Bruce Springsteen “Tunnel of Love” | One step up, two steps back.

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The Boss? The
Architect.

By Andy Whorehall

Will it bother you if I don’t want to talk about Bruce’s ‘Darkness’ reissue? Does it bother you I don’t want to go in depth about the beautiful packaging a very lucky & possibly underpaid designer produced from Springsteen’s actual notebooks? It does, doesn’t it? I’ll sum it up, it’s pretty great, even the unreleased ‘Promise’ material he left off ‘Darkness’- but it’s no ‘Tunnel of Love.’ All roads bossed lead to the Tunnel. Rock fanatic Doubting Thomas’ should investigate the bonus bootleg DVD of the Houston 1978 show that’s included. If that still doesn’t do it you’re on your own or read further. Despite the grand ambition and performance on those earlier records- ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ marked a transition in Springsteen’s career one could argue was pre-planned.

Take a look at the equation I’ve come up with: 1. All or nothing (Greetings From…/The Wild The Innocent…) until it pays off, 2. if it does (Born To Run), then 3. take a step back (Darkness),
confuse consumers, tour hard, maintain/build fanbase, two steps forward again- 4. go all out again with a double record (The River), now 5. REALLY take a step back & strip it all down to the bone about 10 steps to great lonesome, lo-fi Americana results, (Nebraska); 6. like clockwork jump 20 steps forward into the public’s eyes & ears again with a monster pop-rock radio & MTV generation record (Born in the U.S.A.), play stadiums, rule world, relocate to L.A. to marry an actress and then

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7. create the last of what became one of the greatest 8 record runs in rock history, Tunnel of Love; which ironically contains 2 of my favorite songs written by Bruce. They’re 2 songs I bet every songwriter wishes they had or hadn’t lived through a certain amount of pain to write, Brilliant Disguise followed by, One Step Up. This very brief career outline mapped out covering 1973 -1987 makes him more of an architect if anything. Carefully planned recordings, almost intentional in scope, grand to minimal with the creative intent to push and pull an audience along for a fantastic listening ride at his personal expense. I want all of you to listen RIGHT now and then I want some of you to go away for a bit while I get this outta my system. Without Tunnel of Love which kicked off Bruce’s long 90s run of solo projects, Little Stevie does not become Silvio (Sopranos) and Max never became Conan’s band leader. It’s quite amazing the amount of work the architect mapped out with a handful of songs ranging in musical style. All unabashedly American, cinematic and grand. Tunnel of Love set off a string of solo records that lasted 15 years before working with the E-Street again. If America needed anyone in 2002 after Bush lost the popular vote and became the voice & face of a post-911 America, it was Bruce.

By then though, his songs weren’t enough of a pop force to challenge a political climate putting fear into everyone’s household. The E-Street returned full force on The Rising, hinting slightly at their recorded past.They’ve never returned to the glory that laid ground in those first 8 records but they don’t need to, their legend has been & is still defined live. The solo records following ‘Tunnel’ are enjoyable but life is better with Clarence Clemons sax solos, Lil Stevie’s rhythm, Max’s steady rah-pa-pa-pa, Roy’s piano leads and fills. E-Street as the choir and Bruce the preacher. Their live show is religious. For newbies, get baptized before you say you wish you saw the E-Street Band live. Hearing Thunder Road echo the first time at any age can bring a man to tears, and it did. I take great pride in stating The Boss consumed part of my childhood and early adulthood. Tunnel of Love being a personal favorite to return to more often than the other records. The songs on Tunnel of Love are simpler; Ain’t Got You signals the listener with a single guitar and the Boss’s yelp that this is not a return to Glory Days from the opening moment. You’ll find Little Stevie missing throughout. The rest of the E-Street Band makes appearances but sparingly. The lyrics focusing on brutal confessions of love’s struggles and secrets. Haunting declarations of a marriage falling apart.

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The same lovers Bruce sings about in 75’s Born To Run taking off on their wings of love with youthful abandonment are now dealt a world of reality cold and alone; that same car that reappears in many of his older songs is now broken but not dead yet in One Step Up.

[quote]Woke up this morning my house was cold Checked out the furnace she wasn’t burnin’ Went out and hoped in my old Ford Hit the engine but she ain’t turnin’ We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately But we ain’t learnin’ We’re the same sad story that’s a fact One step up and two steps back[/quote]

Springsteen more than often dressed up his songs with characters, young lovers, fighters, heroes, villains, girls and guys from the hood and family looking for redemption & seeking more of the world around them he put his characters into- to break out; but it could be argued that Tunnel of Love is the record those characters were buried. A lead character’s narrative he couldn’t avoid this time around, himself.

[quote]It’s the same thing night on night
Who’s wrong baby who’s right
Another fight and I slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war
When I look at myself I don’t see
The man I wanted to be Somewhere along the line I slipped off track I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back[/quote]

Springsteen became the artist he sought to become respected as with ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Darkness on The Edge of Town.’ On The River and Born in the U.S.A. he became an American & Global pop star. Nebraska covered dark days he went seeking inspiration for
creating; but no one warned him he’d find darker days, and without
seeking inspiration for creativity, in marriage. Not in Nebraska
with a 4-track.

On Tunnel of Love Bruce Springsteen, the artist & pop star at the height of success, became a brutally honest and broken down man whether he liked it or not.

I watch & listen to this version of One Step Up often waiting for Patti to join Bruce on harmony near the end. It always takes patience – the crowd, plenty, so far removed from the core of the song and the artist, cheer pathetically. It’s alot like life when those you don’t know stand roadside watching your own marriage collapse for public enjoyment. Although this was recorded in Detroit, MI in 1988, I always imagine a place like Rockford, IL f*cking itself off in 10 different ways for being just as pathetic. (What?) The band at the end rides out Bruce & Patti’s vocals, carrying the song out longer and penalizing the crowd for cheering earlier. It’s beautiful, haunting & heartbreaking.

The working class kid makes it big, gets married to an actress (Julianne Phillips), moves west and finds out it’s nothing like the script from those piles of notebooks with song ideas, set lists, cover songs and career plans. ‘Tunnel’ is as anti-commercial and selfish an artistic statement a pop culture icon at the top of their commercial appeal could have made. Especially after a beer drinking monster called Born in the U.S.A. Pop stars like Bruce are rare, pushing and pulling artistic boundaries despite commercial success (See Kanye’s 808s, very similar to Tunnel), seemingly always practicing a mad method designed to withdraw when necessary. A little like taking One step up and 2 steps back.

{Let’s end this. I have a strange feeling all of this talk about Bruce Springsteen means nothing to many or you didn’t make it down this far in the article because you’re a rock snob or suffer great bouts of A.D.D. You have no excuses as I fall into both categories openly.}

The ‘Darkness’ boxset led me down The Boss’ path again but it always detours to the Tunnel of Love. It happens about 1-2xs a year soaking in the E-Street’s music for repeat listens, courting Rosalita on the Backstreets… it is f*cking grand. They are to the east coast sound as The Beach Boys are to the west. A band that can fill a bar or an arena with a leader cum preacher who managed to write pro-middle class, anti-anthems a choir or an army would sing to and with. The E-Street live is unlike many live rock shows you will ever see, it’s a 3 hour sermon that feels like a 5 minute f*ck you want to last forever. When that f*ck is over you still have to deal with reality, a tunnel of love.

[quote]So when you look at me you better look hard and look
twice Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise[/quote]

Amen, everyone. Do yourself a favor, go get whorehalled by the Boss.â„¢

Bruce Springsteen "Tunnel of Love" | One step up, two steps back.Andy Whorehall
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5 comments on "Bruce Springsteen “Tunnel of Love” | One step up, two ..."

  1. Great point. Bruce whorehalls for a living. He is the boss afterall and bosses usually whorehall everyone. : ) I like "Nebraska," and would venture to argue he kicked the door open on lo-fi to be explored in a marketable way as Pavement did- but the Velvets did it so long before anyone. In many ways, Guided By Voices and their Pollard incarnation on those early and in-between lo-fi recordings are just extensions of Velvets/Bruce/Pavement/ and everyone else. I'm forgetting a few, but it is Monday. : )
    d

  2. TOL is my all time favorite of all of Bruce's and Tougher Than the Rest my favorite song. gteat, fun article — thanks

    • Thanks for readin’, EllieDee.
      I hope this record gets a clean remaster/reissue job, the 80s production in some spots is about the only thing that affects these ears.
      aW

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