Monday, October 25, 2010

Someday, One Day

The song's theme is optimism. The very title speaks to the idea that, whatever the setbacks, one's goal can be achieved with persistence.

One notable feature of the song is its lack of consistent rhyme. The chorus is a/a/b/a, with the first and last lines ending in "day." The first verse's lines end with the words "mirror/you/of/love," for a rhyme scheme of a/b/c/c. The second verse: "dreamer/thinkin'/doin'/say," or a/b/c/d (which is to say, no rhymed lines). And then the third verse is "discouraged/slowly/doin'/movin'," so the slant rhyme of the last two lines brings us back to a/b/c/c.

Perhaps this lack of rhyme reflects the state of mind of the listener-- not so much the person speaking, but the one being spoken to. The listener is someone who is "down" and needs to be "bucked up." He (or she) is not feeling like there is much rhyme is his life.

The lyrics themselves are very straightforward and comprise a "pep talk." The way The Seekers perform it, it could be addressed to anyone needing encouragement.

While I am a bit hesitant to assign meanings to Simon's songs based on his circumstances at the time of their writing, I must wonder if in this case such an ideas isn't warranted.

Simon and Garfunkel, no longer Tom and Jerry, had regrouped as a folk duo and put out "Wednesday Morning." It did not do well. So Simon might have been addressing the song to Garfunkel, telling him that with some persistence, they might still find success.

Another, even bolder, interpretation might be that Simon addressed this song to himself. In England at the time, he recorded an album of solo acoustic material (his "Songbook") and was writing songs with Woodley, but neither was the success he had hoped for with Garfunkel.

One can imagine him "look(ing) in the mirror," trying to convince himself that in a "time not so far away," that could still happen.

What he did not know is that, back in New York, a producer named Tom Wilson was creating an electric "remix" of "Sound of Silence"... which would go to #1 and start Simon and Garfunkel on their way.

Another collaboration with Woodley, this was The Seekers' follow-up to their #1 hit "I'll Never Find Another You." (Thanks to a reader for correcting me; this was not The Seekers' first hit, as I had said.)

As The Seekers were the first act with international impact from Australia, it is fair to say that Simon, aside from his part in South Africa's musical history, is also part of that island continent's cultural story.

Later acts from Australia ranged from The Little River Band to Men At Work, and perhaps most notably another harmony act like The Seekers-- The Bee Gees. Well, not much like The Seekers.

Next song: My Little Town

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Wish You Could Be Here

This song was co-written with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers, and performed by that Australian group. It was written in the short hiatus between the letdown of the first proper S&G album, "Wednesday Morning" and their follow-up, "Silence." (Woodley also co-wrote "Cloudy.")

While it does not seem to have been recorded by S&G, it is included in the songbook "Songs by Paul Simon" (Charing Cross Music, 1967), which largely contains S&G material.

Thematically, the song prefigures "Kathy's Song." The opening imagery, however, is of snow, not rain, as in "I Am a Rock": "Lookin' from my window at the freshly fallen snow/ That sparkles as it tumbles upon the street below."

The song does not discuss the internal angst of the speaker, as "Kathy's Song" does. It simply speaks of the speaker's longing for his absent love, describes the ambiance of the room, as in "Dangling Conversation," and discusses what the speaker does with his "lot of empty time to kill"-- There is a fire in the fireplace; "the room is warm and sleepy." He listens to "some records," and tries to "read the paper."

But, while he doesn't use these words, his mind is distracted and diffused. The words in the paper "aren't very clear," and his "thoughts return to you/ And I know there's somethin' missin', I wish you could be here."

While he aches for her return, he does not expect it. "I keep list'nin' for your footsteps or your key turned in the door/ I sure could use your company, but we've been through that before."

This last line is the only one that provides any context for the relationship. This is not just "I miss you," but "I miss you since we broke up."

Somewhat like "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" is a rock remake of "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." "I Wish You Could Be Here" is a pop remake of "Kathy's Song." It is roughly the same song, with simpler words and concepts substituted for the others' collegiate and poetic sensibilities.

Also, in "Kathy's Song," the couple is geographically apart but still together. More importantly, here the singer is upset but still "has it together," while in "Kathy's Song" he has a major crisis: "I have come to doubt all that I once held as true."

What makes this song interesting is that it shows that Simon is capable of presenting the same material in two different ways-- as a simple folk-pop ditty, or as a highly philosophical and emotional poem.

Next Song: "Someday, One Day."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hey Schoolgirl

Puppy love used to have a soundtrack.

This is an innocent little flirtation about a young "crush" that, in a situation that seems rare in Simon's later work, is mutual.

The boy makes the first move, and daringly whispers-- during class!-- that he'd like to meet up with this young lady after "after school."

She agrees, but is demure. Her school day is over an entire hour and a half later. If they are in the same classroom, they must be in the same school and even the same grade... how is her school day so much different? Does she have after-school activities? Detention? (Heaven forbid.)

She then puts him off three times more. "Maybe when we're older, then we can date" seems like a very big put-off. Her excuse about homework taking her "hours" would only mean he'd have to wait hours, not years until they are "older."

And then the vague "Someday we'll go steady" seems a timeframe of months, perhaps years again.

But each put-off is equalled by a come-on: "Let's wait" means later, yes, but not never-- as does "So don't you fret/ Ooh, not yet."

At this point, our poor young fellow might be forgiven if he feels "played" or "strung along," what with such mixed messages.

But then, just as suddenly, the girl changes her mind, and with a sense of purpose commits herself: "I'm gonna skip my homework, gonna cut my class/ Bug out of here real fast."

Our young Romeo could not be happier, with the situation or with himself: "Now we're going steady... You're mine/ I knew it all the time." Sure he did.

Still, what was it about him that won her over? His brazenness in approaching her during class? His confidence in suggesting a date before he even knew her name? His doo-wop influenced pick-up line: "hoo-babaloo-chi-bop"? The fact that once he made his overture, he hung back, letting her come to him?

We'll never know for sure. But this extremely early song does remain one of the few songs in Simon's portfolio about a successful relationship. Is such a thing possible only when the participants are as uncomplicatedly innocent-- or as obliviously confident-- as children?

This is the one song from the Tom and Jerry, pre-S&G, days that the duo still performs.

They were still in high school when, with this song, they found their first taste of success. It was their first professional recording, cut in 1957. It sold 100,000 copies and cracked the Top 50 (#49, but still).

It even took them to the performance show of their time-- long before American Idol, MTV, Star Search or even Soul Train-- called American Bandstand. New artists took turns playing their hits, teens danced, and Dick Clark hosted the proceedings. (The TV show central to the plot of Hairspray is based on this show.)

When he introduced them, Clark asked them where they were from. Garfunkel admitted to being from New York, but Simon falsely drawled that he was from Macon, Georgia. This fib was, perhaps, in an attempt at authenticity... or at not wanting to be out-authentic-ed by the act that they were to follow: Jerry Lee Lewis, performing "Great Balls of Fire."

Next Song: I Wish You Could Be Here

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Red Rubber Ball

Simon wrote it, so it is his, but he does not seem to have recorded a solo version. Then again, neither did S&G except on a concert CD that was released many years post-breakup.

Since there is an  S&G  recording of the song, and since Simon wrote the song pre-breakup, let's call this an  S&G-era song, if not an S&G song proper.

While the previously discussed track recalls Simon's 1960's style protest work, this number hearkens back even further, to his Brill Building, "Hey Schoolgirl" days.

The lyrics, as befitting that time and place, are straightforward, if somewhat clever. The main imagery is childlike: a "roller-coaster," a "starfish," and the titular red ball.

But there is a sophistication in the message. Yes, there is some residual anger in this breakup song, but nothing like the venom of "Interest" or the petulance of "I Am a Rock."

Breakups can be like other losses, and move through the five basic emotions of grieving outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (she never intended for people to think that these had to be felt "in order," though, or even one at a time): Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

So if those other songs have a speaker stuck in Anger mode, the speaker of "Rubber Ball" is largely in a state of Acceptance: "I think it's gonna be all right/ Yeah, the worst is over now/ The morning sun is shining."

Yes, but why "like a red rubber ball"? Well, anything from childhood can be seen as a sign of hope.

One could read a sense of resiliency, of "bouncing back" from a let-down, into the fact that the ball is rubber.

That might be pushing things. After all, Bobby Vee's "Rubber Ball" uses the same image to refer to an overly pliant boy who can't get over a girl: "Like a rubber ball, I come bouncing back to you."

Instead, let's look at Simon's song as he uses Anger as a lever to move himself into a place of Acceptance. As the speaker looks back over the relationship-- the song itself starts with "I should have known"-- he lists the reasons that he is relieved the relationship's sun has set:

She was dismissive of, perhaps even loose with, his "secrets"... she treated him like 'arm candy,' as they say today... and she never had "time" for him. Overall, he felt uncared for, and uncared about: "You never cared... never caring."

Whatever good times there were do not seem to have been worth the anguish the relationship caused. Simon uses the somewhat cliche image of a "roller-coaster ride" to illustrate these ups-and-downs...

...then tries to extend the metaphor-- "I bought my ticket with my tears." Rather than smirk at the histrionics of that line, let us realize that this was at least an attempt to elevate a cliche, and that it is entirely in keeping with what passed for poetry in song lyrics of its era (again compare to the Bobby Vee song). Lastly, even if someone was trying to write a song in the voice of a wounded teen today, they might very well write that line; it is entirely in character.

Lastly, let us applaud the speaker for personal strength of the rest of the line: "...that's all I'm gonna spend." No Bargaining going on here, no "If only you'd..." or "I promise to..." The speaker has cried enough, and is done.

In case he was unclear, the speaker states his case plainly in other lines: "I don't need you at all... If I never hear your name again, it's all the same to me."

He realizes he's worth more than the sort of treatment he's been getting... and after all, she's not the only fish in the sea.

Not even the only "starfish."

The song was made famous by a band called The Cyrkle, who opened for The Beatles in the US and spelled their name like that because John Lennon told them to.

The song rose to #2, and "went gold," which means it sold over a million copies. It was co-written by The Seekers' Bruce Woodley.

Also, after I selected it last week for this week's post, I heard it blasting from a car stereo here in Chicago on a fall weekend afternoon.

Next Song: Hey Schoolgirl