I have looked at the lyrics to “Late Night Radio” on more than one occasion, and I always come away feeling like I’ve misunderstood or that David Gray got it wrong. I always come away thinking, “that’s fine, Dave…we’ll agree to disagree.”
I keep trying to kill Mary Jane.
The piano line is partly to blame. There is no way that chord progression can read as happy to me. It’s all conflicted an unresolved. Unfinished. Like something was supposed to happen to fix and resolve it, but got stopped first. The piano line pops up and everything feels all sad and undone.
The main fault goes to Gray’s singing. He paints the city as a place that’s shiny and magical in Mary Jane’s idealistic mind, but then tells us (as impartial narrator) that it’s dark and dirty. Yes, it’s alive, but Mary Jane’s magical city is ultimately just a place where she ends up waiting tables, swearing that her ship will come in, talking to customers who look through her and her dreams like either exist.
When he finally shows us Mary Jane walking along a high wall, naively not thinking of the possibility of death, what are we supposed to think? Gray’s words tell me that Mary Jane is happy in her waitressing job, dreaming away as cars pass. Everything else tells me that our naive Mary Jane wasn’t thinking hard enough and fell to the ground. She’d go sailing to her death, thinking she was actually flying. The video is no help, just showing Gray doing some questionable lip synching while clad in a Cosby sweater.
I’m willing to accept the Eddie Vedder answer of “it’s about what you make it about,” but I’m curious as to what you think. Readers, which is it? Does she fall off the building or not?
Admittedly Horrible Video: