• Pete Chianca

Waves vs. Sways is just one Springsteen lyric battle. What about these??


Springsteen written lyrics auctioned by Sotheby's prove that Mary's real name is Anne.

All I can say is, thank goodness for Jon Landau. Bruce Springsteen’s longtime manager wasted no time weighing in on the debate about whether Bruce is singing “waves” or “sways” in the first line of “Thunder Road.” Or at least he wasted no time weighing in once it rose to the level of inconveniencing the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, whom he was in danger of someday being cornered by at a cocktail party.

Of course, rank-and-file Springsteen fans have been arguing about waves vs. sways for decades: Wars have been fought, families rent asunder, entire civilizations laid to ruin over this question. That’s why, in addition to Jon Landau, we’re lucky to have David Remnick, who did what any good New Yorker editor should: Emailed Jon Landau and then spent 1,000 words relating the seven that seemingly settle the question: “‘The word is “sways,”’ Landau wrote back.” Landau then went on to promise to correct all the places where it was accidentally printed as “waves,” presumably via millions of tiny little “sways” stickers.


Yes, as Rob Tannenbaum relates in his comprehensive Los Angeles Times article on the mystery, Springsteenologists as diverse as Mike Appel, Melissa Etheridge and Eric Church all have varying opinions about waves vs. sways, and Springsteen himself seems to have switched back and forth over the years. (Meanwhile, Bob Dylan spent decades inserting entirely new verses into “Tangled Up in Blue” that he wrote while walking on stage from his dressing room, and nobody batted an eye.) Of course, Tannenbaum brings his own expertise into question when he asserts that he doubted Bruce’s “notoriously fastidious management team routinely signed off on misprinted lyrics” -- this is the group that OK’d an 10-inch single for “Racing in the Sreet.”


Another victory for Springsteen's "notoriously fastidious management team." (NJ.com)

But what’s really irksome is that “waves” vs. “sways” is just one of the heated Springsteen lyric battles waged by fans on an annual, monthly, weekly, daily, and sometimes minute-to-minute basis, and yet neither Landau, Remnick nor Tannenbaum (to say nothing of the irascible Haberman) addressed any of the others.


For instance, in “I’m on Fire,” there’s been an ongoing online argument over whether he’s singing “cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul” or “cut a six-inch valley through the Middle Township Bowl.” I say it’s obviously the second, given Bruce’s great love of bowling -- you’ll recall the story he related in the Milwaukee Arena on Feb. 22, 1977, about the time he and Stevie were abducted by aliens and challenged to a bowling contest, and Bruce ended it by yelling, “Tonight you’re gonna have to settle for rock and bowl!” and turned into a teenage werewolf. (I may be misremembering slightly but I think that was basically it.) Also, he clearly feels a strong affinity for Middle Township, N.J., because it is a town in New Jersey.


Oh, and some people think he’s singing “cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my skull,” which is ridiculous.


And then there’s the even more divisive battle over the lyrics to “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” It seems that half of Springsteen fans think he’s singing “Bad Scooter searching for his groove,” while the other half are convinced the line is “Bass shooter smooching J.B. Smoove.” There’s much evidence to point to the second option, such as the fact that the only thing Bruce loves more than bowling is fishing, hence his popular nickname, The Bass. On the other hand, comedian J.B. Smoove was only 9 when “Born to Run” came out, so it seems unlikely that Bruce would reference him at all on the record, much less a reference to smooching him. But with Springsteen being a prescient genius, anything is possible.

Perhaps the best example of a Springsteen lyric mystery, though, is on the title track to “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” where Springsteen can be distinctly heard singing about “wanting things that can only be found, in the Blogness on the Edge of Town.” Presumably things like Blogness on the Edge of Town editor Peter Chianca’s book “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums,” available right now at Amazon.com ($3.99 ebook, $5.99 paperback).


Maybe we’ll never know what the “correct” version of those lyrics may be, or whether it’s “really” waves or sways, or whether Bruce Springsteen actually “cares” one way or the other. And that’s OK. Because at the end of the day, there’s only one thing I feel very strongly about:


I want my “sways” sticker.


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