Friday, October 14, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love

 Gave a close listening to this song for the first time last night, concluded it's one of his finest singles. Not that I know all of Springsteen's singles, over the years they've been whatever I happened to hear piped over store sound systems, which is how I knew "Tunnel of Love"  was some kind of hit. I  still have not heard the 1987 album of that name from beginning to end in sequence (the last album  he released in two side LP format).

Four E Streeters play on this song, Roy Bittan on keyboards, Max Weinberg on drums,  Patti Sciafi contributing vocals, &  Nils Lofgren  providing the excellent guitar break. I suspect 80% of  it is Bruce. A meticulously constructed  studio song (hangs together pretty good as a live number). 

Great synth hook that dates it but doesn't  keep it stuck in the era; he carries the amusement ride metaphor all the way through;  the couplet "Then the lights go out and it's just the three of us / You, me and all that stuff we're so scared of" is worthy of Neil Young. Spooky layers of clanks, rumbles & voices in the mix, & the song sounds like something you'd hear blasting out of a boardwalk ride like the Himalaya. "Tunnel of Love" is a sad, mature song about adult relationships, yet connected to a shared American memory of  couple of teenagers on a dark ride at an amusement park or fair. It's a very high expression of Springsteen's art,  tough & unsentimentally romantic, what one always hopes from him, big praise coming from me.

The back story  everyone knows is that his marriage to actress Julianne Phillips wasn't taking. He had also tried to relocate to California.The couple split during the Tunnel of Love Express Tour.  European paparazzi were taking all kinds of cozy pix of Bruce & Patti together. For that tour Bruce had promoted Patti to his main stage companion, pushing Clarence off to the side, & in a video of this song  from the tour the rumored new couple were singing at the same mic, lips 1/4 inch apart, if that far. No wonder Julianne packed up & went home. It was semi-scandalous, but I paid no attention to any of it at the time,

Springsteen's public persona is so complete & protected, even when he's just being "Bruce," that you can't learn much about his personal life from his songs.  This one comes close. Around the same time, 1989, Neil Young woke up from the strange musical dreams he'd been having, & in Freedom & Ragged Glory there was no doubting he had  documented  midlife crises  of love, commitment  & identity in searing personal songs. Their careers have taken parallel paths ever since.

At the end of the video is a melancholy  glimpse of the classic Asbury Park Casino carousel being dismantled, sold off in pieces. The  ferris wheel in background at Palace Amusements had a few years remaining.   The city, wretched as it was in 1987,  had a distance to drop   before hitting the bottom of its long fall.

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