To love Bruce Springsteen is to appreciate the power of the mumble. For the last half century, Springsteen and his beloved E Street Band—and sometimes solo—have churned out hit after hit. But even top fans have struggled to get Springsteen’s lyrics straight. In fact, my own mother, a longtime Bruce Springsteen fan, recently recalled the neighborhood’s utter befuddlement trying to deduce the “Blinded by the Light” lyrics before getting their hands on the record’s lyric sheet. But the latest in Springsteen lyrical chaos is a particular word in “Thunder Road” that’s divided the fandom.
In fact, this lyrical dispute is so distressing to many that none other than The New Yorker has taken up the case. No, it’s not the latest Ronan Farrow investigative report. This goes even higher, as we first saw at A.V. Club. All the way up to the magazine’s editor David Remnick, who did a little investigative report on his own to get to the bottom of this very niche—but very exciting—mystery.
Now, “Thunder Road” is one of my personal favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. It’s a classic Bruce bit of storytelling, full of mess and fun, and it has lovely progression. You just can’t help but get really into it! So I was shocked, dismayed even, when I heard about this lyrical dispute that’s divided the nation (of Bruce Springsteen fans). The song beings as such: “Screen door slams, Mary’s dress–” and here we run into the road block. Apparently there is a strong discourse over what exactly Mary’s dress is up to. Is it waving? Or swaying?
By the standard of Springsteen mumbles, “Thunder Road” isn’t actually all that bad. The answer is very clearly that Mary’s dress sways. However, apparently in the decades since the song’s release, the official lyrics—on Bruce’s website and by all accounts the various lyric sites that are usually pretty accurate with this sort of thing—state that Mary’s dress waves. Which doesn’t really make sense. But stranger things have happened.
Remnick stumbled upon the conundrum on Twitter where, shockingly, things got a bit heated. So, Remnick did what any top brass at a prestigious magazine would do. He emailed Springsteen’s longtime manager Jon Landau and asked.
As Landau told The New Yorker:
“The word is ‘sways.’ That’s the way he wrote it in his original notebooks, that’s the way he sang it on ‘Born to Run,’ in 1975, that’s the way he has always sung it at thousands of shows, and that’s the way he sings it right now on Broadway. Any typos in official Bruce material will be corrected. And, by the way, ‘dresses’ do not know how to ‘wave.’”
Sounds pretty definitive to me! (Yes, it is difficult always being right about things like this; just ask my family. But it is my cross to bear.) I wonder if this saga will make it into the newly reopened Springsteen on Broadway. The Boss himself has not commented on the matter, thus far.
A sincere thank you to Remnick for solving this mystery, like a fully-grown prestige Hardy Boy. I, meanwhile, will be reaching out to Little Steven Van Zandt for confirmation. If I preface by asking for another season of Lilyhammer I think I’ll get the answer I’m looking for.