“Brilliant Disguise” by Bruce Springsteen (1987)

Tunnel Of Love is a killer album front to back. Bruce Springsteen took all of his marital angst and channeled it into a series of songs that cut deeply. It’s one thing to write a heartbreak song, quite another to write a suite of them that all sound like Band-aids being ripped off of a still healing wound. “Brilliant Disguise” is one of Tunnel Of Love’s most hard-hitting songs and is arguably my favorite Springsteen song ever. It certainly comes from my favorite Springsteen album ever.

Every line in this song is a gut punch. The third verse in particular moves me.

“Now you play the loving woman

I’ll play the faithful man

But just don’t look too close into the palm of my hand

We stood at the altar

The gypsy swore our future was bright

But in the wee wee hours, maybe baby, the gypsy lied

So when you look at me, you better look hard and look twice

Is that me, baby? Or just a brilliant disguise?”

DEVASTATING. How do you write something like that? I would pay money to be able to write something like that just once. Not that I’m for-real bargaining or anything. But if the offer was on the table, I would certainly consider it.

Seriously, though. Songs like “Brilliant Disguise” could never be written by a songwriter-for-hire or performed by any old singer unless it’s one of those lightning-in-a-bottle situations in which the performer is going through a personal situation similar to the sentiments expressed in the song. Bruce is the only person who could do this song justice.

I remember the night I heard “Brilliant Disguise” for the first time. The video premiered on Entertainment Tonight if I remember correctly. Well, it probably premiered on MTV and us plebes who couldn’t afford cable at the time got to see it for the first time on ET. I didn’t dislike the song, but it seemed low-energy compared to the songs on Born In The U.S.A. and I thought the video (Bruce sings the song while sitting at a generic kitchen table) was boring. Granted, I was 11 and that music was clearly beyond my life experience comprehension.

With thirty more years in the rear view mirror, let’s just say I get it-ALL of it-a whole lot more now. It’s strange to me that more artists didn’t go for the “sing live to the track” approach used in the “Brilliant Disguise” video. My cynical side says that some of the anguish on Bruce’s face is performative, but I think if Bruce was able to consistently act out that level of pain, he would’ve gone into acting and not singing. The fact that watching this video makes me uncomfortable (I actually switched tabs and just listened to the audio the last time I cued it up on YouTube) should resolve any believability issues in and of itself.

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