1.”Tunnel Of Love”
“It ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough”
But it’s not.
What do you do when you achieve your dream, become the biggest star in the world, become embraced by the mainstream as well as your hardcore fans?
You go inside, you try to save yourself as you’re falling apart.
You think you want to win the lottery, but it ruins lives. Suddenly all your friends are looking for a handout, you can’t hang at the local bar, too often you die or go broke.
But it’s even harder for a rock star, because everybody’s watching.
“Born In The U.S.A.” was made for everybody, “Tunnel Of Love” was made for Bruce. It could not be as successful as what came before, but the only way out of the dilemma is forward. It’s tempting to rest on your laurels, your peak, but you can’t. You have to risk losing. And Springsteen was never as popular again.
And for some reason, the focus back then and still now was the initial single, “Brilliant Disguise”, and “One Step Up”, whereas from the very first moment I thought the killer was the title track.
It sounds like the carnival, you feel like you’re on a roller coaster, and ain’t that what love is like? You may be married, you may own a house, you may have children, but it could all fall apart in a day. Sometimes you’re up, you feel in control, and then you’re helpless.
“The lights go out and it’s just the three of us
You me and all that stuff we’re so scared of”
I’ve never been confident in love. Fearful of being aggressive, I don’t make a move and either they get frustrated or were never into me to begin with, it doesn’t happen.
Then, sometimes they’re not impatient, they wait for me to become comfortable…and I stay with that person for years.
How much can you tell, what can you say?
Bob Dylan is still fearful of revealing his hopes and dreams. He doesn’t want to be put down, doesn’t want to be made fun of.
And neither do I.
But Springsteen reveals a vulnerability Dylan never has. Dylan is the omniscient observer, Springsteen is still the guy from the back of class who didn’t make trouble but you never hung with. He still wants in. Except he doesn’t. He wants acceptance. On his terms. But will the world ever play on his terms?
“There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark brother
It’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love”
Ain’t that the truth.
I thought we’d stay married forever, like my parents, I can hang on through the bad parts, but she couldn’t.
I didn’t foresee it. The ride got rough when I wasn’t prepared.
I got thrown from the car.
2. “Human Touch”
“Lucky Town” is a better album.
I understand the construct completely. You get the juices flowing, you get hot, then you can do better work. And everybody’s telling you to only release what’s great. But it’s all yours, you’ve lost perspective, you put it all out.
And it turns out to be a mistake. The public is overloaded, people move on.
But the real story was people were pissed that Bruce jettisoned the E Street Band. They don’t want you to grow. But if Peter Gabriel never left Genesis imagine what we’d have lost.
“Human Touch” is one of my favorite songs, I played it incessantly in the nineties. It gave me hope. I threw it in the CD player and cranked it so loud the whole neighborhood knew I was open for love. Not confident, but still ready.
And maybe that’s why every woman I quoted the lyrics to never wanted anything to do with me.
Yes, I went through an online dating phase. Well, very little dating, just plenty of IM’ing and phone sex. It was a halfway house, for the losers, the broken, it got me ready for real life. But somehow, whenever I told a woman I was looking for a little of that human touch it stopped conversation cold. I guess it was just too honest.
“Human Touch” is not a ditty. It’s not concise. It’s the story of a man who’s been through pain and wants back in, because life is not meant to be lived alone. Sure, people get scared and fly solo, but it’s no fun. Open your heart. It only takes one.
And when the song breaks down four and a half minutes in and Bruce exclaims, it’s positively primal. We’re so frustrated, so needy, so complicated, it’d be easier if we were animals with tiny brains with little intellectual capacity and few feelings.
But we’re not.
But we still need skin on skin.
3. “Streets Of Philadelphia”
Now that I’m invited to screenings I don’t want to go.
Ain’t that how it always is. When you finally get what you want it’s meaningless.
But almost twenty years ago, when the movies still meant something, I was invited to a screening of “Philadelphia” and went.
This was before the Internet, before it was public knowledge that Springsteen did the title track.
The movie ends, you’re at loose ends, and this track begins and you feel soothed, like someone else has been there, feels what you do.
Springsteen had fallen from his peak. The audience had moved on. He was decried for his romantic choices. And when no one expected it, he created a masterpiece.
The movie has been forgotten. People go to see Springsteen for the joy, to remember the eighties. But it’s the haunting introspective stuff that truly lives on, that gets under your skin. As great as “Jungleland” is, at this point I’d much rather hear Bruce sing “The Streets Of Philadelphia”. Bring back my lost decade of the nineties as opposed to the eighties.
4. “Downbound Train”
I’m not a big fan of “Born In The U.S.A.” I love the title track, I’ve never quite burned out on “Dancing In The Dark”, but “Bobby Jean” makes me wince and “Glory Days” makes me want to punch somebody. The whole album is just too obvious.
And then there’s “Downbound Train”. It was closer to “Nebraska” than this album.
“I had a job, I had a girl
I had something going in this world”
And then it was done.
I ended it. Although we both threatened to. But you never quite get over your first relationship. You wonder, should you have hung in there, loneliness never felt this bad.
Even though by time this record came out I was just months away from finding the one…for that time, anyway.
When the track breaks down and you hear the desperation and the loss…
“Last night I heard your voice
You were crying, crying, you were so alone
You said your love had never died”
Does love ever truly die? I have a friend who believes it lasts forever. The light fades, but it never goes completely out. How many times have I waited for someone to come back and say her love had never died…
5. “Candy’s Room”
This was always my favorite from “Darkness At The Edge Of Town”. Because deep inside, I believe if someone just knew the real me, they’d believe in me, they’d love me. The confidence resonates.
When I was working for Sanctuary Music, Rod Smallwood bought a house above the Sunset Strip that Peter Sellers had purchased and never moved into, he died first. I was the majordomo, Rod could barely be there because of tax implications. He told me to furnish it, to buy the stereo. And I labored over each component. And the night my ex-wife came over for our first date I took her into the living room, didn’t bother turning on the lights and cranked this.
Originally it was only available on one of those mini-CDs, another failed format.
Sure, it’s a Jimmy Cliff song, but Bruce nails it, he makes it his own.
Springsteen played the L.A. Coliseum for a week, it was sold out every night, and that’s 100,000 tickets a show. I didn’t want to go, I’d seen him at the Bottom Line. In ’74, a year before “Born To Run”. It all seemed sacrilegious. But a friend laid a free ticket on me that turned out not to be free and we got there late and we could hear Bruce playing “Trapped” from outside the stadium.
And speaking of Jimmy Cliff, see “The Harder They Come”, it’s been unnecessarily forgotten. “Trapped” is not on the soundtrack, but “Sitting Here In Limbo” is…which should never be forgotten.
7. “Spirit In The Night”
I bought “Greetings From Asbury Park” because of the reviews. I didn’t quite get it, but loved this and “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”.
My friend had a fixation with a minister’s daughter. We drove through two states in hundred degree weather to see her. And around midnight we got in my mother’s Cutlass in search of a lake she knew.
And having seen the Woodstock movie I had no problem with removing my clothes, but when she took off hers in the beams of that Oldsmobile my adrenaline pumped and the following line went through my brain:
“Well Billy slammed on his coaster brakes and said anybody wanna go on up to Greasy Lake”
They used to have these shows at Anaheim Stadium. Not only the Stones, but tripleheaders like this one, with Fleetwood Mac, Loggins & Messina and the Faces. And while I was high on some concoction my sister’s boyfriend had cooked up and brought inside in a thermos there was a riot, the kids went on to the field, which was verboten. And during this experience the music playing over the PA was “Spirit In The Night”. It was surreal.
So I graduated from college.
Actually, it felt like I escaped. Middlebury wanted to kick you in the ass before you got out. But I was finally free. And had no idea what to do with myself.
In my final semester I’d purchased “The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle”, because I always gave acts two albums, and it became my favorite. The music was no longer Dylanesque, there was a whole band. They didn’t get the production quite right for another year, but it was all there, this was the beginning.
And Springsteen, long before he was known as “The Boss”, was playing the Bottom Line.
I took my little sister’s hand, got behind the wheel of my ’63 Chevy, and took off for Greenwich Village. I worried about my tight parking spot, despite the car’s ancient age, and then walked the few blocks to the Bottom Line.
At 5 PM.
We were first in line.
We were schvitzing. I was wearing a Gant shirt that Elton John ended up wearing on the cover of an album, and we were the first people in when they opened the doors.
Which begged the question where to sit.
If we were right next to the stage, and the table went that far, it was adjoining, we might not get all the sound, but we’d earned the spot, so we ended up compromising and sitting in seats three and four dead center and eating salad out of plastic containers and waiting for…
To say the band killed would be an understatement. There were so many players squeezed on this tiny stage, they weren’t doing it for the money but the show, there could never be enough money to make it all work.
And they played my favorites. The tracks from the first album came alive.
And then Bruce said he was going to play a new song, which is usually cause to wince, but it was JUNGLELAND!
Sure, there might have been some insiders who’d heard it, but there was no press, no one really cared about Bruce Springsteen and I’m sitting there TRANSFIXED!
You can be closed with one song, in one night.
And what I loved so much was that he sang about the giant Exxon sign. It’d been Esso until just moments before. But Bruce Springsteen was no longer looking back, but forward, this was something new. It was not the Beatles, it was not British, it was the ooze of suburbia, it was closer to me.
The Jungleland of the seventies has dissipated. The Mafia and the gangs have been beaten down. There’s a camera everywhere, do something illegal and you end up in jail. Now the crimes are all in the mind. We live in an era of chaos. There are no poets anymore, they’ve all sold out to the corporations. We’ve got no one to believe in, no one unsullied by the man.
But back then, we had plenty.
A year later everybody knew who Bruce Springsteen was.
And ten years later he went on a monumental victory lap.
I still love the records, but I don’t want to go. Because of the audience. They want to calcify Bruce, prevent him from growing, and this is the worst thing for an artist. Once you start giving people what they want, you’re screwed.
I don’t care if he breaks up the E Street Band. I don’t want to see him talking to TV heads. I want him to sing from the heart. What it’s like to be an alienated fuck who plays his way and wins. What did Tom Petty say, even the losers get lucky sometimes?
Bruce Springsteen got lucky.
That’s a lie.
He worked real hard. He never compromised. He did it his way.
He was a rock star.
I don’t know if we can ever have rock stars again. Too much has transpired. But we need a leader, not a parking meter. You see Bruce never belonged to all of us, just some of us. Those who knew loss more than victory. Who needed music to get by.
And when I need to get by I play these songs.