Where the Hell Did You Get Waves From

Joe Posnanski makes a compelling case for defending waves as the right opening lyric in Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”:

The definition of sways: “To move slowly or rhythmically backward or from side to side.”

Now, let’s put sways in a sentence: “He swayed slightly on his feet.”

You get it, right? Sways is a certain kind of slow, lazy, dull movement. Think about the things that sway. Trees sway. Rocking chairs sway. Curtains sway. Smitten couples on the dance floor sway.

Now, re-read the lyric:

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways

Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.

The screen door SLAMS. Mary DANCES like a VISION across the porch. The radio PLAYS. These are action words, power words, Mary is a tornado in motion, she is slamming screen doors, dancing across the porch, breaking hearts, she is spirit, and she is life, and she is a vision, and she is everything that he wants and dreams.

There is not the slightest chance in hell that her dress was swaying.

No. That dress was waving. Or, if you want to go to the thesaurus for wave synonyms, that dress was shaking, it was fluttering, it was swishing, it was flaunting. It wasn’t swaying like some nervous middle schooler trying to give an oral report on a book he didn’t read. No, that dress was WAVING, it was making itself known, it was telling its own story.

Things WAVE in the wind.

Things SWAY in a breeze.

You tell me, was Mary the wind or was she just a breeze?

I like his rationale (as well as disagreement on “The Wrestler” – Glory Days' speedball is fine) but Posnanski’s defense is only an argument for what he thinks it should be, not what it is. Apparently half of Springsteen’s audience Mandela Effected themselves into a controversy over the lyrics (including the person in charge of Springsteen’s official lyrics on his website).

When I first heard “Thunder Road” I had real questions about what Springsteen was singing at the end of the third verse and for a while I just mumbled that part until I looked up the lyrics:

They haunt this dusty beach road In the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets

Ohhh…burned-out Chevrolets, that makes sense. But it’s always been sways. Go back to February 5, 1975, when Springsteen performed at the Main Point, months before the release of Born to Run in August. The concert is one of Springsteen’s most bootlegged shows (usually available under the title You Can Trust Your Car to the Man Who Wears the Star and he performed an early version of “Thunder Road” for the first time:

So much within the almost seven minutes is different, so much so that the song is alternatively titled “Wings for Wheels.” Mary isn’t around to have a debatable dress, it’s Angelina. The subsequent verses diverge considerably from what finally ends up on Born to Run, which began recording two months later. The basics are there but Springsteen is still finding the song and it’s got the trademarks of his writing on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle which was more drawn out and detailed. He needs to tell you everything about the story, instead of letting you fill in the details as you listen. And yet, there it is in the first line, the dress sways.