1987 was a tough year for New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen fans. After our hometown hero conquered the world on the Born In U.S.A. tour, he broke our hearts by marrying a model who he'd first seen in a .38 Special video and summoned to a backstage meeting arranged through his manager. Julianne Phillips was a former cheerleader from Oregon who lived in L.A., about the farthest thing from the kind of Jersey girl Bruce had been singing about so well for so long. And when he ditched the E Street Band for his new album, and posed on the cover wearing a blazer and a bolero tie, Jesus, we thought, is this the end?
No, it turned out, it was not. Luckily for us (and this feels terrible to say, but, from a purely art-appreciative perspective, it is true) Bruce's marriage was an unhappy one, one that would not last very long, and the album that he wrote about it, Tunnel of Love, is, like Nebraska, his previous bandless effort from five years before, a quiet, restrained, intense masterpiece. The misery of his mistaken marriage led Bruce to some of the best writing of his career. Especially on the songs on side 2—the title track, "Two Faces," "Brilliant Disguise," "One Step Up," "When You're Alone," and "Valentine's Day"—Bruce stared into the mirror in a way he never quite had before, and didn't much seem to like what he saw. But he recorded it faithfully. "God have mercy on the man," he sang at the end of "Brilliant Disguise," "who doubts what he's sure of."
Today, 25 years since it hit record store shelves, Tunnel of Love remains the most personal album Bruce has ever recorded, and one of his very best. (One of his six very best.) Then of course the following year he fell in love with a woman every Jerseyite in acid-washed jeans could see was the one for him: the saucy rocker-chick who sang all those hurt, guilty, self-lacerating songs right along with him—his back-up singer, Asbury Park High School alum, Patti Scialfa. They're still married today, still living on the Jersey Shore. Patti couldn't sing with Bruce at the concert I saw this past summer, because she was visiting colleges with their daughter.