at

DSC_3023A big emphasis in my personal work has been on boundaries. Namely, determining what kinds of people I allow into my life, what I share in a particular venue or relationship, and the chosen limits and structure I inhabit in order grow and heal. I’ve seen there are certain boundaries I want to have around serving as a professional in helping others to dismantle their childhood trauma and live their dreams. These boundaries also serve me in my personal work.

Throughout this whole process, I’ve stayed aware that there’s a major institution in the world embodying childhood trauma that routinely crosses my boundaries: government. There is also a whole culture of psychological concepts, doublespeak, misinformation, and denial that surrounds and reinforces the position of the institution. This culture and this institution seek to repeatedly stand in the way of my efforts to become a fully enlivened human being. As a principle, when something or someone crosses my boundaries and seeks to violate me, I respond assertively to contain the wounded inner child of the other party and restore to myself my sanctity.

Ultimately, I think that working on myself to become more honest and fully integrated is the best use of my life’s energy. That being said, there are, at times, byproducts and some downtime that I think I can use to help the world. I’d like to help dismantle government permanently, not through reactivity or by fighting but by advocating for the truth and the True Self in others and myself. I want to give through a personal surplus. After all, my personal work remains.

I’m again taking up the pen name “Steven Summerstone” for the time being. In order to build a therapy practice in my 30’s and sustain myself according to the reality of the current and foreseeable labor market, I will want to keep one foot in the world of convention by using my legal name. I’m sure that at some point in the future the works I produce to serve others as a therapist and the works I put out under a pen name will synthesize beautifully through a deeper calling but for now, I think this will do.

Louie on FX

If you haven’t checked it out already, I would recommend you give a view to a few episodes of Louie on FX. I especially enjoy the show because Louis C.K. has an empathy for children that is unmatched by ANY other show I’ve ever seen, past or present. In one of the most recent episodes of this season (season 4), Louie’s fictional daughter firmly states to her father why she doesn’t want to attend public school any longer. She tells him that the teachers don’t know anything, can’t answer questions of any real substance, refer to the textbook anytime they don’t know anything, and that her peers are much less mature than her. When it comes time for Louie and his ex-wife, who are sitting in a meeting with the school’s principal, to make a decision on the daughter’s future – they instead fiddle with their phones. The lens focuses directly on modern parenting in this show. The writing is subtle, the pacing is excellent, and sometimes I have the suspicion that Louis takes his dreams and turns them into episodes. It is a profound show on many levels.

The Future Of The Human Race

This was written in response to Daniel Mackler’s essay Exploring Some Potential Limits Of Voluntaryism:

Something that is very obvious is that people who act on the part of “government” (I’ll refer to them as “government” for convenience sakes) are the BIGGEST polluters of them all. Millions of tons of mustard gas dumped into the Pacific, hundreds upon hundreds of nuclear detonations, missile strikes that level entire valleys, Agent Orange here in Vietnam (I see mutated humans every week), public works projects that drain marshes and swamps, so on and so forth.
Also, government food relief, welfare, and “back to work” projects take away the natural consequences of having that 2nd, 3rd, or 4th baby. Multi-national and predatory corporations that show up to an economically undeveloped region, pump out all the oil or set up vast fields of government subsidized bananas/wheat/corn/sugar cane/soy bean create temporary jobs that are filled by locals who are suddenly thrust with the financial resources to boost birth rates and lower infantile death rates. These corporations come into existent because of government legislation and shielding from market competition.
People who believe in government and sacrifice their inner truth to serve the flag, anthem, and mother-country are people who were raised abusively by people who were in turn, abused themselves. People who listen to their inner truth, to some degree or another, were given a start on life that was better than the norm. These people become healers, artists, employers, and craftsmen. These people do not participate in government, as a conscious choice, to the degree that is possible for their individual circumstances.

My theory is that the answer to the problems of world overpopulation and environmental destruction will not come from more social programs or corporate efforts. The answers will come from within. Namely, the answers will come from those voluntaryists, anarchists, healers, artists, employers, and craftsmen outside of government who dig deeeeeep within and become true advocates for their inner children. It is these people that will develop the compassion to grasp your concepts, Daniel. These future people represent the unification of sound intellectual methodologies (free market economics) and sound emotive methodologies (compassion, empathy, curiosity, emotional logic).

In short, people who ascribe to free market economics but lack love for their inner child and a powerful connection to their inner truth are missing an essential ingredient. Those that have both -POW!- are the future of the human race.

Repetition Compulsion: Edge Of Tomorrow

Hey All – I shared a perspective on Tom Cruise’s upcoming film –Edge Of Tomorrow– and I thought I would post it here:

The most powerful psychological dynamic of them all is the “repetition compulsion”. It is where we are deeply compelled to repeat something from our traumatic history in order to try and resolve it in the present. It is an impossible proposition.
This film and others like it, Source Code and Groundhog Day most notably, touch upon this core aspect of human experience.

To resolve the repetition compulsion, one must go into their history in a psychotherapeutic mode and heal the original wound.

On a more nerdy level, the book Replay by Ken Grimwood is also in this genre.