Born to Run (2016)
BORN TO RUN
TUNNEL OF LOVE
After Born in the USA, I’d had enough of the big time for a while and looked forward to something less. Assisted by my engineer Toby Scott, I’d slowly invested in home recording equipment. Four tracks grew to eight to sixteen to twenty-four, and I soon had a decent demo studio set up in the garage apartment of my Rumson home. I’d recently begun writing some new material that, for the first time, wasn’t centered around the man on the “road” but the questions and concerns of the man in the “house.” Tunnel of Love captured the ambivalence, love and fear brought on by my new life. Recorded in approximately a three-week period, cut with just myself on acoustic guitar to a rhythm track, like Nebraska, it was another “homemade” record where I played most of the instruments myself. After USA I wasn’t ready for producers, a big band or any band. The music was too personal, so in the studio, it would just be Toby and me.
My first full record about men and women in love would be a pretty rough affair. Filled with inner turmoil, I wrote to make sense of my feelings. The beginnings of this new music went back to “Stolen Car” from The River. That song’s character, drifting through the night, is the first to face the angels and devils that will drive him toward his love and keep him from ever reaching her. This was the voice that embodied my own conflicts. I was no longer a kid and now neither were the people who populated my new songs. If they didn’t find a way to ground themselves, the things they needed—life, love and a home—could and would pass them by, rushing out the windows of all those cars I’d placed them in. The highway had revealed its secrets and as compelling as they were, I found its freedom and open spaces could become as overpoweringly claustrophobic as my most clichéd ideas of domesticity. All those roads, after all those years, when they converged, met down the end of the same dead-end street. I knew, I’d seen it (it’s in Texas!).
I had a left-field hit with “Brilliant Disguise,” the song that sits thematically at the record’s center. Trust is a fragile thing. It requires allowing others to see as much of ourselves as we have the courage to reveal. But “Brilliant Disguise” postulates that when you drop one mask, you find another behind it until you begin to doubt your own feelings about who you are. The twin issues of love and identity form the core of Tunnel of Love, but time is Tunnel’s unofficial subtext. In this life (and there is only one), you make your choices, you take your stand and you awaken from the youthful spell of “immortality” and its eternal present. You walk away from the nether land of adolescence. You name the things beyond your work that will give your life its context, meaning . . . and the clock starts. You walk, now, not just at your partner’s side, but alongside your own mortal self. You fight to hold on to your newfound blessings while confronting your nihilism, your destructive desire to leave it all in ruins. This struggle to uncover who I was and to reach an uneasy peace with time and death itself is at the heart of Tunnel of Love.
Bob Clearmountain cleaned up my playing so I sounded like I knew what I was doing; I brought Nils, Roy and Patti in to sweeten a track or two; then Bob did the mixes, adding the sharp spiritual space the music resides in. Tunnel of Love was released on October 9, 1987, and went to number one on the Billboard album chart. I hadn’t planned to do any touring but sitting at home while a record containing what I felt was some of my best and freshest writing went untended didn’t seem right. I was asking my audience to follow me from highway’s end, out of the car, into the house and through marriage, commitment and the mysteries of the heart (is that rock ’n’ roll?). A lot of them by now were living these issues every day. Would they want to hear and be entertained by them too? I was rolling the dice that they would, and I wanted to give my music a chance to find its audience. For me, that always meant playing, and so, a tour was soon planned.
Tunnel was a solo album, so I wanted to distance the tour from being compared to our USA run. I shifted our stage layout, moving band members out of their long-held positions as a subtle way to signal to the audience that they should expect something different. I added a horn section, brought Patti to the front of the stage and left of center, and designed a carnivalesque proscenium to frame the action and play off my main metaphor of love as a scary amusement park thrill ride. In keeping with Annie Leibovitz’s cover photo, we “dressed up.” The blue jeans and bandana were gone—I wore a suit for the first time in quite a while—and the band left their casual wear at home. My good friend and assistant Terry Magovern donned a bowler hat and tux to perform the role of “ticket taker” and emcee. It was a nice show, with Patti providing a sexy female foil I could play off of, comically and seriously, to underscore the album’s themes. We covered Gino Washington’s “Gino Is a Coward” and the Sonics’ “Have Love Will Travel,” and performed my own unreleased song “Part Man, Part Monkey” to flesh out the tour’s plotline. After Born in the USA, it was an intentional left turn and the band was probably somewhat disoriented by it, along with my growing relationship with Patti.
Patti was a musician, was close to my age, had seen me on the road in all of my many guises and viewed me with a knowing eye. She knew I was no white knight (perhaps a dark gray knight at best), and I never felt the need to pretend around her. Julie had never asked me to either; I just did. When Julie was filming on location, I’d be at home in New Jersey, slowly slipping back to my old ways, the bars, the late nights—nothing serious, just my usual drifting—but it wasn’t the married life. It was during one of these periods Patti and I got together under my ostensible excuse of working on our “duets.” It was a September night, the moon a slim fingernail in the western sky over the silhouetted wood that bordered the backyard. We hung out, sat in my little bar, talked and pretty soon, I could feel something was on. After seventeen years of sporadically bumping into each other, then two of working side by side, somewhat flirtatiously, there came a moment when I looked at Patti and saw something different, something new, something I’d missed and hadn’t experienced before. I was always busy, as Patti would later say, “looking in other fields.” Patti is a wise, tough, powerful woman, but she is also the soul of fragility, and there was something in that combination that opened up new possibilities in my heart. In my life, Patti is a singularity. So, it started.
At first, I told myself it was just “a thing.” It wasn’t. It was the thing. The surreptitiousness didn’t last long and I came clean to Julie as soon as I knew how serious Patti and I were, but there was no decent or graceful way out of it. I was going to hurt someone I loved . . . period. Soon I’d be separated and photographed in my tighty-whities with Patti on a balcony in Rome. I dealt with Julie’s and my separation abysmally, insisting it remain a private affair, so we released no press statement, causing furor, pain and “scandal” when the news leaked out. It made a tough thing more heartbreaking than necessary. I deeply cared for Julianne and her family and my poor handling of this is something I regret to this day.
Julianne was young, just getting her career started, while at thirty-five, I could seem accomplished, reasonably mature and in control, but, inside, I was still emotionally stunted and secretly unavailable. She’s a woman of great discretion and decency and always dealt with me and our problems honestly and in good faith, but in the end, we didn’t really know. I placed her in a terribly difficult position for a young girl and I failed her as a husband and partner. We handled the details as civilly and as graciously as possible, divorced and went on about our lives.
After our divorce was final, I took a few days and visited my parents, gave them the news and listened to my mom hector me with “Bruce, three years, your limit! . . . Whaaaaa!” They loved Julianne, but I was their son. I stayed awhile, having my wounds treated with home cooking and sympathy, then headed back to New Jersey. My dad drove me to the airport. Ten minutes out he turned to me and said, “Bruce, maybe you should move back home for a while.” I was tempted to mention that I was a nearly forty-year-old self-made multimillionaire and the prospect of moving back into an eight-by-twelve-foot room in my parents’ house, still holding my stuffed Mickey Mouse, was . . . not impossible, but not likely. Nevertheless, when I looked over at my pop, his suspendered girth squished between the wheel and the driver’s seat, all I could say was, “Thanks, Dad, I’ll think about it.” The old man finally wanted me around the house.
Seven years after Steve and I first walked through Checkpoint Charlie, I brought my band back to East Berlin. Steve wasn’t there, but 160,000-plus East Germans showed up. The wall still stood, but the first cracks were definitely appearing in its once impregnable façade. Conditions were not what they had been a decade ago. There in an open field stood the largest single crowd I’d ever seen or played to, and from center stage, I couldn’t see its end. Home-stitched American flags flew in the East German wind. The tickets claimed we were being presented by the Young Communist League and were playing a “concert for the Sandinistas”?! It was news to me! The entire show was broadcast on state television (another surprise!) with the exception of my short speech about the wall, which somehow was conveniently deleted. I went from being a complete nobody sashaying unmolested down the streets of East Berlin, on the day before our show, to a national superstar in twenty-four hours. When I poked my head out of our hotel the day after our gig, I was surrounded by hipsters, grannies and everything in between vying for an autograph. “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
We partied at the East German consulate and then headed back to West Berlin and a show for seventeen thousand that, despite our good West German fans, felt a lot less dramatic than what we’d just experienced. (Rock ’n’ roll is a music of stakes. The higher they’re pushed, the deeper and more thrilling the moment becomes. In East Germany in 1988, the center of the table was loaded down with a winner-take-all bounty that would explode into the liberating destruction of the Berlin Wall by the people of Germany.)
Around the World in Forty-Two Days
Heading back home, we had the option to continue our Tunnel of Love tour or go to work for Amnesty International, the highly regarded human rights organization. Amnesty was making a concerted push to enlist and engage young people around the globe in the fight for civil liberties and figured what better way to prick up the ears of the youngsters than rock ’n’ roll. Guided by Peter Gabriel, we were enlisted by Amnesty’s then executive director, Jack Healey, and our Tunnel of Love tour morphed directly into Amnesty International’s “Human Rights Now!” tour. We shortly found ourselves on a 747 with Peter; Youssou N’Dour, the sensational Senegalese singer; Tracy Chapman; and Sting, international rock stars all, hopping around the world, dropping for a moment from the clouds to tell you how to run your show. I’d always felt rock music was a music of both personal and political liberation and I thought the tour would give us an opportunity to practice some of what we preached. It did, but in the process, I got mugged by SCHOOLWORK! Nobody told me I was going to have to STUDY! We had to do a full press conference in every country and we needed to know in detail the human rights issues in each. Trying not to look like the dilettante I was, I studied like I hadn’t since Sister Theresa Mary stood over me, ruler in hand, at St. Rose grammar school.
The audiences were spectacular. The concerts lasted for eight hours and featured local opening acts. In Zimbabwe, the great Oliver Mtukudzi tore the house down with African soul. A little over a year from now, Nelson Mandela would be released from prison and the slow dismantling of the apartheid system would begin to occur, but at this moment in 1988, the battle was raging. The simple mix of a white and black crowd of this size, something that was forbidden and illegal a mere three hundred miles south, brought an urgency to our appearance.
In the former French colony of Côte d’Ivoire, I was greeted, for the first and only time since the 1966 Tri-Soul Revue at the Matawan-Keyport Roller Drome, by an audience, a stadium audience, of completely black faces! I finally knew how Clarence felt. We were one black man and seven white folk from New Jersey. Was this gonna work? Was the wooden-legged, four-four beat of Jersey Shore punk ’n’ soul going to communicate to an audience used to the swaying and supple rhythms of Afrobeat? Headlining, we were last to go on. A cool sweat slowly formed on the uppermost layer of my skin beneath my black vest and shirt. We went for the nuclear option, kicking straight into “Born in the USA.” Time . . . crept to a standstill . . . then . . . BOOM! The place exploded into a frenzy, the crowd moving en masse as if they’d been wired together and had suddenly decided this was okay! It was the most joyful mutual celebration of discovery I’ve ever experienced. We were the wrong color, singing in the wrong language, to the wrong beat, and still, the crowd shed upon us their generosity, openness and national hospitality. It was the first audience the E Street Band had had to truly win, cold, in a long, long time. Women leapt onstage and danced, the crowd rocked in ecstasy and the band walked off feeling exhilarated and validated. (It works! All the way over here! It works!) We felt the closeness of old hands being challenged and, in league with this unexpected and willing audience, becoming victorious. The mysteries of music’s communicative power to cross great divides proved themselves once more and we knew we’d just experienced something special.
Somewhere along the way we played a few dates in the United States, where our usually politicized press conferences were peppered by celebrity questions and a vacuousness that sometimes made me embarrassed for the locals. We also stopped in Japan, Budapest, Hungary, Canada, Brazil and India and finished up in Argentina, a country of stunning landscapes and a gorgeous, sensual citizenry that made me want to learn Spanish immediately! In South America were countries that had recently experienced the full brunt of dictatorship and the daily trampling of simple human freedoms. Thousands of sons and husbands were disappeared off the streets during the reign of brutal regimes in Argentina and Pinochet’s Chile. Here, Amnesty’s job was immediate, critical and personal. There was something hard to push up against and to feel pushing back. With Pinochet still in power, we played on the border of Chile in Mendoza, Argentina. There the “mothers of the disappeared,” whose loved ones had vanished from their homes and the streets in the years of Pinochet’s dictatorial rule, stood holding placard photos of lost loved ones along the roadside as we drove toward the venue. Their faces were filled with the remnants of terrible things we simply had no clue about or ability to understand back in the USA and proof of the ongoing human will, desire and primal need for justice.
The Amnesty International tour made me thankful to have been born in the USA, in my little, repressed, redneck, reactionary, one-fire-hydrant crap heap of a hometown that I loved, where despite the social pressure of the ignorant and intolerant, you could walk and speak freely without fear for life and limb (mostly).
Six weeks after we’d started we’d had our say, boosted Amnesty and its international agenda, played our rock ’n’ roll and stood, for a moment, thumbs out, political-cultural hitchhikers at the crossroads of history.
Patti and I said our good-byes to Peter, Sting, Youssou, Tracy and Amnesty’s mighty road crew (whose human rights were consistently violated with long working hours and untenable conditions during the tour), and we returned to New York City. We’d rented an apartment on the East Side and I gave my one and only try at becoming a city boy. It was a no-go. The East Side wasn’t for me, its only redeeming feature being I was just a walk away from Doc Myers’s office, which helped because I was not at my best. I came home torn by the confusion of my divorce, and with no recourse to roads ’n’ wheels, the city days were long indeed. In New York City, I was “the magic rat” in his maze. I couldn’t get sky, couldn’t see sun and couldn’t run. Yeah, the museums, the restaurants, the shops, but I was still SMALL-TOWN! I couldn’t change, so Patti (a nineteen-year New York City resident, in Chelsea) capitulated and we packed up our bags and headed back to Jersey, where she, I and my ice-cold feet spent a lost summer, with me up to some of my old ways and thoughtless behavior. Patti was patient . . . to a point.
Back at home, Patti and I fought a lot, which was a good thing. I’d never argued much in most of my other relationships and it had proved detrimental. Too many issues simmering, unresolved, beneath the surface always proved poisonous. Like my father, I was a passively hostile actor. Denial and intimidation, not direct confrontation, was my style. My dad had controlled our home by quietly sitting there . . . smoking. He was all passive anger until he’d break and rage, then return to his beer and monklike silence. He was our own one-man minefield, filling our home with the deadly quiet of a war zone as we walked on point, waiting . . . waiting . . . for the detonation we knew was coming. We just never knew when.
All of this had seeped into my bones and ruined so much. I didn’t “lose it” often, but I could, silently and just enough to put the fear of God into my loved ones. I’d learned it at the feet of the master. Worse, I’d picked up his bad habits behind the wheel and I could be very dangerous. I would use speed and recklessness to communicate my own rage and anger, with the sole purpose of terrorizing my rider. It was gross, bullying, violent and humiliating behavior that filled me with shame afterward. I was always full of a thousand apologies, but of course, it was too little, too late, and I suppose I’d learned that too. These incidents occurred only with people I cared about, loved. That was the point. I wanted to kill what loved me because I couldn’t stand being loved. It infuriated and outraged me, someone having the temerity to love me—nobody does that . . . and I’ll show you why. It was ugly and a red flag for the poison I had running through my veins, my genes. Part of me was rebelliously proud of my emotionally violent behavior, always cowardly and aimed at the women in my life. There was assertion, there was action, there was no impotence. The passivity of the men I grew up surrounded by frightened and enraged me. My own passivity embarrassed me, so I went in search of my “truth.” This . . . this is how I feel about myself, about you, how I feel, how you make me feel in my darkest of dark hearts, where I truly reside.
Over the years I had to come to the realization that there was a part of me, a significant part, that was capable of great carelessness and emotional cruelty, that sought to reap damage and harvest shame, that wanted to wound and hurt and make sure those who loved me paid for it. It was all straight out of the old man’s playbook. My father led us to believe he despised us for loving him, would punish us for it . . . and he did. It seemed like he could be driven crazy by it . . . and so could I. When I tasted this part of myself, it made me scared and sick, but still I held it in reserve, like a malignant power source I could draw on when psychically threatened, when someone tried to go someplace I simply couldn’t tolerate . . . closer.