Say hey there mister bouncer
Now all I want to do is dance
But I swear I left my wallet
Back home in my workin’ pants
C’mon Slim slip me in man
I’ll make it up to you somehow
I can’t be late I got a date
With all that heaven will allow
— All That Heaven Will Allow, Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love, 1987
Two lines in this lyric stand out to me and demonstrate what I think is the genius of Bruce Springsteen.
Now, maybe you never liked Springsteen. As I have conceded to many people who don’t, family members and others; you’re right, his voice is definitely an acquired taste. And, you’re right; his range is limited.
Maybe you’re young and you consider Springsteen too old. Well, I get that, too. He is 67. But … your loss.
I consider Springsteen nothing less than one of the great lyricists of my lifetime. He is, without overstating it, a poet.
He’s also supremely talented musically. He writes it all. On Tunnel of Love, spare as it is, he played almost all the instruments (though he did use some synthesizers and such).
This song, off what is probably my favorite Springsteen album, is not close to my favorite Springsteen song. It’s not even my favorite off this album. It’s a simple pop song — maybe you’d call it pop rock — with an easy beat that is straightforward Springsteen: A dude is trying to meet up with his girl. On an album that is filled with songs of heartache and warnings about the pitfalls of relationships — the title track uses a scary fun house tunnel of love as a not-so-stretched metaphor for the real thing — All That Heaven Will Allow is simple stuff.
Some have read it differently; a scared man fighting against obstacles to love. But to me it’s not nearly as dark as the rest of the album (which, again, is brilliant and entirely listenable). It’s just a guy yearning to get with his girl.
Yep. That can get pretty spooky in itself.
The two lines that so stick with me from this song stick with me because they are so simple and so true, which I think is the essence of the best songwriting. You could pick any two out of that single lyric up there, and you might not guess my favorites:
But I swear I left my wallet
Back home in my workin’ pants.
In these lines, there is that desperation that others see in this song and the album. (Bruce was going through a tough time in his life in 1987.) But there also is that honesty, that realness, even a hopefulness that marks the best Springsteen songs.
I mean … “workin’ pants.” I’m not even sure that many people even understand the concept. But if you’ve ever done time in a restaurant, or a warehouse, or a factory, or anyplace where you might get messy (not an office), you get it. You got your going-out pants. And you got your workin’ pants. I love that.
Anyone who ever has had workin’ pants has left their damn wallet in them, too.
I could name you dozens of other Springsteen lyrics which are more powerful and much more poetic and hit at things much deeper, lyrics that will blow you away and have you thinking about them for weeks. But the beauty here is the simplicity.
Sometimes, you don’t need deep and dark and complicated. Sometimes, all you need is to get with your girl.