Sunday, December 20, 2009

We've Got a Groovey Thing Goin'

With all the seriousness, even somberness, of their work so far, it's nice to see the guys just letting their hair down, letting off some steam, and having fun on this track.

The song is reminiscent of the duo's teen-pop Tom and Jerry days, while also showing that Simon was aware of the "British Invasion" of hardscrabble blues-rock coming out of blue-collar England. It would be easy to point to his introverted, isolation-ridden lyrics and conclude that Simon was unaware of the world outside, but that would deny the equal amount of his material concerned with the suffering of others and references to current events of the Civil Rights era. Here, he shows he listens to the radio for the music as well as the news.

Now, is this song significant in the way the tracks that made it onto "Greatest Hits" are? No. But is it important in the understanding of-- to borrow a phrase-- another side of Paul Simon? Yes. For all his sobriety, Simon is capable writing and performing a purely fun, funny song.

Yet, even with all its flaring horns and funky keyboard work, this is still a Simon song. For instance, he does throw around colloquialisms like "a'runnin' right over," "what you're kickin' away" and the word "groovey" itself. But the title still starts with the grammatically correct "We've" instead of the contextually consistent "We Got a..." This, the duo fix in the performace, in which they clearly sing "We."

Within a the space of a few words, Simon shows again that he is a New York college graduate and not a Liverpuddlian coal miner: "There's somethin' you ought to know/ if you're fixin' to go." The context calls for "oughta," (compare to the phrase "you oughta know," either from "Words of Love," by the Mamas and Papas or Alanis Morissette's song title) but Simon both writes and sings distinct hard "t" both at the end of "ought" and the start of "to." You can take the boy out of the suburbs...

Also, we know that it is a Simon song because-- even as upbeat as the music is-- the song is still a downer, a break-up song. Well, a trying-to-prevent-a-breakup song. The speaker pleads to his departing girlfriend that the relationship is good, that he is good to her and faithful... and that "I can't make it without [her]." Ultimately, his plea for her to stay rests on his fearing (here's that theme again) isolation.

On another level, the song parodies such "I'm beggin' you to stay" songs, tossing out one cliche after another. On this level, Simon is saying, "Oh, sure, I can write one of those songs, like everyone else is. But why should I, if everyone else is." In fact, the very next track is one of the key songs in his catalog of isolation works-- "I Am a Rock."

When I discussed "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," I suggested Simon would have been better served, while writing a rock song, not retro-fitting an existing song but simply building one from the ground up. Here, he has done so, and the results are much more satisfying. This is still a B+ effort, with its nose-thumbing attitude and list of hackneyed expressions, but it is a solid improvement. (Simon's first real success in this endeavor, from a songwriting standpoint, comes on the next album with "...Pleasure Machine.")

Every songwriter, no matter how serious, has a just-for-fun song or two like this. Sting has "We'll Be Together." Springsteen has "I'm Goin' Down." Peter Gabriel has "Sledgehammer." These songs don't mean anything, but since when has music needed to? If anything, they mean that even a life of contemplation and activism is pretty hard to lead all the time. All work and no play makes for a dull songwriter, too.

Next song: I Am a Rock

2 comments:

  1. Love your site! I think this song also showcases one of Simon's best qualities: his ability to construct a character who wants to be seen one way, but involuntarily betrays himself.

    In this one, the singer is trying to communicate self-assuredness: "I just couldn't believe it! ... You must be out of your mind!" He comes off, however, as desperate, and crushingly aware of the relationship's inadequacy. "We've got a groovy thing going, baby," is

    i) depressingly non-specific, and suggests that whatever "thing" they had was not terribly well-defined.

    ii) depressingly ingratiating, what with the silly attempt-at-casual "groovy thing" and the unconvincing attempt-at-rapport "baby."

    That's what makes this song fun to me: the singer is trying to muster up bravado, but his weakness and vulnerability are totally transparent. "Do you know what you're kicking away?" he asks, when his heart wants to yell, "DON'T KICK ME AWAY!"

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  2. Anthony-- Thanks for the compliment. I like that insight, of a speaker who tries to be suave, but only ends up revealing his desperation. It adds a layer of thought to a song I considered a just-for-fun number.

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