A Springsteen Mystery: Is It 'Sways' or 'Waves?'

'Los Angeles Times' digs into the controversy over Mary's dress in 'Thunder Road'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2021 9:30 AM CDT

It's simple enough question about an iconic song: What does Mary's dress do in the opening line of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road?" The song begins, "The screen door slams. Mary's dress (fill in the blank) ..." The dress either "sways" or "waves," and Rob Tannenbaum of the Los Angeles Times does an entertaining deep dive into the competing camps. Each has compelling evidence on its side. The question has been lingering for a quite a while, but it reignited earlier this month when New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted the line (she was at Springsteen's Broadway show), using "sways." Lots of people pounced—including The Wire creator David Simon, here—and informed Haberman that it was "waves." Simon even citied the original album's lyric sheet, which indeed says "waves."

Springsteen's official songbook also says "waves," as does his website, notes Tannenbaum. That would seem to be a slam dunk. Unless you happen to read Springsteen's own memoir, in which he writes, “‘The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways’—that’s a good opening line." Lyric sites Genius.com and AZlyrics opt for "sways," and Springsteen's handwritten lyrics, which sold at auction, use "sways." However, they also use "Anne" instead of "Mary," making clear the lyrics were in flux at the time. Part of the issue is that Springsteen is "not one of rock's great enunciators," writes Tannenbaum. The singer himself, of course, could help clarify things, but he chose not to comment for the story. “It’s almost like he doesn’t want us to know for sure,” says singer Sara Watkins. Read the full story. (More Bruce Springsteen stories.)

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