“Self-subversion.” That’s the way Bruce Springsteen described what he was writing about in “Your Own Worst Enemy,” from his Magic album.
In his 2016 autobiography “Born to Run,” Springsteen wrote about his longtime battle with clinical depression. The lines, “There’s a face you know/Staring back from the shop window/The condition you’re in/Now you just can’t get out of this skin,” make it seem like depression is what he’s writing about in this song, too. They also make this song seem like a cousin of “Dancing in the Dark, where Springsteen sang, “I check my look in the mirror/I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face/Man I ain’t getting nowhere/I’m just living in a dump like this.”
You could also see the song, though, as being about someone who has ruined a relationship via personal weakness, or even as representing a political metaphor: Magic is full of songs that seem to have a political component, and so the “you” in “Your Own World Enemy” could be the United States, giving in to its worst impulses during the George W. Bush years. The final line, “Your flag, it flew so high/It drifted into the sky,” supports this interpretation.
Ironically, “Your Own Worst Enemy,” despite its lyrical darkness, is, on its surface, a pretty, ornately orchestrated pop song, and Springsteen croons the lyrics tenderly.
“That’s what gives the record its tension, those two things — the perfect pop universe and then what’s at its center,” Springsteen told Rolling Stone.
Background facts: “Your Own Worst Enemy” is from Springsteen’s 2007 Magic album. According to Brucebase, it was performed in concert nine times between 2007 and 2011, with both full-band and solo-acoustic arrangements. You can watch a solo performance from the 2011 Light of Day concert at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, 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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