The Story of the Song: “Small Crack” (written in a dream…)

I’ve been meaning to resume The Story of the Song, a series highlighting the stories of individual songs (or groups of songs) for a long while. After reading this Rolling Stone article today, I was inspired to tell the story of “Small Crack” by The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library.

In RS, Springsteen is quoted as saying:
“In my dreams I’ve written many, many songs and they sound like the greatest songs ever written,” he said. “I wake up, write some of these things down, and the next morning, almost invariably, these songs are total shit. In my dream I’d go, ‘This is the one that will make them forget “Born To Run!”‘ Then it’s horrendous. This the one song that I wrote in my dreams and was actually good.”

I found this particularly humorous because I always tell the story of writing “Small Crack” in a dream very similarly. In my dream, I was performing on the stage at Club Passim and the room was packed and everyone was singing along and having a moving, almost religious experience. The cheering was unrelenting and everyone told me it was the best song they ever heard.

I also frequently sing songs in my dreams and often wake up with a momentary recollection, but it’s extremely rare that I am able to hold onto the lyrics or melodies for more than a moment…

Here I am telling the story at our CD release show in February 2011:


The story of the song:

On January 17, 2002, I went to sleep and woke up in the middle of the night and quickly recorded the main chorus ideas in the song, which was all I could grab from my dream at the time.

Even though I only had a little bit of a chorus in that original recording, I did have some ideas about the content of the song. I actually sat on this song thinking it was way too silly to use until 2010. Once the MJEML was forming and I had an opportunity to introduce a bunch of songs that I had been sitting on, I revisited “Small Crack” and wrote the whole framework for the song in about an hour.

Before sending it to the band, I recorded a more refined and complete version of the song as a demo.

Finally, after a few months of playing the song with the band, we made a recording for our debut album.


Small Crack
TIME SIGNATURE: 4/4
KEY: Bb
(played on guitar with capo 3 – forms in parentheses)

A# (G) D# (Cadd9)
25 to life for a crime I didn’t commit
stonewalls and train whistles out in the wind
one night I dreamt of a calling from the world outside
when I woke up in the morning, there was a glimmering light

A#(G) D#(C) F(D) D#(C)
There’s a small crack, yeah its’ true but it’s gonna be a while before we make it through
There’s a small crack, yeah it’s true but it’s gonna be a while before we break on through

so I start singing every night up to the sky before bed
praying to the lord that no one hears what I said
with the first stone loose, and the second now on its way
Just might see the open sky someday, cause…

There’s a small crack, yeah its’ true but it’s gonna be a while before we make it through
There’s a small crack, yeah it’s true but it’s gonna be a while before we break on through

It broke right open like the red sea parting way
Stuck my head out, heard the birds, saw a cloud’s smiling face
Not more than a mile, the sky opened up as the siren’s blazed
wasn’t long before the dogs dug their teeth right into my leg

There’s a small crack, yeah its’ true but it’s gonna be a while before we make it through
There’s a small crack, yeah it’s true but it’s gonna be a while before we break on through

25 to life turned to hanging by the end of the day
as the knot got tighter, the sky got brighter anyway
The clouds cracked open and a light shined down on me
as I floated up to touch it, I couldn’t stop singing this praise

There’s a small crack, yeah its’ true but it’s gonna be a while before we make it through
There’s a small crack, yeah it’s true but it’s gonna be a while before we break on through

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  1. Pingback: Michael and Sophia sing on Andy Santospago’s “Guiness Park” for the Boston Singers Project – Year of the Horse | Sophia Cacciola & Michael J. Epstein

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