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The Late Movies: Dancing in the Dark

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"Dancing in the Dark" was a huge hit for Bruce Springsteen in 1984. Its music video, directed by Brian DePalma, featured a young Courteney Cox -- in a live performances of the song, the video showed Springsteen inviting Cox onstage for a quick dance. This pattern repeated in virtually all future performances of the song, with female fans being brought onstage during the sax solo (and yeah, you know the "Dancing in the Dark" dance -- don't pretend you don't). Twenty-five years after the iconic video premiered, Springsteen brought his mom onstage for the dance, and we can presume she's his biggest fan.

Although most people assume "Dancing in the Dark" is a simple love song (based on its uptempo performance and famous video), the song was actually borne out of frustration over the business of writing an album. Springsteen's manager/producer Jon Landau felt that the Born in the USA album was incomplete, because it didn't include a clear hit song. Indeed, although "Born in the USA," "Glory Days," and "I'm on Fire" ended up being successful songs, "Dancing in the Dark" was a major chart success and won Springsteen a Grammy. Anyway, Landau and Springsteen argued over the issue, and Springsteen relented, writing "Dancing in the Dark" as the final song for the album. Here are some sample lyrics, apparently describing Springsteen's mood as he penned Landau's requested "hit":

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 ...

Messages keep gettin' clearer, radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place.
I check my look in the mirror: wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!
Man I ain't gettin' nowhere, just livin' in a dump like this.
There's something happening somewhere. Baby, I just know that there is...

You sit around getting older; there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me.
I'll shake this world off my shoulders; come on baby, the laugh's on me.
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 around here trying to write
this book.
I need a love reaction. Come on baby, gimme just one look.

Sounds like a classic frustrated writer to me. "Sitting around here trying to write this book" indeed! Below, I've collected some of my favorite versions of this classic song. Enjoy, and post your favorites in the comments.

Amy MacDonald (2009)

If you haven't heard of Amy MacDonald, you're missing out. In this version, she has changed at least her hair, if not her clothes and face. (Incidentally, here's Springsteen performing at the same concert, though the video quality is awful. "Dancing in the Dark" starts around 1:57.)

Tegan and Sara (2005)

This is a nice acoustic version; also worth checking out: this version with Matt Sharp of Weezer (including extensive intro) and this rockin' live version.

Ted Leo (2007)

Live, solo, at Bumbershoot in Seattle. Hardcore. See also: this slightly muffled version.

The Shadows (1986)

Now this is the 80's I remember.

Big Daddy (1985)

Complete with "Moody River" piano, this is effectively a 50's ballad style rewrite of the song.

Mat Kearney (2008?)

See also this live version, a bit more uptempo.

Naked Brothers Band (2000-something)

It gets surprisingly rocky, though they're not entirely credible singing about aging just yet.

Uni (2008)

Live in Finland.

Arcade Fire (Date Unknown)

Incomplete video, sort of a half-medley with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Wow.

Bruce Springsteen (1984), Original Video

Compare this to the following live performance video.

Bruce Springsteen (1984)

Live in Toronto. Awesome.

Post Your Favorites

Got a favorite "Dancing in the Dark" or other Springsteen cover? Post a link in the comments! See also, yesterday's Late Movies: The Late Movies: Happy Birthday, Clarence Clemons! (Clemons is the sax player in The E Street Band.) Apparently it's turning into Springsteen Week here.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.


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