Released with little fanfare in 2014, Bruce Springsteen’s four-song American Beauty is most notable, in my opinion, for its final track, “Hey Blue Eyes”— “one of my darkest political songs,” in Springsteen’s own words.
It’s placid on its surface, and its chorus (“Hey Blue Eyes, what you doing tonight/
Hey Blue Eyes, it’s alright”) couldn’t be more unassuming. But most of the verses are sung from the point of view of a mean but supremely calm torturer, saying things like “Tonight I’ll have you naked and crawling at the end of my leash” and “In this house it’s so easy to set a world on fire/All you need is the need and the money and a soul full of reckless desire.”
It’s not just one of Springsteen’s darkest political songs. It’s probably his darkest song, period — an unflinching look at humanity at its cruelest and creepiest.
I think Springsteen makes particularly good use of Patti Scialfa’s backing vocals. We’re used to them being warm and comforting, of course, but in this context — listen to them, for instance, at 1:16 and 2:10 — their serenity makes them absolutely chilling.
When American Beauty came out, Springsteen described “Hey Blue Eyes” this way: “Written during the Bush years, it’s a metaphor for the house of horrors our government’s actions created in the years following the invasion of Iraq. At its center is the repressed sexuality and abuse of power that characterized Abu Ghraib prison. I feel this is a shadow we as a country have yet to emerge from.”
Background facts: “Hey Blue Eyes” was considered for Springsteen’s January 2014 High Hopes album, though since he said it was written during the Bush years, which would put its genesis sometime between 2000 and 2008. The Abu Ghraib scandal peaked in 2003 and 2004, so it seems likely it dates back to that time, and was considered for Springsteen’s frequently political 2007 Magic album, too.
It was not released until Springsteen’s April 2014 American Beauty EP, and it never has been performed by Springsteen at a concert.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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