Mercy Street

One of my favorite songs is Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel.

I had stopped listening to the album a long time ago, but a new favorite singer/songwriter of mine, Richard Shindell, does an amazing rendition of the song and it got me pondering the song all over again.

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5973585/richard_shindell_mercy_street/

The original came out in 1986 when I was living up in Erie Pennsylvania, on my own for the first time away from the cloisters of New Jersey where I grew up.

I’ll simply describe the period as very Holden Caulfield.

However, I do have one vivid memory of Mercy Street that I can recall to this day, as if it were yesterday.

I was in my car, ok my parent’s car, parked on some sketchy street heading to an incredibly raw, steel-mill-town gym, called Erie Gym on West 26th Street close to an old cemetery. It was far in from the lake in a residential/light industrial neighborhood and my 1984 Honda stuck out like a sore thumb.

I had joined this particular gym to work out at because the brand new gym at the college wasn’t hard core enough and the owner of the place that I had joined, a woman, could bench almost 400 pounds, which was really hard core.

The day of my memory was overcast, just like the way I remember most of my days in Erie and I’m sure that the particular time of day was one when I should have been studying, or doing something with pledge brothers, but it was definitely a moment of time to do what I wanted, and that’s what I liked most at that time of my life.

So, in my memory I’m sitting in the driver’s seat looking down the street towards the gym and the song Mercy Street comes on the radio. I was fixated. Time stood still; the works. I see myself from behind myself, which is weird and I can’t say that it was the first time that I heard the song but I can say that its the first time that I really listened to the song.

I know that I eventually owned the the album “So”, on casset, and it truly was and is an amazing collection of songs, but the one line that catches me the most in all of its songs and is a top 10 for me, is the line “in your daddy’s arms again”.

The words are chilling to me. Besides evoking nostalgic thoughts of childhood, they make me think of those final moments of life, undoubtedly painful, where we look inward to give ourselves strength to get through the unkown.

The words seems so simple but are so deep on so many levels.

The line conjures up a time in life when your entire being is capable of being carried by a strong and powerful man, yet not the age of infancy when most men don’t really care to handle young children. It’s one of life’s in-between times. This one, a time when you could still climb on your dad like a monkey, yet you were old enough to be aware and communicating. And for dad, it’s a time that you’re fun to hold, easily lifted on the shoulders, put on the counter and basically a time to be a super human strongman to be admired.

Then, like now, the song makes me think of my dad.

Me in my dad's arms

Me in my dad’s arms

Those hop-on-pop memories, shoulder rides and boosts to somewhere were intensely comforting and in a painful moment, something I think could be recalled to gain comfort, as the song suggests.

Now, unlike then, the song also makes me think of my son.

My son was on my shoulders most of the time that we were together outside as we explored new places or when he got tired. He was a perfect companion for a day of adventure on board or off. This was all but true for a brief time, until he became too big to carry and now being someone who far exceeds me in stature.

After hearing the Shindell version of the song I did some research into the origins of it and found out that Mr. Gabriel wrote it about the life of a poet named Anne Sexton and referenced a poem by her entitled 45 Mercy Street. Apparently Ms. Sexton had her fair share of troubles to contend with and she might have been in need of some mercy.

What I also learned from my research is that the line “Kissing Mary’s Lips” has nothing to do with the Madonna. It happens to be the name of Ann Sexton’s mother.

The Madonna image always freaked me out a little but I had grown to accept it. I’ll have to see how the new image settles in.

My son in mine

My son is just about the age that I was when I heard the song and started to conjure the “daddy’s arms'” image for myself. Everyone has their own list of “classic lines” from songs and I doubt that it will ever be one of my son’s, but maybe some popular singer of his generation will redo Mercy Street and he will find the line all on his own.

I have a photograph of my father and his father in my room from when my father was about two and he’s in his fathers arms. Of the photos that I know we have, a bunch of them are from when my grandfather had taken my father to an airport to watch the planes. In most of the picutures he is boosting my dad up on a fence railing or just holding him. What’s sad is that my grandfather died when my father was only two and that the few memories that my father has of his father, were mostly in his father’s arms.

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