Sways? Waves? Bruce Springsteen’s manager settles “Thunder Road” lyrics controversy

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For the past week or so, there’s been an ongoing online debate about the opening lyric of Bruce Springsteen‘s 1975 classic, “Thunder Road.”  But now, it appears that Bruce’s manager, Jon Landau, has solved the mystery.

It started when New York Times writer Maggie Haberman went to see Bruce’s Broadway show and tweeted, “A screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways.”  Fans pounced, insisting that Haberman had it wrong: It’s “Mary’s dress waves.”

But fans who believe that the Boss sing “sways” jumped to Haberman’s defense, sparking a back-and-forth between the two camps, and even a Los Angeles Times article examining the issue and presenting evidence for both sides.  For example, the lyric database on Springsteen’s official website, as well as the original lyrics printed on the album, say “waves,” but in handwritten lyric sheets from that period, and in Bruce’s autobiography Born to Run, the lyric is “sways.”

Reps for Springsteen wouldn’t comment, but Landau, who co-produced the Born to Run album in addition to managing the Boss for decades, has written a letter to The New Yorker, clarifying the issue.

“The word is ‘sways,’” Landau wrote. “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.”

Landau added, “And, by the way, ‘dresses’ do not know how to ‘wave.’”

Poetry experts might argue that the best evidence for “sways” is the fact that it precedes the line, “Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.”  “Sways” rhymes with “plays,” while “waves” does not.


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