Monday, April 19, 2010

Overs

This short, sparse song features Simon showing off his guitar work a bit, strumming and picking a strolling, somewhat meandering, line, punctuated by bent blues notes and flamenco flourishes... with a lovely bridge wafted in by Garfunkel.

It's a breakup song: "Why don't we stop fooling ourselves?/The game is over." Like "Dangling Conversation," it is about a relationship which has run its course, leaving nothing left to say: "There's no laughs left, 'cause we laughed 'em all." The relationship was a quick one at that; these laughs were laughed "in a very short time." The over-riding sense of ennui is symbolized by rather arch pun: "There's no times at all, just The New York Times." Another day, another newspaper.

The living arrangement is hard to fathom. On the one hand, they "sleep separately," so they do not share living quarters. On the other, they "pass... in the hall," so they... do? Do they share an apartment but have separate bedrooms? Are they students with their own rooms, but in a co-ed dorm? Do they live apart but work in the same office? Ultimately, it does not matter-- their intimacy is in the past.

Then, another image of sameness, the habit of saccharin. No longer in wide use due to carcinogenic effects, this was one of the first sugar-substitute sweeteners; it is still available in pink "Sweet-n-Low" packets at some diners. (Today, the word means "falsely sweet," and is an insult applied to such cloying subjects as Barney the Dinosaur.) Not only is this relationship a bad habit, it is not even genuine sweetness that they share, when then "drop a smile" in those halls, but a manufactured one.

(The song then employs what I personally find a weak, obvious effect: stopping the music after saying the word "Stop" in a song. James Taylor does it in the song "How Sweet It Is" ("I just wanna stop... and thank ya baby.") One of the first famous uses of this device is in the Supremes' song "Stop in the Name of Love." Never do we hear the music in a song speed up once the word "Go" is sung, but for some reason, we must actually, literally stop singing to appreciate the meaning of the word "Stop." This cliched idea must... stop.)

The song, ultimately, is not a breakup song. For, at the end, the speaker is still uncertain as to whether to break off the relationship. We, the listeners, do not know why. The speaker has had nothing positive whatsoever to say about either the relationship or the other person in it.

In other Simon songs, there have been partings and distances of various sorts, but there is always a sense of loss. In "Wednesday Morning," our thief leaves "her hair, in an fine mist." In "Kathy's Song," she is the speaker's still point in his turning world: "The only truth I know is you." In "April," she "rests" pleasantly "in [his] arms." In "Dangling Conversation," there had been some intellectual stimulation. Even in "Groovey Thing Goin'," the couple, well, had a groovey thing goin'.

But here... while there is nothing to keep the couple together, there is nothing to break them apart, either. It is easier to allow inertia to keep the speaker in this day-in-day-out relationship than to be completely alone. Even bad habits are easier to keep than break.

The song is called "Overs," but "over" is a preposition, a sort of word not usually pluralized. The pluralization in this case is not mainly due to the repeated word "over" in the first verse. It is due to two of the meanings of the word. At first, it's "over," in the sense of "finished, done." At the end, the same word means "complete"; to "think it over" means to think about an idea or situation in its entirety, with all implications considered, similar to "work him over" or "talk things over."

The main theme of the song, however, is time. In the relationship, there are "no times at all," no shared experiences, good or bad. But alone, the speaker muses about the time he is wasting on this relationship. Time, he says, "is tapping on [his] forehead," worrying him. It's "hanging from [his] mirror," facing him every time he faces himself. It's "rattling the teacups," disturbing his peace of mind like a mild earthquake tremor. His two habits are her... and "feelin' kinda blue" because of her.

He is biding time in this relationship, perhaps feeling that he might as well be in it until he finds a better one. But the inertia is eating at him, and he does "try on the thought of leaving," the way one would try on a jacket to see if it fit, evidently with some regularity. Maybe because he is so devoid of feeling, he focuses on his thoughts, which in turn become just as paralyzed by his patterns.

We get the sense that, while the song is addressed to her, he has never said any of this to her. It seems that he is rehearsing his breakup speech in his mind, but cannot bring himself to say it aloud.

Perhaps he should. Chances are high that she would feel as much relief as he.

IMPACT: While it was not a hit, they did perform it on The Smothers Brothers show.


Next Song: Old Friends


Response to Prof. Bennighof:
First, thank you for commenting on (and even finding) my blog. I am glad to know that I characterized your book correctly. And yes, I agree, there is much more to music-- especially Simon's music-- than just the melodies. I would love to read your book when I am finished with this blog, as I don't have the musical background, as I mentioned, to properly discuss the stimulating "conversations" between Simon's words and music, so I am anxious to know what I am missing. For my part, I have tried to listen to the work of every musician Simon has recorded with, and this effort has been a fascinating and highly educational journey. Thanks for your good wishes for my project; long haul that it is, I have already started to plan my next "Every Single Song" subject... (Suzanne Vega? Leonard Cohen?) Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday to your daughter!

10 comments:

  1. Hi! I just found this excellent blog. As a musician myself and a great Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel fan, it's been really nice to read the analysis of his songs. In a live performance in Kraft Music Hall 1968, Paul introduced For Emily whenever I may find her by saying: "This is a song... about a belief. And Overs, the song following Emily, is about the loss of that belief." You have probably seen the performance, but I found it interesting that he connects the two songs by saying what he did. Thank you for your work!

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  2. Keith P-- Welcome! I am not now adding to the blog, but I understand that Simon is back in the studio. If he releases a new album, rest assured it will be featured here! In the meantime, there is no shortage of material to explore.
    I am impressed that you started with "Overs." You mentioned that "Dangling Conversation" was a pleasure to play, and the guitar part does sound as natural as a brook over pebbles. "Overs," by contrast, has a lot of angles and edges. How is that one to play? Also fun, but in a different way?
    I did not know the two pieces were connected; clearly one is a love song and one a breakup song, but I didn't know that THIS was the breakup of THAT relationship. I'll have to review that show! Thanks for your interest in keeping Simon's music before the public.

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  3. Thank you! I actually started reading the blog from the start but felt the need to comment on those two songs. As you say, The dangling conversation has a very fluid guitar picking in it, while Overs sounds much more experimental! I never really enjoyed the song so much so I haven't actually played it. But I do like playing Old Friends which has the same vibe, I think. I will go see Paul Simon here in Stockholm in March, he's playing with another great I musician; Sting!
    Thank you for your reply, I will return to this blog a lot and read the analysis once more! And thank you for giving me more reasons to love the songs of Simon and Garfunkel!

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  4. Keith P-- My wife has visited Stockholm and raves about it; I hope to come there someday. I saw that duet concert here in Chicago with her. I agree, Old Friends is more fluid. You might also like Cloudy; it's such a short song you can extend it with Feelin' Groovy, which has much the same laid-back "vibe." Enjoy the blog, and I look forward to your comments.

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  5. How nice! Did you enjoy the concert? I happen to be a big Sting fan as well, so I will most certainly like it (even though no one can replace Arts harmonies). I do like Cloudy! Especially the phrase: "Hey sunshine, I haven't seen you in a long time". It really suits us here in Sweden this time of the year as well...

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  6. My wife and I did enjoy the Simon/Sting concert. You'll have to tell me how you liked it once you see it.

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  7. Sparse song ? I can only assume your a critic and not a musician. Flamenco ? Meandering ? I won't indulge you. I'm referring to the song " Overs "
    It may not have been a hit commercially,but I can assure you,it is a " hit" with every studied musician.

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  8. Kenneth-- To answer your questions one at a time: Yes, I am a critic, not a musician; I explain that in my introductory page, adding that mostly limit my comments to the lyrics. But it would be unfair not to mention the usual musical structure we both find remarkable.
    By "flamenco," I suppose I meant Latinate flourishes that reminded me of that form. And yes, it is "meandering" in the sense that it lacks a familiar, predictable structure-- its changes in tempo, the bent notes, the shifts between concrete and emotional imagery, the above-mentioned flourishes all lend it a tone of stream-of-consciousness mental wandering.
    And "hit" means exactly that-- popular acclaim. The fact that musicians hold it dear is nice to know, and thank you.
    The fact that you appreciate this song speaks well of you; I will see if I can find your music.

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  9. Hi there! I hate to butt in a year after tha last comment and 2 after this analysis of the song, and sorry my name is also Paul, but I'd like to weigh in with my interpretion of the meaning of this song, because it is in parts quite different to yours. I think the "time" element, is about long time ... a looong loooong time in this relationship. This song is about a relationship of decades. "There are no laughs left, cos we laughed them all, in a very short time" is saying that all the laughs, the bubbles, seem to be ages ago, at the beginning of the relationship ... the fun part. But now it's just a habit, like saccarin. He reads the paper, they sleep in seperate beds, things are just routine, they have lost their youth and that magic and the subject wonders why they even bother. But then he thinks about it, and carries on the routine, because routine is what they have now in this late stage in life. That's how I read it. I guess Paul Simon would have to say if either interpretation was closer or further away, and it doesn't matter since songs, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder, but since others will find this page I thought I'd share my interpretaion. I feel it is about the comfort of routine in old age, not a flighty quick relationship.

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  10. Paul (or should I call you Yet Another Paul?)-- Of course you are welcome to offer your insights and interpretations. There have been many times I have modified my views after hearing someone else's. And as to the time between comments, well, that's all up to when someone finds this blog, isn't it?
    That said, it's possible that the relationship is a long-ish one. I think of it as maybe 3 years in duration, five at the most. Part of the reason I feel that way is that the speaker feels young to me, and young people generally have not been in relationships for decades. Just my sense of it.

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