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The YouTube algorithms served up a clip for me the other night, songs from a recent Springsteen concert in Los Angeles. I was mindlessly killing a few minutes after work, not expecting much.

But, goodness. It got me.

It was “Tougher Than The Rest,” probably his best love song. It featured Bruce on electric and Patti Scialfa on acoustic, singing it as a duet. It brought tears to my eyes.

Why? Well, you have to go back to the beginning.

In 1988, Bruce was married to Julianne Phillips, an actress. He went on tour with the E Street Band (including Patti, a backing singer) in support of “Tunnel of Love,” a collection of songs about love and relationships and marriage – a collection that made it clear there was a titanic struggle going on inside him. “Another fight and I slam the door on/Another battle in our dirty little war. When I look at myself I don't see/ The man I wanted to be.”

It was my first Springsteen concert; as it happened, it was the first night of that tour. He had decided to make it a show revolving around desire and love, for reasons having to do with the album, and Patti, as a result, ended up playing a relatively prominent role as Bruce’s on-stage foil. She was the only girl in the band.

It was “Tougher Than The Rest,” halfway through the show, when I said to my buddy, “Hmmmmm. Is there something going on here?”

The song came across as a low-slung wail of forbidden love, two people visually trying to restrain themselves from what they desperately wanted. You could practically see the smoke rising off both of them. The opening verse: “Well it’s Saturday night, you’re all dressed up in blue. I been watching you awhile, maybe you’ve been watching me too.”

Go watch the official video. You’ll see what I mean.

It all went pretty fast. Bruce and his first wife divorced; Bruce and Patti got married and had three kids, all by 1994. Bruce shut down the band for a decade, more or less staying home.

But now, in 2024, she’s 70; he’s 74, gray. They’re grandparents. Patti doesn’t join in on the shows very often anymore. They’ve been through lots, including his mental health struggles, tabloid crap, plus the usual problems that married people have, no matter how much they love each other.

So there they were, singing that same song, many of the same people on stage, same words, largely the same sound. But it was completely different, deeper. No longer a smoldering wish. More an affirmation of what they’ve already proven to each other. “Yeah, the road is dark/And it's a thin, thin line. But I want you to know, I'll walk it for you anytime.”

It's the most anyone could hope for. Right? Love, standing together.

Everybody gets older. Eventually, we're gone, and knowing that brings both the bitter and the sweet. The tears are both wistful and grateful. Mostly grateful.

By the way, the next song they did in LA was “Fire,” which was essentially saying, “yeah, yeah, the song changes, and we’re an old married couple. But hey, we still got it.”


The SPL Rocks!

Pulled up to my house today
Came and took my little girl away!
Giants Stadium 8/28/03


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