Mercy Street is one of the most beautiful, original and highly intelligent and emotional songs ever composed and produced. It still gives me the goose-bumps every time I listen to it, and I’ve been playing it endlessly for the last 26 years. I listen to Mercy Street when I’m hurting and in search of healing; when I’m at peace and in solitude; and when I’m meditating and mind-traveling. The song never seems to wear out on me but rather continually evolve to something bigger and much richer for me to appreciate even more over time as it goes by.  Mercy Street is the song I want to be played at my funeral.

The only versions of Mercy Street which I love and respect are two of them: LP version and the William Orbit mix which is featured in a 1992 CD-single of Blood Of Eden by Peter Gabriel. Please take the time to read the lyrics and the meaning of the song below. I’ve provided a video of Peter Gabriel talking about what inspired him to write and dedicate his song to Anne Sexton who wrote a poem and play called 45 Mercy Street.

Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street” (LP Version)…

Artist: Peter Gabriel
Title: Mercy Street (LP Version)
Year: 1986
Label: Real World Records / Real World Music

Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street” (LP Version) (mp3)

 

Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street” (William Orbit Mix)…

Artist: Peter Gabriel
Title: Mercy Street (William Orbit Mix)
Year: 1992
Label: Real World Records / Real World Music

Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street” (William Orbit Mix) (mp3)

 

Mercy Street Lyrics…

Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
Are the dreams all made solid
Are the dreams all made real

All of the buildings, all of those cars
Were once just a dream
In somebody’s head

She pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steam
She pictures a soul
With no leak at the seam

Lets take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes

Nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
Nowhere in the suburbs
In the cold light of day

There in the midst of it so alive and alone
Words support like bone

Dreaming of mercy st.
Wear your inside out
Dreaming of mercy
In your daddy’s arms again

Dreaming of mercy st.
Swear they moved that sign
Dreaming of mercy
In your daddy’s arms

Pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide smooth
Tugging at the darkness, word upon word
Confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
To the priest-he’s the doctor
He can handle the shocks
Dreaming of the tenderness-the tremble in the hips
Of kissing Mary’s lips

Dreaming of mercy st.
Wear your insides out
Dreaming of mercy
In your daddy’s arms again

Dreaming of mercy st.
Swear they moved that sign
Looking for mercy
In your daddy’s arms

Mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
Mercy, mercy, looking for mercy

Anne, with her father is out in the boat
Riding the water
Riding the waves on the sea

The Meaning Of The Lyrics & Anne Sexton’s Poem 45 Mercy Street

Peter Gabriel was inspired by Anne Sexton’s poem 45 Mercy Street which led him to write/compose his song Mercy Street, dedicating his song to her. Gabriel could relate to Sexton as a deep thinker with a troubling depression who searches for meaning through her art.

Anne Sexton, a poet, committed suicide in 1974 after a life marred by mental illness. The first couple of verses in the song play on the difficulty she had differentiating between her successful creative life as a poet and her failings in her “real” life as a daughter/mother/wife. Years after leaving the home where she lived with her father, one day she decided to go back and look for the place on 45 Mercy Street. But when she walked there, she wasn’t able to find the house nor recognize the neighborhood what she once knew.  It has all been changed over time. so in essence, this is what the song Mercy Street is all about … Anne’s searching of her home and past.

According to the uncredited sources on the internet:

As a poet, Anne, in effect, had a “leak at the seam,” her inward thoughts and feelings that got expressed through her poetry. Many poets have commented on the pain that comes through revealing one’s inner self.

The boat references allude to her final book of poetry, “The Awful Rowing Toward God,” about our inevitable journey toward death and the afterlife. “Tak[ing] the boat out” refers to her intention to accelerate her own demise. (She killed herself just after finishing the book.)

Corridors of pale green [aka 'hospital green'] and gray” could refer to her stays in mental institutions during her manic episodes (which alternated with her stints of “ordinary life” in the suburbs of Boston).

Wear your inside out” again refers to the way a poet exposes his soul to the world. That which, for most people, remains private and unknown is shown to all. The “daddy” allusions again seem to refer to God, in whose arms she might find that elusive mercy (so difficult to attain in this life, hence the reference to the moved street sign.

All of the confession allusions have double meaning, as much of Anne’s life was spent “confessing” her innermost feelings to psychiatrists ((whereas in the song, the “warm velvet box” might also refer to the psychiatrists and mind doctors)) as well as revealing them to the public through her poetry. The shocks can doubly refer to shock therapy administered by psychiatrists as well as the shocking things a priest might hear in confession. Per Wikipedia, Sexton was the epitome of a “confessional poet.”

Live Performace of Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street”…

Live Performance of Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street” (1988)…

Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio…

The pictures you see below are Peter Gabriel’s own Real World Studio where he recorded Mercy Street as well as the most of his previous albums, soundtracks and productions of other artists signed on his label Real World Music/Records.