How Dancing in the Dark Saved My Life – Another Misunderstood Song by Bruce Springsteen
Dancing in the Dark, a life saver? How can this light upbeat hit song Dancing in the Dark can lives? Out of Bruce Springsteen’s song catalog, many fans would replace this song with a rarity, rather than hearing it on every concert. To explain how much this song means to me. It’s not an easy task.
For me it’s really hard to be an open person. It’s something I want to learn. I want to break the emotional silence. Reason for this follows later on. I never thought I would write this article. But I had to get this off my chest. This is a very personal autobiographical blog post, but it will tell you why Dancing in the Dark is one of the most important songs of my life. This is the story how I rediscovered Bruce Springsteen’s music. I rarely share anything about my personal life, whenever it’s on the Internet or face to face. But now I can do it somewhat “anonymously” to my fellow Bruce Springsteen fans.
Short answer is the typical “I went through hard times”, and the song helped me. But that doesn’t explain much. It doesn’t include the depth of hard times, or what type of hard times I was dealing with. If you are curious how the song Dancing in the Dark “saved my life”, then there is some reading ahead. We have to start from the beginning.
I was born in Finland in 1981. My first introduction to the Springsteen’s music was, when the Born in the USA album came out. My father said it was my favorite album back then. It was also the album that taught me how to flip and play a cassette tape. I played that tape over and over again. In 1990, I wrote that Bruce Springsteen in one of my favorite artists on a school assignment, where we had to write a short bio of ourselves. Early 90’s we’ll also got the CD version. I made fairly well in elementary school. Before my high school years I was a chill, relaxed and a funny person, who was highly positive about the future, and curious to learn new things. I did occasionally get bullied thanks to my front teeth (rabbit, bunny, beaver…). OK. “laugh’s on me”. It was a big deal for me back then. In a second and third grade I did hold a hammer occasionally at home and ready knock those front teeth broken. Thankfully my teeth evened before high school.
High School – The Horror Begins:
It was all about to change in high school (1995-1997). I have no recollection from the first days. All I know, that suddenly I’ve found myself surrounded by dozens of bullies daily. I didn’t even know those people! All total strangers. In high school there was absolutely no reason why I got picked. Reason would have helped me to deal with the situation (in my head), no matter how small, big or ridiculous the reason was. The level of bullying is still beyond me. On the way to school I was bullied, in school I was bullied, way to home I was bullied and in free time…You’ve got the pattern. Outside of our house, I lived in a constant horror everyday. I didn’t want to leave our house alone. I even had notes on my school schedule on which door is safe(r) to use and go into our school. If I missed the bullies on the way to school, they certainly were waiting me there. I wanted to be invisible.
I don’t have many good memories from those school days. Most of the time, I’ve escaped from the real world, and lived in a bubble in my room. That bubble was music. It was the only place I felt safe. Music transferred me to totally a new world. Now that I think of; “Was it on a healthy level?”. I don’t know. It shaped me a lot, and later I would eat, sleep, and breath music. And of course playing video games.
If there had been no music that would tame my anger and hate. I don’t know what I would have ended up doing. Nowadays I would fit a profile of a possible school shooter. Suicide wasn’t an option. Well, I did often though about it, but I wouldn’t want give them that satisfaction. I didn’t do wrong, they did. Wish I’d knew the line; “It’s a town full of losers. I’m pulling out of here to win” back then.. Born to Run was an unknown album for me at the time.
I wasn’t listening Bruce Springsteen at all in those high school years. It was all about punk and loud heavier stuff to make me numb: Offspring, Bad Religion, AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine…and only one lighter band; The Presidents of the USA, which took me to this creative, fun and goofy world. Kinda reminder that the funny kid that I used to be, is still hidden there somewhere. Of course I didn’t tell about this band to no one. It would give them a reason to bully more. It’s still one of my Top 3 bands of all time, which I listen regularly. Like in the movie “Happy Gilmore”, it transfers me into that “happy place”. We all need a reminder who we are, and music is a great tool. Works for me!
Music wasn’t always the only thing I liked. I was also a very talented football goalkeeper. I’ve practiced with small a group of other talented goalkeepers. There were some of the best goalkeepers from a county. There was a national team goalies, and then there was me, a young kid who dreamed about hitting big one day. Before high school I loved football. It was also about to turn worse. Slowly I felt like I was a robot that had to do what other people told me to do. I continued few years for an obligation to my father who paid all the expenses, and had high hopes. I didn’t want to let him down. I wasn’t living my dream anymore, I was living his dream. To be a professional athlete, you’ll need to have a high confidence level, passion and motivation. I’ve didn’t have them all. There was a reason for this. Balancing between the horror in school, and a professional training finally ripped me apart. It wasn’t me anymore. When I was 15 or 16 it was time to quit. It was hard to say no to authorities. Years later the song Glory Days was one of the soundtracks of my life. There is more to that, but that’s another painful story for another time.
School left a big mark on me. All the verbal abuse, kicks, punches, stalking, people throwing me with things. All these shaped me into very cautious, insecure, privacy first, person who never trusted no one. High walls, emotional blocks…List is endless. I didn’t became a stronger person, like when reading other people’s experiences about surviving from school bullying. Maybe I just wasn’t bullied enough. Some people forgive, but I will never forgive what they did to me, they’ve stole my teenage years, and a big part of adulthood. I’m still dealing with that stuff everyday. More about my bullied life can be found here.
Today I’m honest, keep my word, kind, joke a lot (gets me out of unwanted things), come along with pretty much with everybody, setting everyone else first, always willing to help (still learning to say no, it really can be a burden), got a little of that self-confidence back… So, you don’t think that there is a total mess behind the screen.
Where is the Dancing in the Dark “Saved Me” part?
I’m slowly getting there. When the high school ended in the summer of 1997. I was happy for a while. No more horror. I can finally live rest of my teenage years. I went to a trade school. Fresh start. Well, that’s what I thought it’s going to be. It was the first morning that I noticed, that the same bunch of bullies were there too! Like they’ve been waiting me all that time. Did they all want to study the same line? Jesus…I wasn’t prepared for this at all. I only lasted three days there, and then I’ve quit. There was no way in hell I would return there. After the high school, there was no legal obligations anymore. So, it was time to find something else.
What I didn’t known, was the darkness and void that followed soon after. One would thought you’d be finally free, after all those years. At least in school I knew what the next day was going to be. I was on a constant survival mode. That’s what I got used to. When you could finally put that shield down, you’ll notice that you are also totally alone. Zero friends, no future, nothing but absolutely loneliness and emptiness waiting. Who is going to miss me…Nobody.
It was time to find a relief from a music again. This time the same music that kept me on that survival mode wouldn’t help. It was time to discover something new. I’ve had the Born in the USA CD in my music collection all those years, but I never touched it. It was time see what it had to offer. It was something I needed to listen. Why I did pick just THAT album. Guidance? Divine intervention?
I’m no religious person. I believe in karma, and that things happens for a reason, and I think “The Golden Rule”: “Treat others how you want to be treated” is an universal thing (like a common sense line). At least I hope it is. In Finland we have to pay a tax to be a part of the church. I don’t think “a club membership” should be required to determine, whenever you are going to heaven or not. No place for you, you didn’t pay your membership!
I still remember listening the Born in the USA album in my room. Reading the lyrics from a booklet, and not skipping one single song. There was just something that touched me in a good way. Maybe because it was from the better part of my childhood era. Listening all those tracks with a smile on my face. Born in the USA album got my system going. It was a long time since I felt so good!
Dancing in the Dark – The Most Important Track:
It was the Dancing in the Dark that touched my soul the most. When it got to the part:
“I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face”
I rewinded to that part over and over and over again. There is someone who have felt the same way! That’s still the most strongest lyric written, if you ask me. Since that day I listened to Bruce Springsteen daily. Lost soul looking for a guidance. It was time to seek all of his albums, and later all the bootlegs. Bootlegs are my dead sea scrolls.
Time to start a new chapter. Got a job at age of 16, started to collect music and and video games, later finding the Bruce Springsteen message boards (SPL and Greasylake), places where other fanatics would meet online. Some people find god, some people find Bruce Springsteen. I’ve seen the light! It had been there on my CD collection all time time. I’ve just didn’t know where to look at.
In different situation, and time. Would I have become a big Bruce Springsteen fan? I doubt it
Darkness, Night and the Struggle
In many times artists have used their best songwriting/creativity juice in their first few albums. Maybe it’s the level of success gained. Hunger has gone. With Bruce that didn’t happen with his first two albums. According to Bruce, it was early 80’s since he had the financial status on the positive side. Lack of money was the only struggle.
Struggle is one of the key terms within Bruce Springsteen’s music. In the Born to Run autobiography we got the answer about that struggle. No amount of fame or money will remove that struggle from you, if you suffer from a depression. You can usually live with the depression, but it will never leave you. It’s always lurking, waiting for the right moment. Bruce channeled his personal struggle to his music. Dancing in the Dark is a perfect example of this. It including the holy trinity of themes: Darkness, night and the struggle.
Dancing in the Dark: Song Out of Thin Air
I don’t believe the crap that this Bruce created this track, because a hit song was needed. It’s just a part of the story. What I think it was a great cover story, press wouldn’t ask if there was an autobiographical meaning behind this song. All the sugarcoat, and happy upbeat backing track left the true meaning behind. Why would Bruce Springsteen, the man at the top have such feelings. That’s what happens, when your struggle, proving all night has reached the point when there is no reason left to prove anything to anyone, anymore.
Bruce is known to have scrapbooks filled with lyrics and thousands of unfinished songs on a tape. For me Dancing in the Dark is a collection of his best lines taken here and there. Barebone of the song had to be there. It could be from the Nebraska era, if you ask me.
You can’t sing a line like “I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face” without truly meaning it. I think the line is most powerful on the studio version. We all had those “I wish I could be someone else” moments, but to reach that point, and tell the whole world about it; You’ve had it for a long time. You wanted it out from your system. What’s a better way that let it be, just a one line on a “lighter” song.
The official video of the Dancing in the Dark doesn’t really deliver the message. There is Bruce with his goofy dance moves, and young Courteney Cox joins the stage. All happy, smiling and dancing. What is this song really about? A house party?
With acoustic version, the focus is more on the lyrics:
Endless Seek for a Normal Life
There are an endless count of songs by Bruce that sets the scene at night. I can relate to that. When you are seeking for that normal life, that “you should have”. You’ll spend your day feeling like you should be like everyone else. Start a family, get a 9 to 5 job. Find your place in a society. Be somebody from morning to evening. Prove your worth to everyone. All that outside pressure builds in your head. I call it “an invisible claimant”. We all have it. It never gets satisfied. Some people have it worse than others.
It doesn’t help when other people ask about when your are going to get a job, education, kids, getting a girlfriend, getting married, why don’t you have a car…. Don’t be that person that build the pressure to others. We all have our own path to discoverer. I’d became a master of dodging questions, I hated all sort gatherings. I didn’t want to answer a single personal question. If I did, I only gave them pleasing answers.
At night, you’ll feel more alive. You can be at home and be creative without pressure. You can go outside and be anonymous, masked in the dark. You can do pretty much anything without feeling guilty. Night opens endless opportunities. You are no longer trapped, and feel the building pressure. It’s a stunning feeling as long at it last. Next morning the cycle begins again. Endless wait for another night. It’s suffocating. At night you got all figured out. You’ll leave this place for good. You’ll have the confidence. Every single night in my teenage years I kept saying I’ll leave this small town forever when I’m older. That took me 20 years to finally do it.
“Man I’m just tired and bored with myself / Hey there baby, I could use just a little help”
That’s what you seek. Thinking that it will cure all the things. It’s a temporal solution. That is what you feel that you’ll need to do. Go out, like other people do. That’s the invisible claimant talking directly to you again.
One Song Can Literally Change Your Life
All that from the one song only! When making this blog post I did some research about the song. To my surprise Dancing in the Dark is his most played song on Spotify. I was sure it was going to be Born in the USA. Song must have been felt in universal level. There is also a nice “analysis” of the song on the songmeanings.com (here’s the article). I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the same way about the song.
Not bad from a person who end up deleting most of the written text. In school I barely managed to write a one handwritten page. I always used big letters, extra long spacing and stretched words, just to barely write the minimum amount. Kids take a notice!
My wife always asks why I leave stuff unpublished, and keep pressing the delete button all the time? It’s my lack of confidence. What if people laugh at me? What if I’m not good enough? Do I get bullied online? Yes, the wounds are deep.
My high school English teacher told me that I was a hopeless case. No amount of remedial instruction would have helped me. I’m sure she was right at the time. I couldn’t learn anything. I wasn’t in a shape of learning anything. I hardly did any homework, I was too busy blasting music and leave the real world behind. I felt like there was no point for homework. Music was the only thing that mattered back then.
“We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school”
My English education came purely from music, video games and later from movies. That’s why my English is not perfect. School wasn’t my place. You can see plenty of music references and endless song titles on this blog post. Like I said, that’s where my English comes from.
Thanks for reading all that!
PS. Of course the teenage me would like to send this to Bruce Springsteen, but I’m sure he is getting letters like this everyday.
Brucetapes admin is a huge Bruce Springsteen (obviously) and a music fan from Finland. Also marketing his favorite natural store iherb everywhere, avid coffee drinker. Every blog post requires plenty of coffee. What else... Message Board lurker on Stony Pony London, Backstreets (BTX), Greasylake....