Lots of chatter about HT/LT of late. So it seemed a good spot to bring back another Miami MArk post.....
#42 – Human Touch/Lucky Town – Dec 2006
Last night I was pondering the unstable nature of all that we have in life. Life doesn’t play favorites and we are all on shaky ground. I have my own reasons for feeling this way, none of which are really germane to this post. With this in mind I started wondering if this is something that was applicable in Bruce Springsteen’s music. I was thinking of times in his life when maybe he was unsure of which direction he was taking.
I thought of WIESS, this being what I consider a musical crossroad for him. The record company wanting a new Dylan and him wanting to rock and roll. But I think he had his own vision here, a roadmap he was going to follow, and it was apparent right through to Nebraska. He may have had some issues personally during BITUSA, but I think he was focused enough on his career not to let it matter. I looked at TOL, this being what many feel is the most introspective of his career, but I don’t think he was feeling precarious here. He knew what was going on and how to mend it.
The first time I see it is in Human Touch/ Lucky Town. Here he has forsaken his brothers in arms, left a wife and essentially a lifestyle he may have thought he aspired to, and for the first time in a long time gone out on his own. I know these albums are vilified by a large group in the Springsteen community, but each time I listen to them, I think we get one of the “real” stripped down, no nonsense looks at Springsteen. Here is a time when he hasn’t surrounded himself with toadies, “yes bossing” him all around the studio, and while there are certainly mistakes on these albums there are also gems. I also think this is the only real album where we see him let his guard down.
From the time line of this album, and it really is one album not two, I think we have to assume that he was settling in with Patti. Yet, we still see some questioning and actually some back pedaling. I have always loved that he essentially throws a disclaimer into his romantic life when he sings in Roll of The Dice, “I’m a thief in the house of love/and I can’t be trusted”. Is this an admission or warning. Then in the very next song he sings about love being “hopeless/hopeless at best”, and his answer to that “put on your best party dress”. That doesn’t sound like a man on steady ground to me, but I have to tell you I cannot listen to these songs without feeling the “human touch” that he writes about.
This isn’t some rock and roll hero, this IS the guy down at the corner bar who isn’t feeling so sure about things. He wants it all or nothing at all but man when the hurt comes down hard and heavy he wishes he were blind. I always wondered if that song was about Julianne and something we may not be privy to. “I wish I were blind/ when I see you with your man”. That’s not being sung about someone imagined or someone you are romancing. Then right in the middle of all that is “Man’s Job” , and he tells Patti, loving you is a man’s job, and if you’re looking for a hero, that may not be me. He’s reflecting back to his youth, when in the throes of breaking free he tells Mary, “look, I’m no hero, that’s understood”. It’s a release from any contract. He’s unsure of his own success whether that be in romance or in life itself.
In Lucky Town, he tries to put it behind him, but I think in a way he is bolstering his own self-worth. I always get this picture when I hear Better Days of someone getting dressed to go out on a Saturday night, and singing this whole song to the mirror. He even tells you in Lucky Town, he thinks he knows what’s going on, and an idea of how to fix it. “When it comes to luck you make your own”. But there is still that unsteadiness in the self -deprecating Local Hero. It’s a way out I think. He is saying “here look, I really don’t take myself so seriously.” But I think he says it from behind a shadow, kinda looking over the top of his Ray-Bans to see if you’re looking right at him. He talks in a negative way about being made the King and the Pope, yet here he is releasing two albums on the same day for maximum exposure.
Unsteady as she goes. In If I Should Fall Behind, which I think is one of the most beautiful love songs he ever wrote (and I hate how he made it into that sappy Broadway tune on the Reunion tour), I think he is really looking over his shoulder and asking for help. Sure he says he is there for her (Patty), but there is also that immediate, “but if I should fall behind wait for me”. His confidence is broken somewhere along the way, and we see it wide open. It’s gonna take a leap of faith for him to believe in himself. We get the line “I grabbed you baby like a wild pitch”. I love that line. How many times in your life have you reached out and grabbed that object hurtling straight at you? Hoping to catch on to it, or just hoping to get caught in its wake, never mind actually catching it. The fear of course is what happens if you actually do happen to hang on. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and it’s always made me feel off balance. It’s made me feel good, but unsteady, and I like to hold steady. We also get Living Proof on this album, which I think is one of the best things Bruce has ever written, and not surprisingly about the birth of his child. Any parent can tell you, that while you want to remain a steady oak for your child, you can’t help but watch the horizon for brewing storms, and that feeling leaves us raw and waiting.
So while I have at times heard the argument that Bruce doesn’t write well when he is “happy”, I can’t agree with it. I think he was happy at this point in his life. Sure we have all heard about the therapy, but honestly I think that was just a societal past time for him. A sign of his unsteady stance at the time. Each time I listen to these albums I am reminded again of the humanity that has always been an integral part of Bruce Springsteen music. Not the preaching or the politics, but the man at the end of the bar looking over the top of his Ray-Bans, telling me it can go like this or it can go like this.
So what’s my point? (Some people need you tell them you are making a point). Nothing, except go back and listen to these two albums with the idea that this is really the last time we have seen Bruce stripped of all his diamonds and gold, with his heart and arms open wide to us. A time when he was still searching for his reward, and our acceptance of him may have been at the end of his rainbow.
I tried listening to Devils and Dust right after this and I couldn’t make it past Black Cowboys.