I wrote “Mary” sometime in 1998/1999, but for reasons I can’t remember, chose not to include it on my 1999 debut solo project, a not-at-all good EP titled, More Than Watchmen. Instead, I later recorded it for my first full-length solo album, Land Of The Living, 2001, itself a giant leap forward for me. More than likely, I wrote “Mary” on a brown paper bag while working the cash register at Ramer’s Market in Baton Rouge. At the time, I was a fan of Harrod and Funck, an acoustic duo whose songwriting and acoustic interplay, in my opinion, far exceeded that of my own duo, Ridgely. On their self-titled record was a song called “Molly,” a remorseful-man-in-prison type story. I very much admired it, so I did what all songwriters do: I wrote my own version. I’m pretty sure I got the idea of having my kids call me “Papa” as a result of this chorus.
Recently, I was invited to do a concert at a Nashville prison. In front of a group of prison-suit-clad men, all there for a variety of reasons, for various lengths of time, all of whom were paying the consequences for the actions they had taken to get them there, I played “Mary,” a song that is still among my favorites. Looking at the men’s faces while singing the song, I wondered who of them had wives and children on the outside of these walls, who of them had allowed the searching of their own soul, who were repentant, who were remorseful, who wanted a second chance, who simply did not care anymore. I wondered how long they had been separated from their families, whether their children even knew them, what the world would do with them after they were released. I wondered what God was doing, had done, in their hearts. I hoped for second chances for these guys. And I was thankful I could leave, walk out the doors of my own free will. Freedom.
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.