Tunnel of Love was Bruce’s Blood on the Tracks. I’m far from the first person to say that, although when I wrote about it during the very first year of this blog, I compared it to Planet Waves. “Brilliant Disguise” was released as a single before the album came out. Understand that in 1987, Bruce was coming off of Born in the U.S.A., which sold upwards of 30 million copies, and a live box set that was one of the biggest-selling live albums of all time. (This evidence is anecdotal, i.e. it’s what I remember but I don’t have the energy to look it up, but I feel like the story was a lot of people bought CD players so they could play the live set.) It is safe to say anticipation was high for Tunnel of Love.
And the first thing we heard was this:
Tonight our bed is cold
I’m lost in the darkness of our love
God have mercy on the man
Who doubts what he’s sure of
Tunnel of Love was a great album, and “Brilliant Disguise” is a great song. But, as I noted back in 2002, “Tunnel of Love reeks with despair over love (never was a album dedication more ominously plain than this one: "Thanks Juli"). Juli was his first wife, Julianne Phillips, and it’s rough, that he thanked his wife in the notes for an album filled with the traumas of love.
The album closed with “Valentine’s Day”, one of my favorite Bruce songs. “Brilliant Disguise” was a #1 single, but I last saw him play it in concert in 1992, and I’ve seen him 18 times in the 23+ years since then. It’s as if once his marriage ended, and he began life anew with Patti, he didn’t like returning to those earlier times. (In the last five shows I’ve seen, going back to 2008, he hasn’t played a single song from Tunnel of Love.) But at least I got a handful of “Disguises”. “Valentine’s Day” is one of the rare Bruce songs I have never heard him play live. And I don’t expect to hear it when I see him next month, either.
“Valentine’s Day” doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album at first. It’s the closing track, the story of a guy who misses his girl. He’s on the road (it’s a Bruce song, after all), driving back to see his honey. It isn’t ironic ... Bruce rarely is ... you can tell he really loves her and really misses her and really wants to get back home to her.
But it’s also the most melancholy version of love. This guy is terrified: “I got one hand steady on the wheel and one hand's tremblin' over my heart ... What scares me is losin' you.” Even when he finally gets to her, a feeling of sadness lies over everything: “So hold me close honey, say you’re forever mine, and tell me you’ll be my lonely valentine.”