Dreaming of Mercy Street Swear they moved that sign
Are the lyrics in Peter Gabriel’s song Mercy Street referring to an actual street? Or is it possibly a metaphor for something more profound?
The British songwriter and musician is known for lyrics full of beautiful imagery. Depending on who you ask, his songs will mean different things to different people.
We’re taking a closer look at Mercy Street to learn the true meaning of the song.
Let’s dive in!
About Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel’s music career began in 1967 when he and a few schoolmates formed the English band, Genesis.
The group featured Gabriel as the lead singer, along with another notable musician, Phil Collins.
Leaving Genesis in 1975, Gabriel set out on his solo career. The following ten years, he released four albums. The song Shock the Monkey, on his fourth album, became his first US Top 40 hit in 1982.
The release of his album So in 1986, which included Mercy Street, was a big turning point for his career. This album, which has sold over 5 million copies just in the US, remains his biggest selling album.
Songs like Sledgehammer, Big Time, and Don’t Give Up introduced his music to a new audience – especially since they had the advantage of MTV. The music video generation loved his style of using claymation and pixelated images in his videos.
Peter Gabriel’s activism and humanitarian efforts since the 1980s earned him a 2006 Man of Peace Award from the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. He’s able to intertwine his music with his passion for human rights and international political concerns.
Gabriel’s interest in music from around the world led him to create Real World Studios in 1987. Two years later, he started Real World Records, a record label promoting world music.
About the Song, Mercy Street
Mercy Street is on Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album So.
He wrote the lyrics to Mercy Street after feeling inspired by the personal works of poet Anne Sexton. A rather troubled person, Sexton’s piece titled 45 Mercy Street is a poem describing her depression and search for meaning in life.
While Gabriel never suffered from depression himself, he could relate to some of the darkness the poet expressed. Some of the lyrics in Mercy Street speak directly of Sexton’s mental health and eventual suicide.
It’s a song Gabriel performed live many times, always dedicating it to Anne Sexton.
Other musicians have covered their own version of the song, including Herbie Hancock and reggae band Black Uhuru.
Can I Visit Mercy Street?
The song isn’t referencing an actual street but rather a feeling one may have during difficult emotional times. Mercy Street is more of a metaphor for being on the other side of depression.
Think of it as a mental or emotional space where you can feel safe showing your true self. With that said, being on “Mercy Street” can be an achievable goal for some. More of an extended stay and not just a visit.
What Movies or TV Shows was Mercy Street In?
Mercy Street has been used a few times in film. The first screen appearance was in an episode for the hit TV show Miami Vice in 1986. It’s also been in the movies Wake the Dead and Life or Something Like It.
What Is Peter Gabriel’s Biggest Hit?
Sledgehammer, from his 1986 So album, stands out as Gabriel’s biggest hit. The innovative video alone won nine MTV Music Video Awards. The song quickly became his first US hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In Your Eyes is another song that’s considered one of Gabriel’s biggest hits. While it never reached Sledgehammer status, it still manages to be one of his most known songs.
The 1989 movie Say Anything features In Your Eyes during a climactic scene between actors John Cusack and Ione Skye. You almost can’t help but picture that iconic cinematic moment when you hear the song.
Though Mercy Street is a poignant song, it didn’t reach the same heights as other Peter Gabriel recordings.
Where is Peter Gabriel Today?
Peter Gabriel lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife, Meabh Flynn, and their two children. He also has two other children from a previous marriage.
While he isn’t currently touring, he’s still active with Real World Studios.
Located inside a former brewery from the 1860s, Gabriel built the recording studio used by many notable musicians. Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Robert Plant, Coldplay, and Beyoncé are just a few that have recorded music inside the studio.
He’s also working on a 2022 WOMAD festival in Rome, Italy. Gabriel founded the World of Music, Arts, and Dance organization in 1980. Since then, WOMAD festivals have been held worldwide, showcasing many international forms of music, arts, and dance.
You Can Visit Mercy Street, In a Way
Mercy Street never achieved the chart status some of Gabriel’s other songs reached.
But it remains a favorite among many of his fans. While the song isn’t about an actual street you can visit, it’s an emotional state we can all work towards reaching.