Friday, November 20, 2009

Somewhere They Can't Find Me

The temptation exists to simply claim that we have discussed this song already, as it is largely the same song as "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." Perhaps after the remix of "Sound of Silence," there was an impulse to try to repeat the magic by taking another soft, acoustic song off of the first album and give it the same treatment for the second. A quick glance at the other potential songs-- "Bleeker Street, "Sparrow," and "He Was My Brother"-- reveals that "Wednesday" is the ready choice. It's already about a desperate criminal, after all.

But while this song is similar, it is not identical. This one has a new title, a chorus, and an arrangement that is more akin to the British Invasion sound than that of the Greenwich Village folk scene. So we will treat it as an individual song.

Before I can critique the song, however, I find I must simply criticize it. From a poetic standpoint, it is a mess. It would have been better to take the plot and rewrite it entirely as a rock song rather than retrofitting this poor attempt at street-talk onto the lovely, tender song that already existed.

That said, in this version, the speaker either purposely or accidentally awakens his lover while arranging his escape. We can picture the man robbing the liquor store, then racing home and climbing into bed, hoping that his girlfriend will never know he was even gone. But his agitation-- his need to flee as expressed in the chorus-- rouses her. Of course, she asks, "What's going on? You all right?"

He blurts, unbelievably: "I've committed a crime!" Say he is going to confess immediately rather than lie, or even respond, "Nothing, it's nothing. I'm just having a hard time sleeping. Go back to sleep." Wouldn't he more likely ease her into it: "I did something really bad," or "Here's what happened. I lost my job, see, and I wasn't gonna tell you, not to worry you, just get another job, y'know. But I couldn't find nothin', see, and then were gonna miss the rent, so I..." He would attempt to cushion the news, or rationalize his actions, no?

It's bad enough to have the speaker's thoughts sound like Byron and his spoken words sound like Bukowski. But then the third verse has him speaking like both at once, moving from the lawn-tennis backhand of "a scene... in which I must play" directly to the stickball bunt of "...it puts me uptight to leave you."

Again, let's leave the linguistic concerns aside and focus on the story. Here, too, we have an issue. Having the speaker tell his girlfriend what he did and how he will now act is an interesting twist. However, this device could have been more fully developed if the speaker's words continued to let us know her reaction. Did she expect this behavior from him, or was it a total shock? Does she want him to turn himself in, or does she offer to flee with him? It is unfair to introduce her as a character and then leave her entirely mute.

The rearranging of "The Sound of Silence" from a folk to a rock song worked because all that changed was the music. Here, the words were changed as well, but both too much and not enough. The result is an object lesson in the pitfalls of taking half-measures.

Still, it is a noble experiment. Simon started as a pop-rock songwriter in the Anka/Sedaka mode. He was able to become a folksong writer with seeming ease. Then he was accidentally cast as a rock-song writer with the re-mix of "Sound of Silence." Naturally, he wanted to see if he could do it on purpose.

Simon would eventually become a great rock-song writer. But, as he would later write, "Before you learn to fly, you gotta learn how to fall." This is not his best work. But it's sometimes useful to see what doesn't work alongside what does.

Next Song: Richard Cory

2 comments:

  1. Just came across your blog. It's a fuascinating read, and great to see someone online willing to tackle the entire songbook. There's so much to be said about so many individual songs, and you certainly answered a lot of my questions. My first impression of "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" is that it sounds almost like a parody. Like watching a swinging 60's Spy caper comedy (think 1967's Casino Royale) and hearing a Batman-era Nelson Riddle-conducted go go boot-wearing hyper rendition of "Moon River" performed by The Cowsills during a speedy car chase scene. In other words, it's weird. The original song is gold, however, and likely to retain its timelessness a hundred years from now where this version is merely a timecapsule. I tend to think that of all the pop rock S&G songs. Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine, even A Simple Desultory Phillipic. The latter, in the context of Simon's original solo rendition makes much more sense. It's precisely the kind of jokey, topical, tongue-in-cheek talking blues throwaway songs folk singers loved to share with audiences. It's no wonder Simon recorded that original track live in front of a rowdy crowd in a coffee shop somewhere in London. In re-recording it later with Art, he seemed to have taken the joke further and stretched the parody to include Dylan's latest incarnation
    ("folk rock" he clarifies). It's like an SNL sketch whose single joke has gone on too long. I guess you can't fault me for liking my S&G pretty and poignant. That's also what makes it so hard to choose an album to share with newcomer to their music. There's always a track that just ruins the experience. The irony is that young people will always gravitate to the songs that sound like they could have been written a hundred years ago by some older and wiser poet (even if that poet was just a kid like Simon or Dylan in his Freewheelin' days when he sounded like a 90 year old man - my father in law who didn't know Dylan from a doorbell and didn't speak much English used to say, "I like when you play that little old man") but kids will be utterly perplexed by songs that once upon a time were meant to appeal to teenyboppers.

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  2. Toby-- Thanks for your compliments and comments. I guess I agree, comedy is somewhat stuck in its time period while romance and drama tend to be more timeless.

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