Song Analysis “Dancing in the Dark” Bruce Springsteen

 

  

 

 

 

This song was written by Bruce Springsteen in 1984.
It’s a great song that I’ve heard many times but never gotten sick of.  I was surprised to hear it tonight on “A Capitol Fourth,” the celebration of Independence Day from Washington D.C. Taylor Hicks performed it but he did it in such an upbeat manner that I think he doesn’t truly understand the song. Also, it seemed very out of place to me in “A Capitol Fourth” alongside such patriotic classics as “This Land is My Land,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song first appeared on Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” album whose title does sound patriotic until you realize that the song “Born in the U.S.A.” is really about a lost man who has nowhere to run. But that’s another song for another time.

 

 

 

I get up in the evening 

And I ain’t got nothing to say 

I come home in the morning

I go to bed feeling the same way

I ain’t nothing but tired

Man I´m just tired and bored with myself

Hey there baby I could use just a little help

 

[It sounds like the character works third shift in a factory. It’s a dead-end job that wears him out. He’s frustrated and has no one to listen to him.] 

  

-Chorus- You can’t start a fire

 You can’t start a fire without a spark

 This gun’s for hire

Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

[When a relationship starts, people speak of “sparks flying.” I think that’s what he’s talking about. He wants someone new in his life. He sees himself as a tough guy. The phrase “hired gun” is synonymous with mercenary, a man who fights for anyone with the cash to pay him. As for “dancing in the dark,” I go back and forth about the meaning of this. I’m inclined to say he’s talking about sex. But the word “just” makes that seem wrong because people rarely say, “we’re just having sex.” It’s quite possible that he’s literally talking about two people moving to the music in a shadowy room.]

Message keeps getting clearer

Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place

I check my look in the mirror

I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face

Man I ain’t getting nowhere just living

In a dump like this

There’s something happening somewhere

Baby I just know that there is

[He’s expressing dissatisfaction with his life. He focuses on the superficial – his clothes, his hair, and his face. But his problems are not just skin deep. He realizes that he’s not achieving anything – he’s “getting nowhere.” The line, “There’s something happening somewhere,” recalls to me a classic American quote by H.L. Mencken, “Puritanism – the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” He knows that a better life than the one he is living is possible but he doesn’t know how to make it happen.]

-Chorus-

You sit around getting older

There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me

I’ll shake this world off my shoulder

Come on baby the laugh’s on me

[These lines are pretty self-explanatory. He’s getting older and he feels like his life is a joke.]

Stay on the streets of this town

And they’ll be carving you up all right

They say you gotta stay hungry

Hey baby I’m just about starving tonight

I’m dying for some action

I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write

This book

I need a love reaction

Come on now baby gimme just one look

[Clearly the speaker lives in a rough neighborhood as those on the streets are being assaulted. The part on staying hungry suggests to me self-help gurus who say that to succeed, you must have ambition and desire. I’ve read that some people think this song is about someone struggling to write a hit tune. If that is true, I wonder why the lyrics say “write / This book” and not “write / This song.” But how often do working-class men in rough neighborhood write novels? The character seems more like the type that would write a song rather than a book. But nowadays just about anyone can write a book – no offense to any struggling writers out there.]

You can’t start a fire sitting ’round crying

Over a broken heart

This gun’s for hire

Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

You can’t start a fire worrying about

Your little world falling apart

This gun’s for hire

Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

Even if we’re just dancing in the dark…

[The new bit here is where he says, “You can’t start a fire worrying about/ Your little world falling apart.” I think he’s talking about how love has the potential to turn your whole life upside-down. He’s saying that you can’t start a relationship if you’re afraid of changing the world around you. The song is about being stuck in a rut, feeling hopeless, and looking to love as the answer.]

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  1. #1 by julius on August 26, 2009 - 4:35 pm

    I’d like some feedback on this, because it’s a pet theory of mine. I believe this song is meant to suggest the thoughts of a male gigolo, who is probably scraping by, not

    Coming home in the morning, bored with myself. ****This gun’s for hire, even if we’re just dancing in the dark.***** I want to change my clothes my hair my face, living in a dump like this.

    Maybe “dancing” around the concept? Even if it wasn’t written by Bruce with this interpretation in mind, i think it works for mine. Lemme know.

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