An uncharacteristic bit of advice-giving from Simon. In the same year when Neil Young sang about "The Needle and the Damage Done"-- 1972-- Simon discouraged drug use with this somber number. (Originally posted incorrect date; corrected by a comment [see below])
"Paraphernalia," as in drug paraphernalia, "never hides your broken bones," our speaker explains. But most songs, at this point, might encourage the listener-- instead of turning to drugs-- to "get high on life" or perhaps find religion.
Not this speaker. He discusses, instead, the concept of entropy, the physics truism that states, as the title indicates, that "everything put together sooner or later falls apart." Yes, everything... from planets to forests to elements.
The Gershwins put it: "The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble." Not just "may," Simon insists, but "will." William Butler Yeats agrees, writing in his poem, "The Second Coming": "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold." Nothing can reverse the process of entropy.
You might think, the speaker says, that drugs could ease or maybe mask the pain of this deterioration. But they cannot "hide your broken bones." The speaker also does not hold out the hope of support by friends, society, or God: "It's plain to see you're on your own."
Nevertheless, one should still not turn to drugs to wake "up" or lie "down," since they "change your style." One should not attempt to mask suffering or mortality by drugging, as that does not even provide an effective hiding place-- all they do is make you less yourself. "Some folks are crazy," the speaker admits, and some nearly so. But you are not; you are still rational. So why take drugs and become crazy? It's foolish.
"You can cry/ You can lie," but it will not help one bit. Instead, one should recognize that one is mortal, but not dwell on the matter, and simply get on with the business of living. Since "everything put together sooner or later falls apart" anyway, "spare your heart" the angst of focusing on that inevitability.
You are helpless to change, veer away from, or prevent your dying. Everyone and everything dies. And why think "Well, if I'm just going to die anyway, I might as well kill myself now" ("You can die")? Why not just live already?
Dorothy Parker agrees. Her poem, "Resume" assesses various suicide methods and reaches the same conclusion:
"Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live."
"When... they lay you down for dead/ Just remember what I said," about everything falling apart. So, first, stop avoiding the issue with drugs, and wasting time with them, advises the speaker, and just live the life you have left.
"Everything Put Together" is not a nihilistic or fatalistic song. Rather, it is an open-eyed assessment of the fact of mortality. As Kafka said, "The meaning of life is that it ends." And the best response Simon can find to that inevitability is to not waste what time he has left dwelling on that issue: "If I am going to die some day, I only have so much time to get things done, so I'd better get busy now."
In his book of philosophical essays The Myth of Sisyphus, novelist Albert Camus discusses despair and hope. Since we don't know what will happen tomorrow, both despair and hope are equally absurd mindsets, he reasons. But if one despairs, one might as well kill oneself today. Since the outlooks are equally absurd, he decides, one might as well hope and live.
Centuries before, the author of Ecclesiastes-- believed by many to be King Solomon-- also wrestled with the meaning of life, and death. "As the one dies, so dies the other... All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." Therefore, "The best thing we can do is eat and drink and enjoy what we have earned."
Simon doesn't state it in Camus' or Ecclesiastes' terms, but he might agree. Since entropy/mortality will get you in the end anyway... "spare your heart." You might as well live.
Next song: Run That Body Down