Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, "Mary Queen Of Arkansas" (1973)

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Because I’ve been steeping myself in rock and folk music all of these years, people are genuinely surprised when I admit that I’m not a lyrics person. I suppose it puts me in the minority of listeners. It’s not that I don’t care about the words, it’s just that I care much more about the music. Give me a new album and I won’t get to the lyrics until at least the fifth listen. And if the music doesn’t resonate? Forgot it. The words just can’t save the songs.

To further frustrate the lyrics people I have another (and perhaps even more annoying) habit: When I do pay attention to the words, it only a line or two at a time. A song can be rolling along and one line (or sometimes just a phrase) will become luminous and pop into my attention foreground. I can’t really explain why I do this, mostly because I just don’t know. Does it get in the way of my “understanding” of songs? Probably, but there’s not much I can do about it.

So … “Mary Queen of Arkansas”? Many people say that it’s a low point on Greetings. I don’t buy it. I always loved the tension-inducing strummed guitar and lonesome harmonica. And sure, Bruce was wordy as hell back then. So what? I always dug this song precisely because I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. It might be a love song, and it might not be. It might be a muse on longing for the future or it might be a pointless ramble. All I know is that lines like “But on your bed Mary I can see the shadow of a noose/I don’t understand how you can hold me so tight and love me so damn loose” can spawn so many images, different on every listen. Maybe I don’t really want to figure the whole thing out.


Next up: Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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