Springsteen’s *Tunnel of Love* at 30

Bruce Tunnel

Over at Blogness on the Edge of Town, Peter Chianca reflects on the thirtieth anniversary of one of Springsteen’s most personal albums.  Here is a taste:

At least a few of the songs point to the value in at least trying to ford the rough river of romantic relationships. The steady, martial drumbeat that starts off “Tougher Than The Rest” evokes the singer’s steely commitment to succeeding where others before him have failed, and an acknowledgement that love is only truly attainable if you’re willing to endure a long, hard slog to reach it. And even “All That Heaven Will Allow” – the album’s brightest track, sung in a hopeful warble – acknowledges the constant presence of “Mister Trouble.”

But much more of Tunnel of Love is dedicated to the ways that love is complicated, trust is fleeting and truly knowing someone is heart-wrenchingly difficult – sometimes impossible. The title track equates relationships with a dim, twisted carnival funhouse, an analogy that’s brilliantly simple and exquisitely executed: “the lights go out and it’s just the three of us,” Springsteen sings, “you, me and all that stuff we’re so scared of.” The way he shares harmonies both with himself, in a anguished overdub, and with Patti Scialfa’s echoing yelps only accentuates the number of hidden specters floating just beneath any relationship’s surface.

Read the entire piece here.

I am also reminded of Father Andrew Greeley‘s review of the album in the February 6, 1988 issue of America.  He argued that Tunnel of Love revealed Springsteen’s “Catholic imagination.”  He even described the release of the album as “a more important Catholic event in this country than the visit of Pope John Paul!.”

Here is a taste of that review:

In the context of religion (in its origins) as an exercise of the metaphor-making dynamisms, Bruce Springsteens album Tunnel of Love may be a more important Catholic event in this country than the visit of Pope John Paull! The Pope spoke of moral debates using the language of doctrinal propositions that appeal to (or repel) the mind. Springsteen sings of religious realities—sin, temptation, forgiveness, life, death, hope—in images that come (implicitly perhaps) from his Catholic childhood, images that appeal to the whole person, not just the head, and that will be absorbed by far more Americans than those who listened to the Pope.

I intend no disrespect to the Pope or to the importance of his trip. I merely assert the obvious: Troubadours always have more impact than theologians or bishops, storytellers more influence than homilists.

Some rock critics contend that Springsteen has turned away from the “positive” music of Born in the USA to return to the grimmer and more pessimistic mood of Nebraska. It might be debated how optimistic USA really was. But, while there is tragedy in Tunnel of Love, there is also hope. The water of the river still flows, but now it stands, not for death, but for rebirth. Light and water, the Easter and baptismal symbols of the Catholic liturgy, the combination of the male and female fertility principles, create life in Tunnel of Love.

Religion is more explicitly expressed in Tunnel of Love than in any previous Springsteen album. Prayer, heaven and God are invoked naturally and unselfconsciously, as though they are an ordinary part of the singers life and vocabulary (and the singer is the narrator of the story told in the song, not necessarily Springsteen). Moreover, religion is invoked to deal precisely with those human (as opposed to doctrinal) problems—love, sin, death, rebirth—that humankind in its long history has always considered religious.

On the subject of human sinfulness, Springsteen sounds like St. Paul, who lamented that “the good which I would do, I do not do; and the evil which I would not do, that I do.”

Read Greeley’s entire review here.

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