Most of the lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch song “The Long Goodbye” could apply to any situation where someone knows he or she should leave something— a relationship, or a place or a job — but is having prolonged trouble doing so. The narrator is “Chippin’ away at this chain of my own lies/Climbin’ a wall a hundred miles high,” Springsteen sings.
But there is also a specific meaning that applies to Springsteen in the early ’90s. As Brian Hiatt writes in his book “Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs,” the song is “an amusing confessional about Springsteen’s failure to leave New Jersey for the seventeen years since ‘Born to Run.’ ”
I’m not sure why staying in New Jersey is somehow akin to committing a sin that has to be confessed. But these lines, in particular, support Hiatt’s interpretation:
Well, I went to leave 20 years ago
Since then, I guess, I’ve been packing kinda slow
Sure did like that admiring touch
Guess I liked it a little too much
The “admiring touch” refers to being treated like a hometown hero, I guess.
Mostly, though, “The Long Goodbye” is not that specific, and is simply about finally breaking free after being stuck in a rut. And I love its gritty rhythm and snarling guitar leads: It’s definitely one of the hardest-hitting songs on Springsteen’s ’90s albums. It’s also one of the Springsteen songs that has taken on new meaning after he has, in recent years, begun talking about his longtime battle with depression.
Background facts: “The Long Goodbye” is from Springsteen’s 1992 Human Touch album. He is backed on the track by bassist Randy Jackson, drummer Jeff Porcaro, and E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan.
According to Brucebase, Springsteen has performed the song in concert three times, all in 1992 (and never in New Jersey!)
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.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.