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Peter Gabriel: Mercy Street

Weekend Music

I have a real find for you this week, if you don't already know the song. And if you know the song but not the video, you still have a treat coming. 

I'm still listening to one of my CDs full of random mp3s, and this song, as performed by Iain Matthews, came up the other day. I had heard it first on a mixtape sent to me by Daniel Nichols quite a few years ago, and really liked it. But I remember thinking at the time that it seemed a bit familiar, and later on when I ran across the fact that it was a Peter Gabriel song, I thought I might have heard it when I borrowed the Gabriel album So from a co-worker. For whatever reason the album didn't make much of an impression on me, but it's apparently regarded as a classic, so I ought to give it a try.

But I'm wandering--anyway, listening to the Matthews version the other day,  I decided to look up the Gabriel original, which I like even better. Moreover, there is this beautiful video. The sound level is very low so you may need to turn up your speakers.


I also discovered that the song is dedicated to Anne Sexton. That makes some of its details, like the insitutional corridors of grey and green juxtaposed with the suburbs, make more sense. Sexton, if you don't recognize the name, was a poet who wrote about her experiences with mental illness and general misery. She committed suicide in 1974, and her posthumous volume of poems was called 45 Mercy Street. No doubt someone familiar with her work would recognize many allusions or quotations in this song.

I never read her very much, partly because I just wasn't much drawn to then-contemporary poetry, especially the sort of confessional-feminine work that hers seemed to be (never cared much for Sylvia Plath, either), and partly because she was something of a feminist poster child for the horrors of male oppression. But this song makes me wonder if I should take another look at her. 


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I have listened to this several days and enjoy it a lot.

I only got to listen to about half a minute the other day at work, but I just listened to (and watched) the whole thing. It is a treat.



Thanks for the link, Janet. If I hadn't made a mistake in specifying the time for this post to be published, you wouldn't have been tempted to listen at work--I wrote it at lunch but wasn't quite done with it, and had intended to schedule it to be published about 6:30 after I'd had a chance to add exactly what you just added. In the event I didn't have time to do anything else, anyway. Didn't necessarily expect the poem itself, as I thought it might not be on the web, being still under copyright and all, but mention of the title. (The blogger is slightly incorrect: it's The Awful..., not An Awful....) I was wondering about some of the other things mentioned, e.g. "your daddy's arms." Sort of thought the phrase "let's take the boat out" might occur in the poem, but I see it doesn't. Maybe in another. And the "soul with... leaks at the seams" sounds like something a person with mental problems might say. And I'll be surprised if "swear they moved that sign" isn't in the Mercy Street poem--that's such an American-sounding phrase. I thought when I found out Peter Gabriel wrote the song that it didn't seem like something an Englishman would say, though maybe I'm wrong about that.

I had also meant to include a link to her Wikipedia bio.

We have all just had a most refreshing nap, and one of the grandchildren is still asleep, which is how I had time to write such a lengthy comment.

Deep-immersion poetry can be dangerous -- I think both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton studied under Robert Lowell. All three killed themselves.

Never heard that term "deep-immersion poetry" before, but I've heard these and others grouped together as the confessional poets. I think they all started out with mental problems of some degree, but I can see how the extreme introspection of their writing would have made that worse instead of better. John Berryman, another confessional, was also a suicide.

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