For Bruce and Julianne, No Light at the End of the Tunnel

updated 06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

I'm a prisoner of rock and roll!" Bruce Springsteen used to shout at the end of his concerts. Then last February, at the start of his three-month Tunnel of Love Express tour, Bruce changed his tune. "I'm a prisoner of love!" he announced. And why not? The Boss had bid his bachelor days adieu more than two years before and was married, presumably happily, to model-turned-actress Julianne Phillips.

Now, it turns out, he was a prisoner with a sense of confinement. At this point, five months later, friends say Bruce, 39, is loose and contemplating divorce. He and Julianne, 28, have not been seen together since early May, when she attended his San Francisco concerts. The Springsteens spent their third anniversary, on May 13, apart, and 10 days later, when the U.S. leg of his tour ended in New York, Bruce stayed with his band at a hotel instead of returning to the couple's Rumson, N. J., estate or their Manhattan town house.

By that time, suspicious fans noted, Springsteen wasn't wearing his wedding ring. Much in evidence, though, was backup singer Patti Scialfa, 36, whose steamy bump-and-grind performance with Springsteen onstage was apparently more than just showbiz. Over the past few weeks the two have been seen around Manhattan, grabbing a meal at 2:30 a.m., showing up at the Cat Club and working out together at the Manhattan Plaza gym. "They were definitely a 'couple,' " says one gym member. "They were laughing, joking around." Then last week, during the first leg of Bruce's two-month European tour, the Boss was spotted in his underwear, nuzzling Patti on a balcony of the Rome Hilton. Later he was seen with his arm around her on the famed Spanish Steps.

The couple's professional relationship dates back to 1984, when Bruce asked Patti to join his E Street Band for the Born in the U.S.A. tour. By then, he had been seeing her perform for years at the Stone Pony, his favorite bar in Asbury Park, N. J., and he recently helped her nail down a solo album contract with Columbia Records. A friend of Patti's says she had a crush on the Boss from the start, but nothing came of it until this spring.

Patti is a New Jersey native and, like the Boss, a veteran of the Asbury Park music scene. In short, she's the kind of woman Springsteen extols in his songs, whereas Julianne, raised in Oregon, had never even seen him perform until the night her manager introduced them after one of his concerts. "He would be a tough guy to be married to," says an industry source. "He's serious and intense, and Julianne—well, she's no brain surgeon."

Neither Bruce nor Julianne has discussed their split, but the consensus among those who know them is that Bruce is behaving badly. "I think maybe Bruce is not handling the pressure of being such a big star," says a friend. "He talks about scruples and commitment, but the sad thing is, he's having an affair. People think it's okay because he's such a big star. But this is his wife he's hurting. It's chickens—of him to leave the country and leave Julianne holding this. Maybe now people will see that the Boss is human."

Some observers blame the breakup on Julianne's pursuit of her own career at a time when Bruce wanted a family. The wife of another rock star recalls a backstage meeting some years ago between Springsteen and his ex-girlfriend Karen Darvin, who had brought along one of her children by rocker Todd Rundgren. "Bruce was so excited to see the baby," this woman says. "He picked it up and was quite loving." Close friends, though, say Julianne never resisted the idea of having children. "It's not like we weren't trying," she told a pal recently. Bruce, on the other hand, is said to have vacillated between wanting his wife with him and rooting for her career to take off. In fact, Julianne often traveled with Bruce and only recently landed her first big studio movie, opposite Chevy Chase in Fletch Saved, now filming in Los Angeles.

At the moment, everyone close to Springsteen, including Julianne, seems baffled by the collapse of the marriage. "Julianne's just had her whole life blown apart," says a close friend. "With Bruce behaving like this, she feels she's been living in a fantasy for three years." Perhaps Springsteen can't quite explain it either. In "When You're Alone," on his Tunnel of Love album (which carries the dedication "Thanks, Juli"), he sings:

It's just nobody knows, honey,
where love goes
But when it goes, it's gone, gone.

—By Bonnie Johnson, with bureau reports in Los Angeles, New York and Rome

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