“A dream of life comes to me/Like a catfish dancin’ on the end of the line,” sang Bruce Springsteen in “The Rising,” in 2002. I wonder if the image was on his mind as he wrote “Life Itself,” later that decade. The “you” in the song represents “life itself,” but like the dream of life in “The Rising,” this you remains frustratingly out of reach. The link is fragile.
Springsteen sings about “destruction” and “temptation” at the start of the song. Soon the person is “in trouble.” Springsteen sings mournfully: “You squandered all your riches, your beauty and your wealth/Like you had no further use for life itself.”
“I can’t make it without you,” Springsteen matter-of-factly states. Yet the other person, who represents life itself to him, has slipped away from his grasp. And life goes on.
It’s one of Springsteen’s saddest songs, I think, but it also has the surrealistic quality of a dream, with psychedelic guitar effects taking it to a sonic realm where Springsteen rarely goes. To me, at least, the musical excitement and adventurousness makes the song’s tragic dimension a little easier to bear.
Background facts: “Life Itself” is from Springsteen’s 2009 album, Working on a Dream, and has never been performed in concert, according to Brucebase. Although it was not a single, per se, it was released as a free download about a month before the album, and Springsteen made a video for it, which you can watch below.
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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