In 1978, I was as hardcore a geek/nerd/dweeb as a boy could be. Star Wars had come upon the world, legitimizing those of us who read books with spaceships and monsters on the covers (and got beaten up by our cousins for it, but that’s another blog post). Starlog magazine was hot. TV had The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman and the original Battlestar Galactica. Even music was jumping on the star wagon: Styx had spaceships at the climax of “Come Sail Away” and a Tolkein tribute song on their album Pieces of Eight. Heck, the entire British progressive rock scene owed as much to fantasy literature as it did to rock and roll. The time was right for me to undergo the final metamorphosis into the kind of genre fan and writer who lives, breathes and dreams about spaceships and dragons, lost in a world of imagination and whimsy.
But I was saved at the last minute from this darkness, by Darkness.
Bruce Springsteen’s fourth album appeared in 1978. Prior to this, I knew him primarily from FM radio, which had introduced him via “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” But now I was right there for the new album, and because of it, nothing would be the same.
The music on Darkness is solid and muscular, made up of snarling guitars and surging keyboards. But the lyrics are what make it special, and what made me connect with it. The romantic escape of his prior work is gone, burned out and swept away. Every song is about people trapped in small-town lives, in soul-crushing ennui where dreams no longer matter. Yet in each song is a kernel of something that might be hope.
What really spoke to me were the songs about fathers and sons. By its very title, “Adam Raised a Cain” states its purpose, and musically recreates all those arguments between every dad and every son. “Factory,” which at first seems so slight it might be filler, actually described my own father’s life in painful detail. In fact, for the first time I realized it was possible to make music–and by extension, any kind of art–from someone’s own life. Not in the literal autobiographical sense, but through feelings that everyone understood and experienced, emotions other than the “love/escape/party” music on the radio. Or the “heroic destiny/good vs evil/love conquers all” tropes at the heart of what I read, listened to and watched.
Because of this music, I stayed connected to the world in a way I otherwise might not have, and often against my will. No matter how much I wanted to disappear into the Federation, the Rebellion, Pern or Shannara, the Boss would drag me back. Because I became a long-term Springsteen fan, I couldn’t ignore or escape the real world. And when I began to synthesize the things I loved (horror and fantasy) with this real-world connection, I found my voice as a writer.
This is all fresh in my mind due to the release of The Promise, an exhaustive 3 CD/3 DVD set chronicling the making of the album. But I’d steer anyone interested simply to the album itself. Everything I talk about is there. And if you’re a fan of my books, then you’ll be able to share the moment when I turned onto the path that eventually led to the stories you enjoy.