Songwriter Jerry David DeCicca has never been shy when it comes to Bruce Springsteen. Whether that means discussing the artist’s work through the lens of mental health care or offering up a fine rendition of the Boss balled “If I Should Fall Behind” for Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions series, DeCicca’s Springsteen fandom runs deep.
Ahead of his upcoming dates in California (June 11 at Satellite of Love in San Luis Obispo, plus two dates opening for Bill Callahan— June 13th at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown and June 15th at the Lodge Room in Los Angeles), we asked DeCicca to share his thoughts about Springsteen’s new comeback single, “Hello Sunshine,” the first taste of his upcoming lp Western Stars, out June 14th.
I’m not sure if the dudes at AD asked me for my Brucepinion on his new song because they saw last night’s Instagram story where, dressed in my Tunnel of Love tour t-shirt that I bought in eighth grade, I fed my puppy pasta Lady & the Tramp style, or because my adoration and unreasonable expectations for Springsteen’s music are no secret.
I stayed up past my bedtime last Thursday night, waiting for the new song. At 11 pm Central time, I plugged my headphones into my pink phone and closed my eyes. I listened four times before I fell asleep. I’d been following Springsteen’s stories and comments about this album for a few years, so I knew what touchstones to expect: pedal steel, strings, Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb influences.
At his best, lyrically, Springsteen is a graphic writer, but one careful not to write himself into a corner, away from his audience. In “Hello Sunshine,” he detours. He uses the title as a deadpan salutation and keeps the language unadorned and common. His imagery of rain and empty roads— rhyming “walking shoes” with “blues” — is nothing special. But it’s a deceptive song in that way. In his book, Broadway show, and sprinkled within many of his albums since the mid-80’s, he discusses his history with depression. This is a song about how addicting the romance of that isolationism can be. He sneaks in his signature aphorisms to punctuate his point, like “you walk too far/ you walk away” and “you fall in love with lonely/ you end up that way.” He greets his sunbeam in a laid-back croon, like he’s opening the blinds to check the weather.
And it’s his voice that steers this song. He sounds more like a singer than a singer-songwriter, more reliant on the shape and sound of his voice to tell his story than just things found in a dictionary. This open, operatic voice has been heard, here and there, over decades. In the final refrains of “Backstreets” and the minimalist beginnings of “Something in the Night.” Then, in middle-age, the gravel decreases, and it becomes more contemplative. We hear that voice at the Christic Shows of 1990, in the song “Lift Me Up” from John Sayles’ film, Limbo, during the Devil’s & Dust tour in 2005 when he flips Suicide’s “Dream, Baby, Dream” into a pump organ, Orbison ode, and parts of the Magic album in 2007.
Springsteen has often dressed his songs in the clothes of his record collection to give them an identity to live and breathe. Rockabilly or dust bowl ballads or Phil Spector. Here, the wardrobe is late 60’s L.A. country-pop. Harry Nilsson did this when he put Fred Neil’s song on a Greyhound bus in Midnight Cowboy. Glen Campbell used the Wrecking Crew to sing about John Hartford’s sleeping bag in “Gentle on My Mind.” These two songs are the obvious parents. Springsteen bypasses a folk tune, lifting the melody, while still brooding, just as Neil and Hartford’s shades of blue remain in their AM gold achievers.
What I like most about this song is how it feels unfamiliar and still like a Springsteen song, how the strings and pedal steel swirl into the mellow physicality of his vocal performance. He uses a production playbook and his voice to reach beyond the text of the song. In “Hello Sunshine,” Springsteen isn’t so much welcoming the day, as he’s saying goodbye to the night.