But this isn’t supposed to be my favorite Bruce Springsteen album?
Generally speaking, I don’t like country music. And this tunnel is the country-est of flavors, and the starkest imbalance to the real E Street Band this side of Nebraska. I must also add that I had a my virgin Jimmy Buffett crush during this period when “Songs You Know By Heart” opened a Parrothead gateway that altered my course of sobriety and song – and the search for that one particular island.
(It’s all because I loved Kenny Rogers and my maternal mother loved Conway Twitty!)
And none of the above did interviews or press of any kind – they were all “mature artists” and didn’t “do phoners” with snot nose music critics from Baltimore not named J.D. Considine back in the day. Well, there was that one time Randy Travis invited me to the gym to workout but I’ll save that one…
So, armed with a Hammerjacks backstage pass and a suitcase of CDs of current artists and Jellyfish and New Material and Tommy Conwell and Child’s Play and Merriweather concerts and a zillion musicians who wanted publicity and would give me 30 minutes on the phone talking about what made them tick and allowing me to make a few bucks during college, what good were they to a budding 18-year old #AlmostFamous music critic like me?
But I loved “Hungry Heart” – who didn’t want a wife in kids in Baltimore, Jack? – and knew every song on “Born In The USA” from my days working at Sound Waves at Eastpoint Mall and by then had became familiar with songs like “Born To Run” and the “Rosalita” video on MTV.
But I had never been to a Springsteen concert or even cared to go amidst all of my early music fandom. The week my son was born in September 1984, I saw Rod Stewart and Rush at the Capital Centre while missing Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen at RFK Stadium and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
And I went to a LOT of concerts – five nights a week or more during this period of my life, sometimes seven. Honestly, the only people I had ever met who saw a Springsteen concert in 1984 were Brian Poole’s parents.
I was young and naïve in a lot of ways.
But when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
As the music critic at The Baltimore Evening Sun, I was a confident young man but I also took the professional part of my job very seriously. Every piece of new music that hit my desk got listened to during that time.
I was always fair. (And still am!)
So when the massive three-CD “Live 75-85” dropped to considerable fanfare, it made me take notice as a reviewer and fall in love with songs like “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Adam Raised A Cain.”
My main gig – as I was always reminded by my mentors Jack Gibbons and Robert Nusgart, was on the sports desk – and Ken Rosenthal was like a workplace big brother to me at this time in my life. I was on the phone with him several times a day, every day because he covered the Orioles and I was the 3 a.m. gopher who played the utility role of getting the baseball stats, coverage, notes, quotes and – if needed – dictation to make sure that by 5 a.m. we had a newspaper ready to go. And we wanted to kick the asses of The Sun. Ask anyone I ever worked with about our competitive fire for sports section greatness! I worked the graveyard shift from January 1986 through January 1992. It allowed me to go to weeknight concerts to review and then come into work and do my sports responsibilities putting the scoreboard page together. Occasionally, I screwed up the lottery numbers and all hell broke loose on Calvert Street!
Rosenthal was the first person I ever met who loved Springsteen like a god. And I think everybody knows someone from New York or New Jersey who shares this addiction. Kenny gifted me some old 45s with “Be True” and cool B-sides, opening the door and allure to the E Street vault, legend and lore.
Then, soon arrived this colossal follow-up album full of soft, country-fried, very uncertain love songs – complete with a grown-up Springsteen in a bolo tie with roses. My pal Michael Fountain bought it and brought it over (I don’t remember getting it for free as a critic because I don’t think they sent review copies) and couldn’t stop playing it at my house on Kane Street.
“Tunnel of Love” dropped five days before my 19th birthday. I fell in love with it – all of it – and I haven’t stopped playing it for 33 years.
I won $40 on a leftover buck lottery ticket at Eastpoint Liquors (and I don’t think I have purchased a lottery ticket since!) and used it to buy a scalper ticket on the roof of The Spectrum in Philadelphia to see Bruce very early on this tour.
That was March 8, 1988. I heard “She’s The One” for the first time that night.
My life was never the same.
I still think “Valentine’s Day” is as good of a song as Springsteen has ever written. And I have been in this 5D mirror and tunnel ever since hearing these songs, searching for clues and answers and defining what love is and what it means. And relationships and what to do with it all?
This soulful album came from a deep, dark, conflicted place for a 36-year old Springsteen when I was 18 years old – and it still resonates as I turn 52.
But this whole chapter of spoken words and music and melody – as a straight listen through – is a work of art.
Painful. Personal. Emotive. Reflective. Hopeful. Joyous. Desperate.
Lost. And found.
And lost again.
Love hurts…and heals. And keeps us alive!
God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of…
I will have more to say about the spirit in the night. Show a little faith, there’ll be some more Bruce magic on June 1st for my finale of the 32 most influential albums of my life in 32 days in the order of their release.
But for now – and for you, for you – cuddle up, angel. Cuddle up my little dove…