In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter what The Promise means to Bruce Springsteen — doesn’t matter beyond trivia. Like all great songs, all great art, it only matters what it means to the person who accepts it. Springsteen did not put The Promise on Darkness, though for a while he played it at clubs. Then he stopped doing that too. By the time he released it in 1999 on 18 Tracks — the first version I first heard — it was a different song, more wistful, less bitter, more sad, less rebellious, all piano. And now, more than 30 years later, Bruce Springsteen releases an album of those songs that he recorded and left by the side of the road while making Darkness. There is the bar song “Rendezvous” and his raw version of “Because The Night” and the upbeat (if disturbing) “Fire” and a remarkable rock version of “Racing In The Streets” that sounds like it belongs on Born To Run (In this version, the car is a Ford, with a 383 — probably a Mercury Marauder Engine from the late 1950s). Springsteen is 61 now and he writes now that these songs are like old friends.
Joe Posnanski, “America’s best baseball writer”, has written a fabulous piece on his blog about what The Promise and Darkness on the Edge of Town mean to him. It’s a really moving and heartwarming personal post, and it’s one of the best things I have ever read about Bruce’s music and the way it touches so many different people’s lives. Don’t miss it.