Growing up I didn’t know Jakob Dylan was Bob Dylan’s son. I don’t believe this would have changed my perception of the Wallflowers much, but it’s odd to think of a man living in a legends shadow and a listener having no clue. I spent $20 bucks on Bringing Down the Horse and listened to One Headlight, 6th Avenue Heartache, and the Difference over and over again. The extent of my Wallflower knowledge of 1997 when this passage is written about.
In Steven Hyden’s book Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock, he details a clip that resurrected Bruce Springsteen from a period in his life of going “soft”, to the rocker that he was in when he started in the 70’s. The video is below, but I”d suggest reading the analysis in order to save time to understand what’s going on. I copied Steven word for word so I hope this isn’t plagiarizing. Buy the book!
I buy into the theory that Springsteen was actually reborn a few years earlier, at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, when he performed “One Headlight” with one of the world’s most popular rock bands of that time, the Wallflowers. When you watch the video of the performance, you can see Bruce Springsteen learning how to be Bruce Springsteen again. At the beginning of the clip – as unlikely as it might see now – it’s clear that the Wallflowers are doing Springsteen a favor. Bruce seems tentative as he strums his Fender Esquire; which he hasn’t really rocked in a while. Plus, he has a goatee, which is weird, like we’re actually seeing his less impressive and somewhat tepid twin brother, Barry Springsteen. On the chorus, Springsteen joins Jakob Dylan on the backing vocals. You expect that distinctive Springsteen bark to drown the other guy out, but Dylan is out-singing Springsteen. Again, it seems inconceivable. But look it up on YouTube. I swear it’s true.
On the second verse, a sense of relief is apparent on Springsteen’s face. He’s made it this far and everything sounds pretty good. Dylan cedes the microphone and generously invites Bruce to take over, and suddenly it’s apparent that “One Headlight” is secretly the best Springsteen song of the nineties. Looking back, Jakob Dylan’s most crucial contribution to rock ‘n’ roll was providing a placeholder for Bruce Springsteen in the culture when the man himself wasn’t at this strongest. “One Headlight” was a massive radio hit in the late nineties; it proved that there was still an audience out there for wild and innocent story songs about girls named Cinderella. For twenty years, Springsteen had owned songs like that, but he had ceded his kingdom in order to make muted records about AIDS victims and Mexican migrant workers. Fortunately, Dylan kept the brawny midtempo rock anthem alive just long enough for Springsteen to catch a second wind in his career.
Then Bruce plays a smoking guitar solo, like he’s still trying to prove that he’s the fastest gun in Asbury Park. It’s now, official One Headlight has officialy been taken over.
Bruce wrangles the third verse away from Dylan – he’s no longer a guest on this song, he has declared squatters rights and taken possession. Now Bruce is all you can hear and look at and care about. On the outro, Bruce tries to trade solos with the Wallflowers’ guitarist but the poor guy’s hands can’t move. (I’m serious, watch the video, the man is stunned in the presence of the Boss) So, Springsteen just tears out a few more dirty licks until the song end.
Then the sounds of glorious victory: A hail of “Bruuuuuuce!” chants reigning down from the audience, a Greek chorus welcoming our hear back to greatness.