This past weekend I went to a Super Bowl party. It was the first time I’ve been out in weeks. There were some strangers there, but it was mostly friends I’ve known for 30 years. We were there for different reasons and most of us didn’t care who won the game . For some, showing up to a party was a good reason to catch up with friends and watch the game as part of everyday life, but I knew I was only there to take a break from my own.
I’ve been listening to Bruce Springsteen’s new record, The Promise, over and over. If you’ve read anything about it you’ll know its material he recorded but abandoned 30 years ago ---about the same time I first met the people at the party. It was written and recorded between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. As Bruce states in the liner notes, it’s “tough music for folks in tough circumstances” and it was custom made for that night. After a few heart to heart conversations with friends, we were right back in each other’s lives --- old friends who had never outgrown the circle.
The songs on Springsteen’s new collection, The Promise, are about love, tenderness, doubt, hope, passion, loneliness, discovery and trying not to give up on life even though sometimes it feels like every part of you wants to. After I left the party, I swear I could have selected any song and matched it to any one of my friend’s situation. The Brokenhearted, It’s a Shame, Breakaway, Because the Night, Talk to Me, Outside Looking In, Racin’ in the Street. The Promise. . . and on and on.
Being able to see people with whom I shared a special bond was a joy without measure. Yet slowly as the night went on, I felt the room filling with doubt and uncertainty. Many of us were wounded in some way or another; the end of a marriage, the loss of a parent, unemployment, illness, addiction, confliction and contradiction. After spilling guts like old friends can do, I’m pretty sure when we left, each of us retrieved our own burdens from the invisible pile that had grown in the middle of the room. Some acted as if they didn’t care while some washed away the pain with a beer and a shot, allowing their buried laughter to briefly surface. Some searched quietly for help and some knew they’d be ok in time; while others of us were still trying unsuccessfully to move on.
30 years ago when he recorded the material, Bruce was talking about some of life’s simple truths that I’d not yet learned. In the span of 30 years I grew to love him because of the undeniable connection his music forged with me as I grew up. Now, 30 years down the road, the subject matter has become the soundtrack to my life.
“Save My Love” was the first song I heard from “The Promise.” For my money, it’s the greatest 2:38 of music to be released in the last three decades. The first verse feels doubtful and fearful: “There’s something coming through the air, that softly reminds me—tonight I’ll park out on the hill and wait until they find me. Slipping through the ether, a voice is coming through. So keep me in your heart tonight and I’ll save my love for you.” The redemption arrives in the next blistering stanza “So turn up your radio, darlin’ dial me in close. We’re ridin’ through the airwaves and we’re traveling’ coast to coast. Over river and highway, your voice comes clear and true. Though we’re far apart tonight I’ll save my love for you.”
Having just gone through (and still going through) a sad and terrible break up with the woman I thought I was going to marry, it surprised me how the song gave me hope during the dying days of our relationship. I was still hanging on to the promise I made to her and her abrupt departure made me feel like a fool, until I realized promises sunk like stones when they’re only held with one hand.
The song resonated with me because it was once a reflection of the love we both knew. “Hold me in your arms and our doubts won’t break us. If we open up our hearts, love won’t forsake us.” It provided the sliver of hope that I needed, but now I know I’ll never talk to, or see her again. In a fantasy, I wanted her to dial me in close and hear the same bittersweet message the song held because we lived in different cities. I thought if she tried, she’d be able to feel it through the radio waves, in the wires, in the air, somewhere . . .anywhere.
People have told me there’s beauty in pain, but I have yet to find it. I love her and I hate her and some days I’m not proud of either one. The same people told me there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of this, but the only thing I’ve learned is that losing someone you’re in love with robs you of everything except your pain.
“The Little Things My Baby Does” is a song that no woman in love could deny. It’s a Phil Spector-ish mid tempo rocker, reminiscent of The Ronnette’s “Be My Baby,” but a little slower. It is the perfect, cheek- to-cheek-sway-with-your- own- baby song. You feel the tenderness found in the sentiment like you feel your lovers heart beating next to yours as you dance.
“The way she kisses so tenderly, the way she gives her love to me
The way she sighs when I hold her tight. Good times or bad will be all right.
Faces on the street they push hard and they shove Then disappear with the little things my baby does.
The party has been over for a while and presumably everyone who was there is now home with someone they either love, missed or maybe hated; didn’t want to live with, never should have married yet can’t live without--- someone they’d give their life for or someone they don’t realize they are ignoring. Or maybe they just don’t know each other and haven’t given it enough time, or effort; or perhaps they don’t understand the significance of a promise.
It’s now going on 2:30 AM. This is the first night I’ll slept in my own bed since she said goodbye. Hers was always the last voice I’d hear telling me she loved me before we went to sleep. My baby’s voice is gone and she’s muted mine in the process. She’s probably at home, sleeping peacefully with her new dog taking up my side of the bed and getting on with her life.
I’m still restless and I can’t sleep. I look at the clock in front of me but it’s too blurry to read. The sliver of light coming through the window will no longer shine on her face as she turns for that one last kiss goodnight. Every kiss from her was the greatest one my life would know until her next one.
Bruce is still playing in the other room.
“When the promise is broken you go on living
But it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference
Something in your heart turns cold.”
And like Bruce, when the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams.