Polaroid 600 film, New Orleans, La., Winter 2009.
My new record player has allowed me to reclaim a lot of music formerly trapped on vinyl, like Bruce Springsteen’s under-appreciated Tunnel of Love (if something can be under-appreciated while selling several million copies).
I’ve been focusing more on its heartrending side two, which starts with the title track, the haunting “Two Faces,” “Brilliant Disguise” (for many years now a personal favorite), the loser’s anthem “One Step Up,” and the double-punch of “When You’re Alone” and “Valentine’s Day.” It’s as emotionally and personally bleak as Springsteen has ever gotten, as distinguished from the political or metaphorical bleakness of Nebraska or Tom Joad.
While I don’t always think that every bit of art should be viewed through the lens of an artist’s personal life, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the Boss’ unraveling marriage to Julianne Phillips from the hang-dog feeling that permeates Tunnel of Love. “Two Faces” is a simple mid-tempo rocker, one of dozens in the Springsteen catalog (if burdened by his standard ludicrous 80’s production and synth), but its lyrics are peppered with a very adult regret, and an outright acknowledgment of blowing it for no reason at all: I met a girl and we ran away / I swore I’d make her happy every day / And how I made her cry / Two faces have I.”
There’s lots of rock and roll songs about pining for a girl, or missing her when she’s away, or how much you love ‘em, and this song sounds like those: but “Two Faces” is about knowing that you screwed it all up by your own self. Like Springsteen’s recorded version of “Johnny Bye-Bye,” he plunges his hands into a traditional rock and roll idiom and reworks it for the stresses and problems of adulthood. To me he’s not awesome because of “Quarter to Three,” or even because of “Thunder Road”—which was his attempt to make a teenage symphony to God, anyway—he’s awesome because of work like this.
(Okay, even though I like “Thunder Road” about one million times more than “Two Faces Have I,” but you get what I mean, on this hazy Wednesday afternoon).