Underrated and Overlooked #5: “Tunnel of Love” by Bruce Springsteen

October 11, 2012


Wow. So as I decided to do this, I began paging through my archives to link to the previous installments of this thread and discovered that I haven’t done one of these in over three years.  So if you click here, you can read my installment on “Beautiful Midnight” by the Matthew Good Band and from there you can find links to the previous three posts. There are a lot of these I’ve had in mind, so maybe I won’t wait 3 or 4 years before adding another one. So here goes, today’s pick is Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen.

(Verse 1) I remember how rough your hand felt on mine/ On my wedding day/ And the tears cried on my shoulder/ I couldn’t turn away/ Well so much has happened to me/ That I don’t understand/ All I can think of is being five years old following behind you at the beach/ Tracing your footprints in the sand/ Trying to walk like a man 

(Verse 3) Well now the years have gone and I’ve grown/ From that seed you’ve sown/ But I didn’t think there’d be so many steps/ I’d have to learn on my own/ Well I was young and I didn’t know what to do/ When I saw your best steps stolen from you/ Now I’ll do what I can/ I’ll walk like a man/ And I’ll keep on walkin’

– “Walk Like a Man”

Those may be my favorite lyrics in all of popular music. I can’t hear them without crying half the time, and even typing them almost causes the same reaction. I instantly think of my father’s death when I was 16 and then also of my own wedding day years later. I think of beach trips with my father and the sense that I’ve sought hard to figure things out for 10  years on now often by what seems like hit and miss guessing when it comes to figuring out this thing called life. There are great lyrics all over Tunnel of Love. There’s: “They say if you die in your dreams you really die in your bed/ But honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled back in my head/ And God’s light came shinin’ on through/ I woke up in the darkness scared and breathin’/ and born anew” which goes on only to get better by the line in “Valentine’s Day.” There’s “tonight our bed is cold/ I’m lost in the darkness of our love/ God have mercy on the man/ Who doubts what he’s sure of” from “Brilliant Disguise.” All over Tunnel of Love Springsteen seems to display a fully honed sense of lyricism, a poetic gift that displays utterly relatable and universal emotions even if the situations are not all exactly like our own. It’s his most personal songwriting ever; he’d been much darker on Nebraska, he’d been more grandiose and epic on Born to Run, more stadium channeling on Born in the USA, quirkier on Greeting from Asbury Park, NJ, etc. Yet he’d never been introspective. Certainly there are stories here, characters–from the abandoned wife and deadbeat dad Janey and Bobby of “Spare Parts,” or the “fear” and “love” tatooed Bill Horton of “Cautious Man.” But even these characters seem to bear a large part of Springsteen’s character itself. Maybe so did the colorful folks racing cars and staging last stands  on songs like “Jungleland,” but where those seemed like Kerouc meets Tolkien heroes and villains, these seem more everyday and in the moment neighbors.

If I look in my play count lists in i-tunes, there aren’t a lot of ticks for Tunnel of Love, at least not compared to a record like Darkness on the Edge of Town. And although it was one of the earliest Springsteen albums I owned since I found it on CD at a pawn shop when I first got into his music, I quickly began playing Born to Run and the like much more as I discovered them. Yet since I picked it up on vinyl 10 years ago at a record shop in college, I’ve lost count of how many times this has been on my turntable. I pulled it off the shelf again the other night for the first time in a year or more, playing it and taking it in, drawn to it possibly because of my fast-approaching 30th birthday. This is a record about life and death, love and heartache, and trying to be a man despite all of your own personal failures and limitations. It’s about growing up.

Springsteen might seem like an odd candidate for the “Underrated and Overlooked” thread in that he’s had more than his fair share of critical acclaim and popular success. Yet this record is likely one that many non-diehards have let slip between the cracks. It’s a bit amazing that this is the direct follow-up to the big-time arena-ready success-high of Born in the USA.  Fans, particularly teenaged ones, likely didn’t know what to make of this when they heard it. Gone are the heavy rocking, keyboard laden, party music of “Dancing in the Dark,” etc. Here is a record that is subtle yet melodious, and pop only in that dreaded (by many) sense of “adult contemporary.” Sure there are some catchy singles: “Brilliant Disguise,” “All That Heaven Will Allow.” But by dismissing the best rock and roll band on the planet to make a personal, painful yet oddly joyful record that struggled to deal with his crumbling first marriage and his burgeoning relationship with band mate and soon to be (so far for now) lifelong partner Patti Scialfa, Springsteen displayed well his ability to make any type of record he wants to, and to make it good and new and fresh each time. Sure some of the Estreet band shows up, Clarence on a sax line or two, Weinberg on understated drums most of the way through, Patti on backing vocals, etc. But this is obviously a solo record, and the only bad thing about it is that it marked the beginning of a long hiatus for that best band in modern rock and roll, who wouldn’t really re-emerge until 2001’s The Rising.



One Response to “Underrated and Overlooked #5: “Tunnel of Love” by Bruce Springsteen”

  1. […] I really not written one of these since 2012? If I have, I don’t remember; but you can read the last one I remember doing by clicking here and from there you can link back to see all of […]

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