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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, December 09, 2005

dancing in the dark

An unusual evening post for me: I find myself down in my office, and Kimmie and Robin are out for the evening at Seymour's Pub with their niece/cousin Lisa. I've had my leftover beef stew and wine; and now I'm into my second juice-glass of scotch.

I have Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" running through my head. It was the song playing on the radio when I switched it on this morning upon rising from my mattress in the predawn dark (I turned up the heat, shut the window, and turned on the heat in the ensuite bathroom--chores Kimmie usually sees to, scurrying to do them then plunging back into the warmth of the covers to regain lost body-heat). Like many songs, it took me back to a specific place and time: in this case, spring 1984 and my first solo living quarters in a the basement suite of a Greek family living on the West Side just off of King Edward Avenue. I would come home from my evening shifts as a clerk at ICBC, it would be midnight or so, pour myself a juice-glass of whisky much like the one I'm drinking right now, switch on my only entertainment device, a transistor radio, and read a book or write a letter. I listened to CKLG, then still a Top 40 AM station, while reading, for example, CIA Diary by Philip Agee--a research book for my writing, just as I do now.

One of the most-played songs when I first moved in to that dark little suite (the narrow living-room had no windows of its own; only a window in the entrance door a few steps below ground level) was "Dancing in the Dark". According to the Songfacts website, this was the last song Springsteen wrote for his Born in the USA album, and the song itself describes his frustration at trying to write a song that would please people--be a hit. Perhaps ironically, the song itself was a hit--the first of seven on the album--and won Springsteen his first Grammy.

I didn't know all that then. I knew that Springsteen was one of the hottest things in music, a huge star. I also knew that his path to stardom had been not straightforward, since I was around back in 1976 or so when Rolling Stone had proclaimed him to be the "future of rock and roll", after which he disappeared for eight years. In 1984, as I sat in my dim basement livingroom, drinking and reading, I enjoyed the song; and its strange mixture of upbeat tempo and haunting musical and lyrical ideas seemed to express the flavor of that time: a solitary, anxious time for me--but a time of promise as well.

Now, this morning, the song was there again. I felt again the solitude and promise of that time, moving through the dark of my bedroom, again wondering whether I myself will be able to create something that will please people.

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