November 8, 2007

Distance of Love

(Note that in less than 14 hours! Springsteen's diligent cyber-sleuths found and removed the embedded Tunnel of Love music video from this site. If you wish to watch the video follow this link to youtube.)

I'm not saying that this video scared me...but it scared me. Not just the breakdown at the midway point with the jittery close-ups of the carnival barker, the tattooed man, the sword swallower, the fire eater, and the snake charmer. No, the entire video. The deserted winter seaside town, the ferris wheel, the dark empty tunnel ride, the pitch black lighting, the shadows, the blue hues, and Bruce's clearly pained face (which at 1:21 sneaks in an out-of-character charming, smirking smile).

My childhood experiences told me the Jersey Shore was fun and adventurous. My family had taken summer vacations to Wildwood; those were good times. This video wasn't about good times.

I was 13. Too young to understand completely but old enough to understand a little. Love and women and marriage is a day at the beach. Only it's winter, the beach is full of freakish people, it's cold, and there's really no hope unless you "learn to live with what you can't rise above." Which didn't seem like that great a choice.

I'm cynical about most things but I never wanted to be cynical about love. And even at 13 I decided that Bruce's despondent and hardened tunnel of love wasn't a place I wanted to be. He looked too weary, too sad and, well, who wants to go to the beach in the winter?

So now, 20 years later, I'm trying to get into Tunnel of Love but it feels so removed from anything I know. His suspicious and alienated view of love isn't mine. His macho angst, despite its excessiveness, I can relate to but the storytelling style is, er, another story. The obvious metaphors and multiple (but all personal) narrators strike me as a forced literary conceit. Why does Bruce need to establish distance from emotions that are obviously so personal?

"We've read the tabloids, Boss, we know you're marriage is in trouble." Better yet, we love this album because your marriage is in trouble. Maybe we think, "You're our friend, Bruce. With this album you've let us into your life and your emotions. We're here for you and we understand. In fact, they're the same emotions we feel. You've written our lives in your songs. You understand us."

But what if these weren't Bruce's emotions. What if he was just doing what entertainers do: entertain, become what their audience wants, and sell records? There's my cynicism again. What if his doomed, cynical Tunnel of Love character is no more himself than the array of characters that play out his other albums. Surely, they are not Bruce; why should this album be any different? Could that explain his distance? Could that explain the 1:21 smile?


Jahidi Hoya said...

One item that you did not mention helps put some perspective around this album. Bruce Springsteen in the mid-1980's was an icon. He had a power of celebrity that very few musicians have ever been able to experience. The 'Born in the USA' experience was a period of incredible success for Bruce, but it also introduced some thoughts of regret and isolation. If you listen to the 'Tunnel of Love' album you will hear a voice challenging the health of a marriage, however if you think of it from a slightly different perspective you can hear a voice challenging his own relationship with his audience.

venerableseed said...

you know, I buy Tunnel of Love's troubled marriage with the audience perspective more than the troubled marriage with Julianne. It makes more sense and is pretty clear on the album.

It even changes the perspective of Brilliant Disguise from Bruce talking to Julianne (presumably) to the audience talking to Bruce. How Kurt Cobain-ish!