It rips by at such a hyperspeed pace, goosed by Max Weinberg’s rapid beat and the fast-fingered keyboard work of Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, that it’s easy to miss the depth of this peppy number off The River. Springsteen was taking a page from the Lennon/McCartney playbook by couching some of his deeply personal lyrics in a high-tempo number. In fact, if this song has a drawback, it’s that it takes that strategy too far to the extreme. If your ears pop, you could miss the message.
The second verse ranks with any of Springsteen’s all-time best, as he was beginning at that time to explore what it meant to be a man and what was really important in life. He sings: “Once I spent my time playing tough guy scenes/But I was living in a world of childish dreams/Someday these childish dreams must end/To become a man and grow up to dream again.”
The meaning isn’t hard to parse. Bruce was finding out that not even his success at doing the thing he loved to do since he was a kid was completely fulfilling, and his fantastical earlier songs full of charismatic characters roaming the night had little to do with the life he was now living. Putting away childish things for him didn’t mean laying down his guitar. It meant finding the intangibles that proved elusive even to rock stars: Companionship, togetherness, love. Hence, the chorus: “Two hearts are better than one.”
The great thing about being in a band is that there are built-in friendships that can provide a bond as tight, in its way, as familial or romantic bonds. So it’s no surprise that Springsteen sings that second verse and the choruses in charming harmony with his right-hand man, Steven Van Zandt. In this way at least, Bruce can reconcile his childish dreams with the necessities of an ordinary man.
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Thanks to the unknown artist for the lovely sketch!