The "Impostor Complex" is a phenomenon described by Freud. The idea is that one is getting acclaim for something that one finds easy, or that one is "phoning it in" but is still getting applause anyway... and that any minute the crowd will catch on to the charade and turn away-- or worse, attack one as a fraud.
These days, we are presented with one performer after another offering lip-synched, Auto-Tuned performances of sample-filled remixes; it seems that if you are an impostor, you can't have this complex. But the speaker here seems to have a severe case: "This feeling of fakin' it/ I still haven't shaken it."
The verses seem increasingly detached from one another narratively, joined only by the sense of impostor-ness in each case. The first is a romantic situation with a confident woman who both "knows" and "does" exactly "what she wants to do." In contrast, our speaker is merely "fakin' it."
The next verse could continue the romantic story, or be about some sort of group outing. In either case, the speaker is "a dubious soul" in social settings. (This word does not mean "doubtful," but "doubt-able, unreliable.") Even "a walk in the garden" is too much exertion; we are not given an age for the speaker, but the implication seems that the walk should reasonably be well within his range of endurance. Still, the "garden" seems more like a jungle, in that he is "tangled in the fallen vines." This image of awkwardness is probably metaphoric and meant to suggest social ineptitude. In the next line, he is "picking up the punchlines," either as the butt of those jokes or more likely simply the listener rather than the raconteur who comes up with them (he's "picking up" the jokes, not "laying them down").
The next verse seems less like a continuation of a discussion of interpersonal relationships than a comment on fearmongering by politicians and the media. In fact, he posits interpersonal relationships as the solution to such fearmongering: "Is there any danger?/ No, no, not really/ Just lean on me." (The line "lean on me" is not a reference to the classic Bill Withers song of that title, which was released four years later.) He then continues with the nice, if preachy, advice to treat one's neighbor's "honestly." Perhaps this is another dig at the powers that be; they teach the populous to be honest, then deal falsely with them.
The last verse is the most enigmatic. First, the speaker wonders about past-life experiences. Simon, whose lyrics show a general skepticism about religion and such beliefs, likely does not mean this literally. Perhaps he feels that his art is more accurately a craft, and he feels that he is no more a poet, as some dubbed him, than a tailor is a fashion designer.
Billy Joel once commented that he receives inordinate praise for his talents, that in a prior generation, being able to write, sing, and play songs was considered basic "competence" for any musician. So, too, Simon may have felt that what he did was not terribly special, compared to work of the great poets and songwriters of history whom he admired.
In the interlude, it seems someone walks into the tailor's shop and addresses the tailor, a "Mr. Leitch." This is likely a reference to Simon's contemporary folksinger Donovan; that is his actual first name, but his last name is Leitch. (It is not likely a reference to Cary Grant, as his original last name was spelled "Leach." No celebrity was comfortable with that last name, it seems, until Robin "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" Leach.) Why Donovan was cast as a tailor is, I admit, not readily discernible. It's possible that it was just a British name lying around, unused by its owner.
It is possible that the "tailor" is a reference to Simon's grandfather, who died before Simon was born, and who actually was a tailor back in the "Old Country." If so, Simon's "own[ing] the tailor's face and hands" is not just a metaphor, but a genetic fact. This also jibes with the imagery of past lives and personal histories.
The speaker's impostor complex, by the last couple of lines, becomes so intense that he is convinced that he is now the tailor: "I own the tailor's face and hands." If the verb "own" instead of "have" is not disturbing enough, the last line is truly Twilight Zone-esque: "I am the tailor's face and hands." (emphasis mine).
"Fakin' It" is truly one of Simon's most curious, hard-to-grasp songs. Perhaps the idea was to illustrate: "See! I'm just grasping straws and pulling random levers. Stop expecting genius from me all the time; it's an impossible standard and the pressure is too much. I know I'm not that good; why don't you?"
A note about the music-- the blaring, thumping opening and closing seem disjointed, and may exist to heighten the sense of unreality the speaker feels. Also, the "tailor" could have had his shop on Penny Lane, a street sung about by the Beatles in the previous year. As befits a song about uncertainty, the song swerves severely between melodic folk strumming and classical strings in the verses... and harder backing rhythms and horns in the choruses.
NOTE: The duo only released one 45 single of a song that does not otherwise exist on one of the 5 official S&G releases (Wednesday, Silence, Parsley, Bookends, Bridge).
That song is "You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies." Its flip-side is an alternate version (and not all that different, at that) of "Fakin' It."
We will deal with "Interest" and other non-album S&G material after the 5 S&G albums, but before Simon's solo work.
Next Song: Punky's Dilemma