“You’ll Be Coming Down” is a song about winning the world and losing your soul. It’s a portrait of a pop idol who wants everything, and maybe she gets it…but she can’t hang onto it for long. It’s a vision of the world as a hollow parade of sparkly baubles that may be easy to grab, but can only disintegrate in your hands.
I’ve always wondered why “You’ll Be Coming Down” wasn’t a staple of the Magic tour shows. It’s one of my favorite songs from that record. I’ve heard lots of complains about Brendan O’Brien’s production, but the flatter, loud mix isn’t a bad thing to my ears. There’s a hot treble on this record that demands a certain volume and frequent play in automobiles with the windows cranked down. I have no trouble picking out the instruments; there’s space there, but bleed too.
It’s a bit of a detour for an album like Magic, which seems preoccupied with social and political concerns…but of course, Springsteen’s always been masterful at finding ways to connect disparate stories and themes together into a unified whole. The Magic album deals with illusions of all kinds, and consequently, the search for truth. Sleight of hand is “easy street, a quick buck and true lies,” whether it’s in politics, love, or pop music.
Does the subject of Springsteen’s scorn earn this level of disdain? It’s hard to say. There’s moments of casual cruelty here that suggest the song has a personal dimension. You have to imagine he’s injecting some of his own experiences into it; the character’s never explicitly defined as a woman, although the “pretty face” bit seems to suggest that she is. He could just as easily be talking about himself, and the obstacles he faces as a journeyman rocker who’s had plenty of success but isn’t quite riding the top of the charts as he once did.
Actually, the “pop idol” bit is a leap in itself; it’s just as easy to imagine this character as one of the vapid, unprincipled politicians who’ve marched their way through Washington over the past few decades. Is there idealism in the opening verse? Or is it just naked ambition? Turn on the TV news any night of the week, and you’re sure to see plenty of “smiles as thin as those dusky blue skies.”
Whether he’s indicting the empty theater of modern politics or the empty pageant of modern pop music, Springsteen sings the song, and so he gets the ending he wants; the character gets her comeuppance. Her cinnamon sky goes candy-apple green. It all falls apart with no warning.