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This is based on the book of poems of the same name by Anne Sexton. An American mental patient, she wrote as a form of therapy. Gabriel was impressed that she wrote entirely for herself rather than an audience.
Sexton made five suicide attempts, the fifth being successful: she died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974.
The title came from Anne Sexton's 1969 play 45 Mercy Street. She was also working on a poem with the same title at the time of her death.
Gabriel could relate to Sexton as a deep thinker with a troubling depression who searches for meaning through her art. He used the image of darkness on Mercy Street to signal her depression.
The end of this song was very intense when Gabriel performed it during live shows, where he used a high-pitched wail to simulate Sexton's death.
The video was a subdued black and white piece. It was quite different from his extravagant "Sledgehammer
The song also came out of an experience that Gabriel had on a plane. He told Mojo magazine September 2013: "Pan Am had started doing mileage programmes. I got up to 100, 000 miles from touring, so I booked a free flight from LA to Rio. The catch was that I had to travel economy. On the way onto the plane, I said hello to the bass player in Earth Wind & Fire (Verdine White)."
"After we took off," Gabriel continued, "the plane developed a fault - something with the landing gear - and the pilot told us we had to fly over the Pacific and dump some fuel. That's when everyone became very scared, writing farewell letters. I even scribbled some notes. Earth Wind & Fire's bass player came back from First Class to see me in economy and just said (in a sonorous voice ) 'Pray brother'. The pilot got us down, thank God. In Rio, I met the drummer Djalma Correa. I worked on some ideas with him, and that led to the track that 'Mercy Street' was built around."
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