Monday, November 2, 2009


This song uses two utterances of Jesus to, as in "Bleecker Street," discuss the disconnect between an ostensibly kind God and His downtrodden creations.

The first of these utterances is the Beatitudes, a section of the Sermon on the Mount-- eight sentences, each starting with the word "Blessed." The most famous of these, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," is quoted in the first line of the song.

The second utterance is the line, "Oh, Lord! Why have You forsaken me?" said to have been spoken by Jesus while dying on the crucifix.

The delivery of the song is key. The music is distorted and bent, and it reflects the drunken-seeming shouting and mumbling of the voices.

The overall effect is that of a sad, frustrated, and disillusioned person railing against the unfulfilled promises made by God: "Blessed are," says Jesus, the poor, the mourners, the hungry, the persecuted. Well, the speaker implies, so he says... but I am all those things-- where is my blessing, already? I don't feel "blessed," I feel "forsaken!"

While the individual lines are loose and rambling, the song itself is very structured. Each of the three verses starts with two sarcastic, "Blessed"s mocking the allegedly empty pledges of the Bible and its God. The "lamb" is Jesus, considered a representation of the Pascal Lamb (he was killed at Passover), and his "blood" flowed copiously at the crucifixion. The "land" is Earth, specifically the Promised Land of Israel; the "kingdom" is the "kingdom of Heaven," possibly the afterlife, mentioned in the Beatitudes.

Then comes a third "Blessed," updating the generic misery mentioned in the Gospels with specific, modern incarnations: the "ratted on," the "meth drinkers" and various other narcotics addicts, "penny rookers" (con-men), prostitutes, and the "groovy [on-]lookers" or voyeurs... who are too removed from life to participate in the described squalor but can merely spectate.

On a side note, one character who might have populated Jesus' world would have been a "pot seller," peddling earthernware in a marketplace. Given the context, however, this is obviously a marijuana dealer. The "illusion dweller," we can guess, is one hallucinating on LSD.

Then, each verse ends with the speaker's own thoughts on his situation. Within this structure, the speaker moves away from the anger at his disappointment with God toward a possible way to move forward.

Now, going back through the verses, we see the speaker's progress from lashing out to tuning in.

First, he rails against the unfairness of his frustration, flinging God's words back in His face. Then he explains the source of his anger-- his homelessness: "I've got no place to go." We don't even know what city he is in, as both New York and London have loosely-moral (at the time) areas named "Soho." He also expresses his apathy toward his own poverty: "It doesn't matter." If even God doesn't care, why should he? However, Even within this rambling about rambling, there is some coherence, or attempt at structure, perhaps even jazz-like wordplay. This is evidenced by the rhymes: "no/ go/ Soho/ so."

Next, he lashes out again, mocking God's failed attempts at forging a relationship with His worshippers: "Blessed is the man whose soul belongs to." The thought is unfinished, as the speaker is not fully sober. Also, it doesn't matter what or Whom the soul belongs to, especially since God is so unknowable; it is the belonging itself that should matter.

The "wound" is likely a reference to the laceration caused by a blade to Jesus' side during the crucifixion. A more radical interpretation is that a "wound" that "words" come "from" is not an actual wound at all, but the speaker's mouth. Like a wound, the mouth is an opening lined in red. A "healed" mouth would be closed, as a healed wound would be... but the speaker will have his say-- he has "no intention" to be silent or even speak healing words.

The speaker then states that he chafes against the stifling nature of religion and the enclosures of its church buildings. Even the luxurious "stained glass" that beautifies many churches he sees as nothing more than so many "window panes." As for the "service" held in the church, it is not soothing, but it "makes [him] nervous"... possibly because he fears hearing more promises that will once again be unmet.

After one more excoriation of "Why have You forsaken me?" the speaker has an epiphany. There is a long, drawn out "I...." as if the thought is there but the words have yet to arrive. Then they do: "I have tended my own garden much too long."

The implication is that he realizes what the true source of his problem is: self-involvement. He is drunk or stoned (or both) and therefore homeless because he was dwelling on his own problems. He took them to God, and God said He would make it all better. But then it wasn't better. So he turned to drink and drugs, and all they got him was broke and alone.

His solution? To move forward... by moving outward. Rather than tend his "own garden," he must begin to help others. The reference, aside from the cliched advice to "tend you own garden" (i.e., "mind you own business" and stop meddling in others'), could be to the Garden of Eden, which God told Adam to "tend." Rather than worry about his own Edenic salvation, he will focus on providing service to his fellow humans.

Perhaps this focus on the problems of others will only distract him from his own issues. Perhaps it will give some meaning to his life, a sense of fulfillment and a reason to live. Either way, it will be better than distracting himself with substances... or relying on what was revealed to be an unreliable deity.

Throughout his work, Simon struggles with religion and faith. Already, he has covered Gospel songs, lost God in the "fog" over "Bleecker Street"... and here, in "Blessed," taken the voice of the beleaguered, homeless "Sparrow" who was silent in her own song.

Next song: Kathy's Song

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