I’m trying to decide if I like this song or just these lines:
And all my life, I’ve been told, follow your dreams
But the trail went cold…
Those are really good lines! But are they worth the embarrassing, mid-to-late eighties instrumentation (drum machine, synthesizer washes, think “Streets of Philadelphia” style Springsteen) and the cheesy, over-earnest vocal that should erupt into total cheese but stays too polite (not usually a problem for Flowers, the frontman/primary songwriter for the Killers)? And, ouch, those background vocals!
And yet: there’s something here. From an interview I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition I know Brandon is a Mormon, marrried with two kids, and I hear marriage in this song, which is rare enough in pop music but more so in pop music that gets played on the radio-and-its-digital-appurtenances. The song sounds like a hard conversation across a kitchen table, someone explaining to their long-time partner why for his own survival and mental health he has to give up the dreams for him they dreamed together–why he won’t be able to keep promises he made about what he wanted to be or accomplish. That’s a hard thing to admit! “Worrying about the future/I think I’m losing it now,” he says, and then, “There’s a joy in letting go/I guess I didn’t want to let you know.” It’s an even harder thing to admit when there’s been someone there rooting for you and witnessing your failure.
In Springsteen songs (the early ones, that don’t sound like this) people are tormented by their youthful dreams and ambitions for their whole lives. This is clearly a more healthy approach. It’s complicated, though, this business of letting go of dreams, or redefining what “coming true” looks like. It’s healthy, but sad. Reviewing Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, which rejected the classic private- eye-as-hero genre conventions, Pauline Kael wrote how “melanchoy and full of regrets” this process felt, how “It’s like cleaning house and throwing out things that you know you’re going to miss–there comes a time when junk dreams get in your way.” I’m not sure about “junk dreams”–I’d go with “insupportable”–but Kael’s right, and this song captures what she’s right about. (The movie is really good, too.)
And yet: lines like “time stood still,” ” I remember you in white in the garden,” and “through the ringer” make me wince. And though the lyrics may be “between me and you” the performance feels fake, non-intimate. I’ve forgiven worse, so we’ll see how my relationship with the song progresses. On Youtube you can find a version where Chrissie Hynde comes onstage and sings this with Brandon. She’s got pretty good taste, right?