On its surface, “Mary’s Place” — with its upbeat sound and “We’re gonna have a party” chorus — feels out of place on Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising album. What’s a party song doing there?
One answer is that it’s not a bad thing to have a little joy on an album that’s so full of sorrow. But the other answer is that “Mary’s Place” is not quite the simplistic house-rocker that you might think it is.
As other writers have suggested, Mary could be Jesus’ mother, and her “place” could be heaven. The song’s narrator is lost and possibly mourning (“My heart’s dark but it’s rising”) but he hears a voice “from that black hole on the horizon,” calling him to a party. “Familiar faces” (those who have died already?) surround him, and “everybody’s here.”
Although many of the details in the song seem to be specifically about a house party (“furniture’s out on the front porch,” “your favorite record’s on the turntable”), who knows, maybe that’s just the most heavenly vision the singer can muster.
“Mary’s Place” has a big sound, with horn and string sections and a mini-choir. You probably aren’t going to think of larger meanings when you listen to the recording, and it’s been a dependably joyful crowd-pleaser for Springsteen in concert (though he hasn’t played it as often as The Rising songs such as “Lonesome Day,” “My City of Ruins” and the title track). But those larger meanings are still there; I don’t think “Mary’s Place” would have been included on The Rising without them.
Background facts: “Mary’s Place” is from Springsteen’s 2002 album, The Rising. According to Brucebase, he performed it live 194 times between 2002 and 2017.
Springsteen took the line, “Meet me at Mary’s place,” from Sam Cooke’s song, “Meet Me at Mary’s Place,” which Cooke released on his February 1964 album Ain’t That Good News. Cooke died in December 1964 and the song was released as a posthumous single in 1966, but failed to chart. You can listen to it below.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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