Brilliant Disguise (1987) – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen 1987

Bruce Springsteen 1987

Thanks to my school friend Daniel Olsen at secondary school I had been following the Boss a year or so shy of the release of Brilliant Disguise. I distinctly remember seeing this remarkable music video appear on the Saturday morning top 40 ‘Rage’ music program which I obsessively tuned into. Brilliant Disguise became my favourite song in my ‘Bruuuuce’ collection up to that point. His staring down the camera for 4 minutes in real time as the camera looms in and telling it straight about the demise of a relationship catapulted Bruce into my short-list of favourite artists. I was besotted by his transparency and authenticity that he would even consider attempting to deliver this song the way that he did in that highly synthesised and manufactured pop-era. Not only that, but the lyrics and melody floored me:

I heard somebody call your name
from underneath our willow
I saw something tucked in shame
underneath your pillow
Well I’ve tried so hard baby
but I just can’t see
What a woman like you
is doing with me
So tell me who I see
when I look in your eyes
Is that you baby
or just a brilliant disguise

Brilliant Disguise was released as the first single from his album Tunnel of Love in 1987. It represented a serious departure from his anthemic rock output in his previous record – Born in the USA which remains one of the greatest selling albums of all time Brilliant Disguise reached No. 5 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart in the United States. I was in awe at his versatility as a songwriter to be able to leap so far away from the tried and tested formula of his previous music to something so melancholy and country-esque pondering love gone wrong. In 1989, the album was ranked #25 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Best Albums of the Eighties.

Like much of the Tunnel of Love album, “Brilliant Disguise” was recorded in Springsteen’s home studio, called Thrill Hill East, between January and May 1987. The analogies to Springsteen’s personal life at the time are evident: he had recently married then-model and actress Julianne Phillips, and the two would divorce in 1988. The references to marital problems are quite direct, as in the lyrics:

“Oh, we stood at the altar
The gypsy swore our future was right
But come the wee wee hours
Well maybe, baby, the gypsy lied.”

The video of the song below was shot in black and white, and it effectively reflects his emotions as he sits uncomfortably on the edge of a chair. This very personal performance can make it difficult to watch, but it reflects the themes of the song.

1. Brilliant Disguise – Wikpedia

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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35 comments on “Brilliant Disguise (1987) – Bruce Springsteen
  1. Yeah. This is vintage Bruce. This is the Bruce that his die hard fans love. I think. I’m a fan, but not a fanatic. Some of his folksy Dylanesque stuff that the die hard’s love, I don’t. I like songwriting but not the delivery. But this song–and this album–is a testament to all of Springsteen’s strengths.
    Beautifully written post.

    • This song was No1 on the mainstream rock chart so I don’t think ‘Brilliant Disguise’ was wholly exclusive to ‘Diehard fans’, but if I understand you correctly his more acoustic – low key music may not have enraptured as many like his vintage rock hits. ‘Tougher Than the Rest’ is my favourite from the record especially the live version in the video release. Thanks for adding your thoughts about it Pam. I always appreciate it and feel more enlightened.

      • I’m just saying that I think just about all Springsteen fans like this song and this album–more casual fans like myself and Springsteen fanatics too. I maybe wrong about that, but that was gist of my understanding at the time the album was released.

      • If I remember rightly, when this album was released it didn’t go over too well among his hard core fans since it departed from the route they were on, but it has since been admired and looked back most fondly.

        Post ‘Human Touch’ record, that’s another story since Bruce took a spiritual tangent. I never could associate a Dylanesque vibe about Springsteen’s music since Springsteen went on an individual spiritual and soulful journey and even when he did Nebraska earlier on it didn’t sound at all like Dylan. The only coalesce I can find between the two is that once a commentator said he was the new Dylan.

      • Huh. Well then, I’m wrong again. Certainly not the first time.

      • It’s not about right or wrong. It’s your experience with the music, so perhaps I’m not gauging where you were going

  2. Brilliant song. Brilliant performance.

    • I’m delighted you thought so Bruce. Had you heard it before?

      • No I hadn’t heard it before. I also liked the setup in the kitchen and the lighting in the video. Casual homely kitchen – and a master stroke = all very domestic!

      • Yes, it was very domestic; Bruce was still married no less. Yes, he cashed in on the lonely man in a modest home effect! Haha
        On the same album he would get pretty chummy with his backup singer Patti Scialfa in the ‘Tougher Than the Rest’ video which created all kinds of innuendo. He would go on to marry Patti – and they remain in wedded bliss to this day.

      • I didn’t know that about Patti.

      • Yeh. I don’t want to hijack your blogging day, but I definitely recommend the video below of the band and Patti singing ‘If I should Fall Behind’. In these strange times we face, I can’t think of a better song to keep at the forefront of our minds.

      • Incidentally, and this is nothing to do with the video. I was very taken by his shirt in the still photo – the pockets were perfectly aligned at 45 degrees to the pattern. I want one of those!

      • I wish I had chosen that photo because of the 45 degrees design pattern, but now that you mention it – that’s a kick-arse shirt! It perhaps represents geometry unity and could explain the universe and gives us a source code.

      • Yes – Einstein would have bought it if he’d seen it first.

  3. badfinger20 says:

    You beat me to this one. Our band played this song around 5 years after it came out. It’s a brutally honest song…You could feel his pain.

  4. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Well, what did he expect, getting together with a model/actress?
    The only conclusion had to be him sitting awkwardly on the end of a chair as he sang about the end of the relationship, lol.
    It was a nice delivery, like you say, simple and direct, compared to the shiny glowing crap coming out of MTV at the time.

    • Oh that made me laugh – the only conclusion.. Haha
      Yes, this video in that epoch was a breath of fresh air. He went on to do ‘The Streets of Philadelphia’ song-video in a similar minimalist vein which was fantastic.

      • selizabryangmailcom says:

        This video made me start thinking of “I’m On Fire,” which I used to like a lot. I just pulled the video up (which was extremely corny! The lady in the white dress and shoes in the garage) and listened to it….and it was way too fast and didn’t sound as moody and sort of haunting as I remembered it. In fact, it annoyed me. Weird!

      • I liked ‘I’m on Fire’ too, but not nearly as much as some other tracks from Born in the USA. The video is corny as hell lol

        It’s funny when we watch and listen to something anew and our perception and appreciation of it changes from how we remember it.

  5. Another good one Matt. Off a very good album.

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