“Tunnel Of Love” and “Brilliant Disguise” – Bruce Springsteen

A prominent music writer noted during the flood of articles about Born To Run’s 40th anniversary earlier this year that he couldn’t wait for Springsteen’s 1987 album Tunnel of Love to get the same treatment. He was kind of kidding, but also kind of serious.

To most people, Tunnel Of Love was a confusing, off-putting, and largely forgotten follow-up to Born In The USA. He recorded the album (mostly) on his own, without the E. Street Band. Most of the songs were dark and depressing, focused on the dissolution of his marriage to Julianne Phillips. There wasn’t a “Dancing In The Dark” or “Cover Me” anywhere on the album. But for some, myself included, it was a brilliant and devastating statement by one of the biggest rock stars in the world. In fact, along with Paul’s Boutique, it’s one of two albums that I’m proud that I loved from the first time I heard it. The difference is Paul’s Boutique was soon recognized as a ground-breaking album, and is now considered a classic. Odds are few folks who dismissed Tunnel back in 1987 think of it much today.

I often spin Tunnel this time of year. It’s perfect for November, when the days get cooler and darker. As I thought about it more this fall, I realized it could be responsible for my affection for the Break-Up Album. Although I was just 16 when it came out, and hadn’t had a real girlfriend let alone an adult relationship yet, I loved the honesty that Bruce wove into every song. As I’ve said many times before, when a great artist gets their heart broken, great art is often the result. Tunnel may have been the first time in my life I made that connection.

Now there are a few clunkers on the album. But I like more songs than I skip. And these two are especially great. I think anyone getting married should have to listen to “Tunnel Of Love” and consider every word before they say “I do.” It is such a great comment on how too many people can’t cope when the passion of the courting phase disappears and you’re forced to live with another person. And “Brilliant Disguise” is simply devastating. I remembered how the video was a stark, black-and-white, single-shot piece. I forgot that the vocals were live, which makes it even more affecting. I also remembered watching the video with my cousin and her boyfriend when we stopped in central Kansas as we were moving from California back to Kansas City over Thanksgiving week, 1987. As we watched, she said, “He just looks so sad.” I’ve thought of that comment every time I’ve listened to the song over the nearly 30 years since it’s release.

So kind of a bummer way to start the weekend. But hopefully it helps you remember, and appreciate, a fantastic chapter in Springsteen’s career that is too often overlooked.