Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, Honorable Mention--"Living Proof"/"Human Touch"

The last Friday Fun series went pretty well--I enjoyed it at least.  So, for this series, I am going to try the impossible and come up with a list of my top ten Springsteen songs.  The impossibility of the task is demonstrated by the fact that I couldn't keep to ten and had to add these two honorable mentions.  I am also not going to include two songs I have already talked about, "Reason to Believe" and "Land of Hope and Dreams."  I don't want to rehash what I said previously, which is why I am not including them in this list, but they are both certainly among my ten favorite Springsteen songs, and "Land of Hope and Dreams" is either #1 or at a minimum #2.

As far as the song clips go, I am going to go exclusively with live concert footage, because that it is the only way to fully appreciate the Springsteen experience.  I've seen him twice (once in DC in 2012 and once in Columbus in 2014, which is the source of a number of the clips I am going to use), and it is amazing to watch.  Here is a 60+ year old guy, and his mostly 60+ year old bandmates, play for a minimum of three hours with tremendous energy.  It's fantastic.

Anyway, for this honorable mention, I am going to go with two songs off of Springsteen's sort-of-but-not-really double album Lucky Town/Human Touch.  Both came out in 1992 on the same day, and both were basically seen as commercial and critical failures.  Lucky Town/Human Touch wasn't recorded with the famous E Street Band, and the songs were less about classic Springsteen themes and more about family and love and other "softer" subjects.  Those two albums kicked off a decade which was probably the low point in Springsteen's relevance as an artist--he only put out one more album (the somber and acoustic The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1996) and it looked like he was going to fade away.  Then he put the E Street Band back together, went on the triumphant Reunion tour in 2000, and made The Rising in 2002 (about which more to come).  Basically by 2002 he was back to being Bruce.

I listened to the entirety of Lucky Town and Human Touch in the last couple of days, and it struck me that there is one great album worth of material among the two.  Which is really the problem--there is a lot of filler and skippable tracks woven in among the good stuff.  But there is good stuff to be found, especially the two songs shown below.

"Living Proof" (off of Lucky Town (1992))
Concert Footage:  Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (U.S.A.), 2009

I will get to the song lyrics in a second, but first some context to understand why that clip is so amazing.  The way Springsteen concerts work is that people bring signs with song requests, and Bruce will go through a pick a handful and the band will play them (usually in the middle of the concert).  Keep in mind that Springsteen has produced 18 studio albums over a 40 year period, along with a series of compilations of additional studio material.  So, when Springsteen takes a request, it is often a more obscure song that the band hasn't played in years, and yet they always pull it off flawlessly.

But this "Living Proof" clip goes even further than that.  As I mentioned, Lucky Town album was not an E Street Band album, and so only one of the people on the stage were involved in making the album.  What you see in the clip is the first time the band ever played that song.  That's why you see Springsteen holding up fingers at various points--he's calling out the key changes.  They are doing everything on the fly, yet, it sounds amazing.

It's also a great song.  Springsteen doesn't get enough credit for working spiritual themes to into his music, but he does it just as much (and almost as well) as a band like U2.  Like U2, Springsteen traffics in what you might call "practical spirituality"--the spirituality that comes from the everyday experiences of life.  While I certainly don't disdain the big philosophical ideas (as any reader of this blog can attest), these smaller and tangible experiences are often the source of the deepest insights.

Here, the prompt is holding on to a baby, but the broader idea is to recon with the ways in which we run away from who we are.  You can't truly love anyone until you love yourself, but sometimes by loving someone else, or being loved, you come to love yourself.  Until we do that, we are trapped in a prison of our own making.  Or, as the bridge says:

You shot through my anger and 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

It's a simple song, but a profound one.

"Human Touch" (off of Human Touch (1992))
Concert Footage:  Madison Square Garden, New York (U.S.A.), 2009

Speaking of profound ideas:

Oh girl that feeling of safety you prize 
Well it comes with a hard hard price 
You can't shut off the risk and pain 
Without losin' the love that remains 
We're all riders on this train 

So you been broken and you been hurt 
Show me somebody who ain't 
Yeah I know I ain't nobody's bargain 
But hell a little touchup 
And a little paint... 

You might need somethin' to hold on to 
When all the answers they don't amount to much 
Somebody that you can just talk to 
And a little of that human touch

All of us, deep down, are a mess.  That's not a criticism, that's just a fact.  If our messiness was a reason to stay away from others, then no one would ever get together, ever.  Sometimes you just need to jump out into the void.  That person on the other side, well, he or she is a mess, too, so we shouldn't expect miracles or saviors.  But as long as we keep that in mind, as long as we recognize that other people are flawed and broken just like us, there is comfort and joy to be found.  That, to me, is what this song is about.

This particular clip is also amazing because the woman singing with Bruce is his wife, Patti Scialfa.  There is something almost voyeuristic about this clip, like we are seeing into the relationship of two people who have been married for almost 30 years and are still deeply in love.

Human Touch is Springsteen's best love song.  It is not a genre he is known for, but it is one his later songs really hit, probably because he experienced it himself.


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