Mary's dress does what?

‘Oy Vey!’: Springsteen’s guitarist waves off a lyrical firestorm

46 years after it was released, obsessives are suddenly arguing about the opening words of ‘Thunder Road,’ arguably his greatest song

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

The cover of 1975's 'Born to Run' album, by Bruce Springsteen. 'Thunder Road' is the opening track. (Courtesy)
The cover of 1975's 'Born to Run' album, by Bruce Springsteen. 'Thunder Road' is the opening track. (Courtesy)

As Bruce Springsteen obsessives are doubtless aware, a dispute of volcanic proportions has erupted over the first words of arguably the greatest song he’s ever recorded, “Thunder Road.”

It was triggered by a July 4 tweet by The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, apparently attending Springsteen’s newly revived Broadway show: “A screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways,” she wrote, ostensibly quoting the opening lyrics of the opening song on Springsteen’s breakthrough album, “Born to Run.”

Dissecting the argument that this one small sentence has prompted in the week and a half since, Rob Tannenbaum noted in the LA Times on Thursday that Haberman was indisputably mistaken once in her seven-word excerpt. It’s “The screen door” not “A screen door.” But what about that dress? Is it swaying, as Haberman claimed? Or waving, as per the lyrics printed on the original album cover?

While marveling that this spectacularly sublime and ridiculous argument has erupted now, 46 years after the song was released, I’ll leave it to Tannenbaum to take you through the evidence for and against.

What I will highlight, however, is the curt, Yiddish-led response from Springsteen’s longtime guitarist Steven Van Zandt.

Tweeted the ex-Sopranos star, of partial Italian but no known Jewish descent: “Oy vey! Get this Bruce lyric shit outta my feed!”

Van Zandt’s previous appearance in the columns of The Times of Israel was when defending the State of Israel from accusations of apartheid in a series of pithy ripostes back in 2016, culminating with this showstopper: “The problems there have existed for a thousand years and you want the solution in 140 characters?”

“Israel is one of our two friends,” Van Zandt also wrote in the course of that Twitter battle, bashing Israel boycotters as “politically ignorant obnoxious idiots,” and thereby raising still unfulfilled expectations that Springsteen and the rest of the E Street Band might one day ride out “to case the promised land.” (Expectations Springsteen himself has also fuelled, kinda.)

Until then, all we can do is listen to the recordings, which I’ve just been doing.

It’s “waves.”

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