Finish the following lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”:
Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife baby
edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley
through the middle of my [BLANK]…
Well? What’s the last word in the stanza? Is it skull… or soul?
The answer depends whether you trust your ear or Springsteen’s official lyrics.
According to Springsteen’s website, the word is “soul.” If you take that at face value, that makes the lyric a mondegreen — a commonly misheard lyric — since many, many people seem to hear “skull,” not soul. If this is the case, this is merely the second most famous Springsteen-related mondegreen, the first existing within Manfred Mann’s cover of “Blinded by the Light” in which “deuce” clearly sounds like “douche.”
There’s also a chance that maybe Bruce Springsteen’s official lyrics for “I’m On Fire” are wrong. The majority of the covers of “I’m On Fire” go with “Skull,” implying that’s what most musicians seem to hear.
I think there’s a third answer for “I’m On Fire.” One I prefer.
When it comes to the “skull” vs “soul” argument, I think both are right.
I think Springsteen purposely slurs the lyric.
In this scenario, Springsteen understands that some listeners will hear soul, while others will instinctively rhyme the last word in the stanza with “dull,” causing some to instead hear “skull.”
In the stanza it’s used, “soul” makes perfect sense. There is no literal knife, and the agony he’s feeling is not physical, but emotional.
But later, Bruce sings,
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
and a freight train running through the
middle of my head
This gives credence to Bruce being a man with a (metaphorical) valley in his skull large enough for a freight train to go through.
Usually you avoid mixing metaphors, but these two meanings blend well together (if you ask me). I like to think of the two different stanzas — soul and head — as the parallels of the heart and the mind. He’s describing the way love can screw with both, to the extent that it makes it hard to even separate the two. With this innocuous dual meaning, “I’m On Fire” articulates a complicated idea: the heart’s desire is sometime’s the mind’s folly.
Sure, you might feel intense lust for someone, but that doesn’t mean sleeping with them is right. Especially if they’re married, Bruce.