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Thank Mary Steenburgen’s routine arm surgery for one of the year’s best movie songs

Photo: Michael Loccisano / Staff (Getty Images)

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich published a story yesterday that’s got one of those headlines you can’t simply pass by, and reader, we could not resist its siren song:

Screenshot: IndieWire

If that’s something you can resist, you are stronger than we—but you’re also missing out, because this story is great. The gist is this: Mary Steenburgen, Oscar-winning actor, had routine arm surgery in 2009. She woke up “feeling like her mind was on fire”:

“I felt strange as soon as the anesthesia started to wear off,” Steenburgen said. “The best way I can describe it is that it just felt like my brain was only music, and that everything anybody said to me became musical. All of my thoughts became musical. Every street sign became musical. I couldn’t get my mind into any other mode... I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t have acted,” she said. “I couldn’t have learned any lines. My husband [actor Ted Danson] and I were kind of frightened about it.”

Steenburgen hadn’t been all that musical previously (“I had been somebody who really liked music,” she told Ehrlich, “but I had never been obsessed with it; I was obsessed with acting, and that felt like a big enough subject for me.”) But suddenly it was all she could think about. Ehrlich’s piece also includes excerpts of a conversation with Steenburgen’s son, filmmaker Charlie McDowell, who says stuff like this: “All of the sudden she was referencing these obscure indie bands and picking up random instruments — I’m not gonna lie, the accordion playing drives me nuts.”

We don’t want to give away the whole story of Steenburgen’s journey to Nashville, where she now owns a home because she is a working songwriter, but the reason this is in IndieWire now is because she’s one of the credited songwriters on “Glasgow (No Place Like Home),” the climactic ballad from the Jessie Buckley-starring Wild Rose. Though if you read Katie Rife’s warm review of the film when it was released this summer, you already knew that.

10 years after that surgery, director Tom Harper and Buckley were looking for a song for Wild Rose’s big finish, and were coming up empty. And then:

At the last minute, a sample came in called “Glasgow (“No Place Like Home”). “It grabbed me by the heart the moment I heard it,” he said. “It just connected.” Buckley, who phoned in from the Chicago set of “Fargo,” had a similar experience: “It was just that immediate feeling of ‘this is the song.’”

That’s when Harper and Buckley first learned who had written it, and found themselves blindsided by “the Mary Steenburgen of it all.”


“The Mary Steenburgen of it all.” It’s a great song, and a great story; click on through to IndieWire for the whole yarn.

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.