From the recording Mary (Wings for Wheels)
The song I've been writing this September started as a lark, a gimmick song to stay in writing mode while nothing "important" was coming to mind: take my favorite first line of any song, ever, and make it the last line of a new song.
As I played around with the idea, I became more and more settled on writing an "answer song" that related in some way to Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road." I reread Nick Hornby's essay on the song and was taken by his notion that "those first few bars, on wheezy harmonica and achingly pretty piano, actually sound like they refer to something that has already happened before the beginning of the record." Seemed like a good direction to go.
Having settled on the new song serving as a prequel to "Thunder Road," the next question was point-of-view. Springsteen's women aren't always so fully-drawn, especially on the first three albums. In songwriting terminology, they're more "furniture" than characters. So I thought, how about giving "Mary," the object of the narrator's desire, her own voice, her own conflict, and looking at the fateful decision to "take that long walk from the front porch to [his] front seat" from her perspective?
I feel like "Mary (Wheels for Wings)" more than served its initial purpose as a writing exercise. I've been playing around with Mary's story for a couple of weeks (an earlier version of the song will show up in my pre-recorded set at the Carrboro Music Festival next month; it's not as good). Today (September 23, 2020) being The Boss's seventy-first birthday, I decided to lay down some tracks in the quarantine studio and post the song. Enjoy!
You call me “scared little girl.” That might be true.
But here’s some things I know about you:
you’re a boy with a car who can play the guitar,
got a head full of dreams to be a rock and roll star.
You wanna drive through the night, give it our best.
See how we're cursed, see how we’re blessed.
I’m thinking it over in my bedroom mirror.
I’m alone with my face, facing fear.
I hear your car in the driveway. I come down the stairs.
Dad’s watching TV in his easy chair.
He looks up from the set as I reach for the door,
says “Mary, you know that you’re meant for more.
He’s just another boy with a 4-4-2
who will say anything just to be with you.
Don’t waste yourself on the promises he’ll break.
Mary, send him away.”
But I’ve got dreams of breakin’ through.
An open road, we share the drivin’
Tradin’ songs, I feel alive, I’m running, too.
Should I run with you?
I open the door and take in the night.
I get a look at your face in the streetlight.
Roy Orbison sings, and I make up my mind
to trade wheels for wings and leave this town behind.
Let's drive through the night, give it our best,
reach the Promised Land on the other side of the wilderness.
First: cross the porch, head full of plans.
Wind catches my dress. Screen door slams.