Tunnel of Love

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Tunnel of Love at the Reality Theme Park: “Here…you gotta dig your own…”

Pretty perceptive for a cheapo greeting card, right?  It doesn’t matter how much you love each other, or how virtuous you are, or how Catholic you are; marriage only works if you are constantly working on it.  What spoke to your wife when you were dating may not mean much to her now, and something that still screams “romance” to you may be just kind of embarrassing for your husband.  You have to sit down and have awkward conversations, and learn to use phrases that sound stilted and artificial to you.  You have to read cheesy self-help books, and it wouldn’t hurt you to log some preventative maintenance at the marriage counselor’s, either–even if you think your problems aren’t serious enough for therapy.  (More on this in a future post.)  Over the last five years, I’ve been constantly surprised by how much work marriage is.

In Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, the tunnel isn’t something you dig so much as something you have to survive, but his descriptions ring true to me.  The song uses an amusement park as an extended metaphor for a relationship, with distorting mirrors and a “room of shadows.”

…the lights go out and it’s just the three of us
You, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.

The tunnel is supposed to be a place where you have your lover all to yourself, under cover of darkness, but Springsteen points out that nobody comes without baggage.  There’s all kinds of things you don’t learn about someone until you live with them (and I don’t mean anything sinister!  People are just…complicated).  Sometimes the complications help you get closer, but sometimes they get in the way, or they were never really there at all–they’re just false projections from miscommunication:

There’s a crazy mirror showing us both in 5D
I’m laughing at you, you’re laughing at me.
There’s a room of shadows that gets so dark, brother,
It’s easy for two people to lose each other….

Springsteen laments the counter-intuitive nature of a relationship, which starts out so simply but gets so complicated just at the height of intimacy:
it ought to be easy ought to be simple enough
Man meets a woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above
if you want to ride on down in through this tunnel of love.

I’ve always been intrigued by the line “you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above.”  It sounds cynical–how can love turn into something you just have to “live with”?–but I don’t think that’s what he means.  The “tunnel”–the experience of real intimacy and commitment, with all its difficulties–is something you can’t “rise above.”  You have to go through.  When you’ve done everything you can to solve your problems, you are still two different people, and it’s never going to be entirely simple.  You have to live with it–embrace it as part of your life, instead of resenting it or pretending it’s not there.  Let me know if you find out what’s at the other end of the tunnel!

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Finding Proof in the Storm

I have always wanted to write about the poetry in Bruce Springsteen’s work!  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  Let’s start with the beautiful “Living Proof,” written after the birth of his first son.

Well now on a summer night in a dusky room
Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light
Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon
In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take
Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make
In a world so hard and dirty, so fouled and confused
Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy
I found living proof.

The spare imagery and description in the first verse is so effective: you can picture the light from heaven, embodied in the moon-filled boy, breaking through the dusk. I remember as a teenager drawing a Christmas card with this lyric and a picture of a ray from heaven breaking into the darkness of the stable. The image of the “fiery” moon is so interesting. To me, it evokes a memory of high school, when I was pretty depressed, staring up at the cold, beautiful, aloof moon and feeling wounded by it. “It was all the beauty I could take.”

…Well now all that’s sure on the boulevard
Is that life is just a house of cards
As fragile as each and every breath
Of this boy sleepin’ in our bed
Tonight let’s lie beneath the eaves
Just a close band of happy thieves
And when that train comes we’ll get on board
And steal what we can from the treasures of the Lord
It’s been a long, long drought baby
Tonight the rain’s pourin’ down on our roof
Looking for a little bit of God’s mercy
I found living proof

I love how Springsteen doesn’t go overboard and act as if all his existential problems are solved with the birth of the baby.  Life is still “fragile,” and he still feels like a “thief” who hasn’t really earned this blessing.  In other songs, Springsteen talks about a tentative hope or a belief in redemption and God’s love that keeps him going, but it’s never enough to take away the feeling of “dancing in the dark;” stumbling through the pain of life without despair, but without certitude and peace either.  In “Atlantic City:” “everything dies, baby, that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies some day comes back.”  Maybe.  But to stop searching for the meaning in life is unthinkable–Springsteen often references the living death of an unexamined life.  In “The Promised Land:”

I’ve done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning, go to work each day
but your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometime I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this whole town apart.

The only way for him to live with himself is by leaving the town and going out into the wilderness:

I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the deams that tear you apart….

He rejects the false “dreams” that kept him pacified, but there is nothing except blind “faith” to replace them.  This reminds me of what I remember from reading Camus in college: even if you’re not sure that there is any transcendence in the world, the most noble thing you can do is to live as if there is.  [I am aware that this may be a totally inaccurate description of Camus!  It’s been a long time.]  The speaker in “Born to Run” doesn’t know where he’s going, but he’s got to escape the “death trap” of the town.  Because he’s unsatisfied with his false life, he’s “born to run,” just like the speaker in “Hungry Heart;” “like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing,” he’s compelled to keep running until he finds his true home.  Like Aeneas, he has to go down into the underworld before he can discern the path to his true destiny.

After re-reading this post, I realize how unusual “Living Proof” is; it begins with the same theme of being lost in the “drought,” but goes one step further by recognizing actual proof of God’s love–not just some nameless hope.  He may be missing the words to the prayer he needs to make, but the innocence of his son completes it for him.  One final quote from “Living Proof:”

You shot through my anger and my rage
To show me my prison was just an open cage
There were no keys, no guards
Just one frightened man and some old shadows for bars.

Next time I write about Springsteen, I’d like to continue talking about this theme in the song “Tunnel of Love.”  I’d better stop for now because I could do this all day.