(If you prefer not to see the Italian lyrics, you can watch here instead.)
The best of the “mature” Springsteen and maybe his best song period. Heresy, I know, for all you fans of Bruce. An absolutely ridiculous assertion. Fans of Springsteen are spewing their beer right now and falling to the ground with laughter. Or booking tickets to Atlanta to knock me around. This song does not even crack the Rolling Stones‘ list of the 100 best Springsteen songs.
If you’re not a Springsteen fan, though, probably this is one of his more endurable songs. No drag racing on the 4th of July on the backstreets of Atlantic City or the streets of Philadelphia, out there in the darkness (because the night, you know) on the edge of town, Bruce resting his hand on the thigh of some girl in her summer clothes — Bobby Jean or Cindy or Janey or Sandy or Mary Lou or just plain Mary (in the dress that waves at him, right after the screen door slams) — and leaning over to whisper to her, “I believe in the faith that can save me, I believe and I hope and I pray, that someday it will raise me above these Badlands,” and after Mary stares at him for a while, taking in just how crazy and intense this lanky, hairy guy really is, they drive down the street a block or two to a bar called Tunnel of Love and dance in the dark.
Lyrics below. What’s to like? Oh, a dozen little things. It’s simple and honest. There’s nostalgia for childhood here, but not overly sentimental. I like the anacoluthon of “Now there’s so much that time.” That is, he never completes the sentence the way he started it. So much that time what? He starts to say that there is so much that time takes from us. But then he decides to say that time itself, not must memory, fades away. “We lose ourselves in work to do and bills to pay.” That’s true. “Hardness … grinds.” Thanks, Bruce, for starting and finishing with the same metaphor. The trope of black and white turning to gray is fresher here than it might be. He adds “so many shades of gray.” Again, true, in my experience.
But it’s really the connection of the lyrics with the circumstances of the recording that clinches it. Springsteen’s been solo for years. On a whim or after long contemplation — what do I know? — he decides to get the band together. He calls everyone at the end of some week in 1995, and everyone’s in New York at the beginning of the next week. So those lyrics at the end? We carry with us always the people we love? Maybe more than just something he made up to sell a few records.
Listen for the late Clarence Clemons’ sax coiling itself around Bruce’s harmonica in the latter, instrumental part of the song, and at about 4:00, for the late Danny Frederici’s little organ flourish. Just heartbreaking. In a good way, I guess.
We played king of the mountain out on the end
The world come chargin’ up the hill, and we were women and men
Now there’s so much that time, time and memory fade away
We got our own roads to ride and chances we gotta take
We stood side by side each one fightin’ for the other
We said until we died we’d always be blood brothers
Now the hardness of this world slowly grinds your dreams away
Makin’ a fool’s joke out of the promises we make
And what once seemed black and white turns to so many shades of gray
We lose ourselves in work to do and bills to pay
And it’s a ride, ride, ride, and there ain’t much cover
With no one runnin’ by your side my blood brother
On through the houses of the dead past those fallen in their tracks
Always movin’ ahead and never lookin’ back
Now I don’t know how I feel, I don’t know how I feel tonight
If I’ve fallen ‘neath the wheel, if I’ve lost or I’ve gained sight
I don’t even know why, I don’t know why I made this call
Or if any of this matters anymore after all
But the stars are burnin’ bright like some mystery uncovered
I’ll keep movin’ through the dark with you in my heart
My blood brother