Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mother and Child Reunion

In 1989, Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne caught a lot of flak for their duet "Close My Eyes Forever," which many claimed encouraged suicide, especially in impressionable teens.

Meanwhile, Paul Simon started his post-breakup solo career (or at least the first song on the first album) with a song on the same topic, with nary a murmur from the sensationalist media or distraught parents. It was his-- at least-- fourth song on the subject, the first three being "Save the Life of My Child," "A Most Peculiar Man," and "Richard Cory."

In the case of "Mother and Child Reunion," the issue is a bit more disguised than in those earlier tracks. Part of the reason the message of the song went largely unnoticed is the ebullient music, lit up with African-reggae guitars, organs, drums, and descants.

The title comes from a Chinese menu, the dish including both chicken and eggs-- thus, the mother hen reuniting with her offspring in a rather sad way, for them at least. (Interestingly, another Chinese restaurant meal is mentioned later on the album, in the song "Paranoia Blues.")

But how is the song about suicide?

The speaker refers to the listener as "Little darling of mine," so we must presume some familiarity between the two parties. Also, the listener seems to be at least a generation younger, given that form of address.

The speaker addresses the listener, first saying they would not offer "false hope," which implies he or she does intend to propose a real sense of hope... by means of a practical solution to the despair at hand.

The speaker begins by laying out the problem: "I can't for the life of me/ remember a sadder day." What could be sadder than the loss of one's mother (well, the loss of one's child, perhaps. But one does not truly compare on such occasions)? The conversation seems to be taking place at the funeral, or perhaps during the mourning after.

The song then alludes to the Beatles' song "Let It Be," released two years prior: "I know they say 'let it be.'" In that song, The Virgin Mary, referred to repeatedly as "mother," returns from Heaven to offer solace. Simon, or at least his speaker, disagrees: "...but it just don't work out that way." Mothers don't come back from Heaven...

...You have to go up to them. Which is not that difficult of a trip, it seems: "the mother and child reunion is only a motion away." Remember the recipe for that dish? The two are reunited... in death. With one swift swipe of a knife, or the twitch of a finger on a trigger, or a short jump off a bridge, the reunion can be completed. It's not much effort-- "only a motion"-- or much time-- "only a moment."

Simon then seems to allude to a song on his own. Here, he says, "I've never been laid so low." On the immediate previous album, he uses the same word, "lay," but in the active voice, to indicate that he will do anything to provide comfort for his listener: "Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down."

Why the difference? In "Bridge," the message to the sufferer is, "I know you are weak, but I am strong, and you can depend on me for support." Here, the speaker is just as affected and miserable as the person he is trying to console: "I can't... remember a sadder day... I've never been laid so low." So of course his advice is going to be different.

While "Let It Be" is quite religious, our song only obliquely refers to religion, in the line: "In such a mysterious way." That phrasing sounds familiar because it borrows from the expression "The Lord moves in mysterious ways." While the Beatles profess a benevolent deity who "comes to me, speaking words of wisdom," Simon quotes a hymn, to cast a sideways glance at an inscrutable God whose intentions are unknowable.

There also seems to be a reference to reincarnation. (Note that "resurrection" is coming back from the dead as oneself, while "reincarnation" implies that one returns in another guise.) "The course of a lifetime runs/over and over again" may mean that, since we come back anyway, what's the difference if this particular life ends?

Yet, he must believe in an afterlife of some sort, if he is espousing the idea that, once the child kills himself, he will have his "reunion" with his mother. Well, maybe there is a Heaven, but since we can't rely on God-- especially not a God Who goes about killing mothers-- we must take matters into our own hands.

Finally, who is the speaker? If a mother has died, we cannot imagine that a father would tell his son: "Listen, seriously, if you miss your mother that much, why not join her? Here's some pills." First of all-- from a sheer biological standpoint-- if the child dies, too, his genes will die out entirely. More humanely, what father would wish death on his own child? He's all he has left of the mother, and why would he (the father) want to be be entirely alone?

So whoever is saying "Little darling of mine" is not, in all likelihood, a relative. Rather, it seems an elderly acquaintance, perhaps someone who has been to one too many funerals, who can't bear to see the child suffer and miss his mother so.

Still, if this person is going to offer advice like this, one has to question the father's judgement in inviting such a one to the funeral! If he doesn't believe in religious faith being able to offer true comfort, why doesn't this "well-meaning" person tell the grieving child that he, himself, will be the bridge over his troubled water?

That seems a much more decent option than shrugging: "If you're that miserable, why not just kill yourself?"


IMPACT:
The song went to #5 in the UK and #4 in the US.

By beginning his solo career with such a song, Simon seems to be declaring his desire to explore the world's music much more enthusiastically and regularly going forward. The album has several musical textures, many borrowed from other cultures, as we shall see.

The song was covered by Randy California... and a band with one of my favorite names: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Next song: Duncan

56 comments:

  1. Brilliant analysis! You must be a true fan of the song as am I.

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  2. Preston-- Thanks! To be honest, this has never been one of my favorites of Simon's. I understand it's importance in his catalog, with regard to his musical palette expanding to various world cultures, and enjoy knowing the trivia behind the title. But the message of the song always makes me sad.

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  3. In fact it is from the perspective of a husband speaking to his wife who is the mother of the child which passed away. Little darling of mine is spoken from him to her, from father to mother

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  4. Anonymous, that would make it sound like the man is urging his wife to kill herself to somehow rejoin the child...? I can't think that a man who just lost a kid would want to lose his wife, too, or that anyone would really counsel another person-- any other person-- to kill themselves as a way of dealing with grief.

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  5. It is just to show that the only way to deal with it is acceptance. You know, it's such a sad day, I've never had a sadder day, oh what a loss. But hey, we have to deal with it and accept it, there is no other way darling. It seems that it just will not work out that way, but what is the alternative? The mother and child reunion is meant in a sarcastic way, just to show that the only alternative of which one can think of is no alternative at all. So only acceptance remains.

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  6. I think you overthought this analysis. The song is about a divorced dad bringing his kid back the mom after his visitation. The "false hope" is the reunion of the dad and the mom-- the kind of hope that children of divorce wish for. The dad feels pretty bad about having to bring back the kid, and feels bad for the kid.

    It's one of his less complex songs.

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    1. You nailed it. I spent 15 years driving my daughter back after visitations, over and over again, in the course of a lifetime. This song describes the exact feeling you have on the drive back. It sucked every time and I thought of this song every time.

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    2. I'm sorry, but I have to disagree. The fact that this day is marked has there never having been "a sadder day" in one's memory means it is not just a routine drop-off back at Mom's like on every other week. This is a "mournful" day, too-- you know, mourning, as in for a death, something that only happens once "in the course of a lifetime."
      Also, the song is named for a dish of chicken and egg, the "mother" and "child" being reunited, so to speak, in death.

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  7. Anonymous- I disagree. The song alludes to the Beatles' song "Let it Be," but then responds, "It just don't work out that way." Meaning, this is not a situation in which acceptance applies. And there is an alternative, albeit a severe one.

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  8. Suzanne F.-- I am quite familiar with the dynamics of family visitation, for various reasons. While ending a visitation is a sad time, to say "I've never been laid so low," or that there has never been a "sadder day" seems extreme when the same thing happened last week and will again next week. This is about something much bleaker.

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  9. Suzanne F. Although you could argue that the "motion" mentioned is the kind brought in court.

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  10. No, on first thought it looks as if it does not work out that way. On second thought there is only acceptance. This is how it was meant, I can tell you.

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  11. Anonymous, while I will not (and cannot, in any case) dispute your personal experience, I am here concerned with the lyrics. It is possible that the speaker is not the most sympathetic person, or that he shares what we concern common values.

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  12. You haven't done your research. Simon himself says this is about the death of his dog. There are several essays on this blog wide of the mark

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    1. Simon has stated only that the death of the family dog inspired the song. The song itself is clearly not about a dead dog. He used the feelings of sadness and loss and used them to write this far more complex song.

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  13. Anna-- I could get defensive (and be excused for doing so, given your accusatory tone), and assert that I have read many books on Simon's biography and read and seen dozens of his interviews, never having come across this shaggy-dog story (I have also heard a similar story about the Manilow song "Mandy"). I could also use the usual "Well, it's all open to interpretation, and this is mine" response.
    But I began the blog to explore Simon's work and to learn about it. I cannot-- no one can-- learn everything there is to know about someone's life and work. Saying that I had would not only be presumptuous and indefensible, but deprive me of the chance to learn about my favorite artist, which was one of my other goals. Please post a link to an interview in which Simon talks about this song being about his dog... and feel free to comment on-- and correct-- other entries, again citing your sources.
    It is not often I find someone with more knowledge of Simon's work than myself, so I am glad to have met you, Anna, and look forward to hearing your further input. I want to get this right, after all.

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  14. Cassey-- Thanks for clarifying. It seems that Simon used a technique like that of The Method actors use.

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  15. I am also concerned with the lyrics. Your conclusion that the line "I know they say Let It Be" is referring to Another Paul's song is not correct. I can tell you. But you do not believe me.. The song is about showing that the only alternative is n't a real one,

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  16. Anon-- It seems that you have trailed off in mid-thought, so I am unsure how to respond. "I know they say 'Let it Be'", I feel, must be a Beatles reference. In any case Another Paul is ME, and I am "another" in that I am not Paul Simon... but also not Paul McCartney. Also not, for the record, Paul Anka, Paul Westerberg, or Paul Revere and the Raiders.

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  17. In "is referring to Another Paul's song" I meant "is referring to Paul McCartney's song", I thought it was funny to use Another Paul instead... Just as an explanation, you do not need to publish this remark...

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  18. You are reaching for something that is just not there.

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  19. Anon-- First of all, there are many Anonymous posters to this thread, so I don't know if you are a new one or one of the above ones returning. If you are new, you are free to voice your opinion, but it would be nice if you would back it up with evidence, offer an alternative reading, or something, instead of just a dismissive "Nah, that's not it."
    And if you are returning, I would like some way to know which of the above Anon postings also is/are yours so I can actually continue the discussion.

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  20. I am new here and I ADORE Paul Simon. I think what you are doing is really great and amazing. I really like your blog, and I agree with you a lot. In this case though, even though your analysis of his words do indeed fit pretty perfectly with the meaning you glean from the lyrics, ultimately, it just doesn't sound like a song Paul Simon would write. Yes, he has written about suicide elsewhere, as in Richard Corey where he illustrates that money is not the answer to all human need and even the very wealthy become depressed and lonely enough even to take their lives while we all envy them and their position in a life that seems so marvelous to us, or in Richard Corey to illustrate what loneliness and alienation can lead to in a world too busy and detached to be concerned about another human being. But advocating killing yourself in a song in order to be with your mother, this doesn't seem like a Paul Simon song to me. Paul Simon seems to me to be a pretty humanitarian guy. I have always read him as having a pretty intact moral center, and this just doesn't seem to me to be in line with what I think he would want to put out there. Just my opinion, and I have no proof, and I could of course be wrong, but it just doesn't fit with the Paul Simon I grew up with and know and love. Anything is possible of course, but I feel like the Previous Anonymous was a bit closer to the mark by advocating acceptance of an untenable situation

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  21. Actually, I found another interpretation that is similar, but not advocating suicide that seems to fit with my idea of who Paul Simon is as a person, her it is: FromSong Meanings: General Comment
    i recently read that the song is about paul simon writing the song for a friend whos child die and it was to help they recoup saying that there will be a reunion and its only a motion or moment away so dont worry because you will see your loved one once again

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  22. To the first of these Anonymous commenters, the one who capitalized "ADORE": I am not saying that Simon is advocating suicide, I am saying he is writing ABOUT someone who seems to be doing so.

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  23. To the second, the one quoting Song Meanings-- That's a very nice interpretation, if you are talking about the word "moment." It may seem like you will wait forever to rejoin your missing child, he says, but in the span of eternity it is but a moment, after which you will be reunited again forever. I could buy that.
    But what about "motion"? While the first idea implies waiting for time to take its inevitable course, this idea seems to advocate taking action oneself.

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  24. Let It Be is not a religious song, the mother Mary McCartney speaks of is his own mother. You are way off on that one, just wondering how off you are on the rest?

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  25. Anon-- If someone refers to "Mother Mary," they are referring to Mary, mother of Jesus. Paul McCartney could never have expected his billions of listeners to know his mother's name, after all.
    Second, I don't say I am an expert on the Beatles or their songs, but since you seem to be, why don't you go write a blog about their songs.
    Third, I am human, and I do make mistakes, and when they are pointed out to me, I fix them. But thanks for calling the entirety of my work and credibility into question for one comment, which may nor may not be in error, about a songwriter I am not even focusing on. Your courtesy is duly noted.

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  26. I often wondered if the song was about the second coming. As the course of life runs over and over. A motion from god.

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    1. Roy-- I suppose it's possible that it's about reincarnation, but more likely the "circle of life."
      I have a hard time accepting that it's about the Second Coming because there is a First and then a Second... and that's all. There is no "over and over," as the first "over" would be the Second Coming... and what's the next "over"-- does Jesus die again, and come back again, over and over, for a Third and Fourth and Fifth Coming? I'm sorry-- I just don't see it.

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  27. It's not the child that wants to be with the mother, it's the mother that lost the child. Little Darling of mine.

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    1. Roy: Who is calling the mother "Little darling of mine," though? No one speaks that way to a grown woman. They are consoling the child.
      If the child is being addressed, then it must be the mother who died, and an aunt or grandfather addressing the child.

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  28. Here are my 2 cents:Let It Be isn't a religious song, I am sure Simon knew this. I think the throwback to this song is not meant to be spiritual, either. Let it be. Let yourself grieve, but know eventually there will be a reunion of some kind. As the mother left behind after the death of her child, she must learn to live with it. I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day actually reinstates that we don't know about life after death. He cannot promise what is to come, but even if they are just buried together, then they have reunited. I think only a motion away is just a reminder that we are here for such a small time. It is a comforting, beautiful song for a grieving mother. I don't think suicide is any part of the song. Thanks for your thoughts,great song.

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    1. Still in Progress-- I just don't think someone calls a grown woman "Little Darling of Mine." You say that to a child. The child is being consoled on the death of his mother.

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  29. Why is the verse assumed to be an encouragement for suicide. Since a slight reference implying God's mysterious ways are alluded to, one can then also assume the rest can imply, that life is short and death comes to all, whether by an accident, or sickness, or through length of days... however, no matter when it happens, it will happen at some point and the reunion will take place then. Sudden loss without expectation of it, like an accident, can feel deeper because of the lack of time in its preparation for it, while sickness or old age etc seems to allow a time of acceptance. So, to the persons the pain is presently deep, but it wont be long before they are reunited. Scripture indicates that mankinds lifespan is but a vapor..its a short period of time compared to eternity.

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  30. Anon-- What you say is true of the line "only a MOMENT away," as someone can die at any moment. I know someone who died in between saying "I'll get it!" and picking up the phone. So it can happen TO anyone at any time.
    But then it says "Only a MOTION away," and that, to me, implies that an act done BY the person him- or herself.

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  31. That's interesting, I did not think of suicide while listening. I thought if anything, the motion referred to the motion of the universe activating a spiritual reunion. Because I thought "a motion away" could be heard as "emotion away." Cool blog post. Enjoyed reading.

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  32. Britta-- Thanks for the compliments. I admit my reading of the song is, shall we say, unorthodox, and I'm not surprised at the many "what the Hell are you talking about" responses. So thanks also for not dismissing my interpretation out of hand.

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  33. I'm not agreeing, nor am I disagreeing with any interpretation stated but just thought you night like to know how I've always interpreted the song on my own just listening to the song over the years. I envisioned a father talking to his first child about the mother who has recently died in a second childbirth...and possibly the new baby's life is currently hanging in the balance: "I would not give you false hope (that this new and fragile life will survive)" because life and death are unpredictable yet inevitable- they run in circles over and over again, the cycle of life), but because of that, please be reassured (one could almost reinsert "little darling of mine" or another such term of endearment) that they (Mommy and baby) and/or we all will be reunited someday. As for the "motion" as opposed to the "moment", I see it in one of two ways: Either lyrically it fit and sounded better and wasn't given much more thought by Mr. Simon, who has admitted in interviews that occasionally he has blended some nonsensical or gibberish- sounding lyrics within a very deliberate narrative just because he liked the way it sounded, kind of free-styling with the lyrics (think "Me and Julio"), however as 'Mother and Child Reunion" is dealing with a deeper subject matter, I believe the second explanation is probably more accurate in that he deliberately uses "motion" because (as a mother of a 3 1/2 month premature baby girl who weighed 1.9 lbs at birth) I have experienced just exactly how fragile life, at birth, can truly be- and one false move- or motion- can change everything. There are no guarantees. Time is measured in a whole new way. Minutes, hours, days, and weeks become marked by percentages and statistics. And I've witnessed unbearable and inconceivable decisions (or motions) having to be made by parents, nurses, and doctors. What should be the most joyous occasion... well, truly, there is no sadder day.
    I couldn't go to see my daughter in her isolet in the NICU until 2 days later because both of our lives were at risk (I nearly had a stroke having her my bp was so high), and I only had the briefest of glances and a quick touch of her unbelievably tiny hand through plastic as she was rushed to the NICU. So, our "reunion" was very bittersweet: At last, I was able to see her but would be unable to touch or hold her for weeks (if she survived) and I kind of had a breakdown after really seeing her for the first time; the shock had worn off and the reality, the fragility, and the uncertainty of the situation began to hit and hit hard. I can't express how it felt when I was finally able to hold her, but it truly was a reunion in that I felt we had both been cheated by not having that moment right after her birth, but I appreciated that moment, that reunion, so much more when it finally happened.
    Btw, she's almost 4 now and radiantly healthy, strong, beautifully fierce, cheeky and fearless, and the most headstrong and determined person I've ever known. Thanks for letting me share my version and I really love your blog!

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  34. Mahalia-- What a powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story with me (and my readers).
    As for your interpretation, I like it a great deal. I always assumed only three players in this story-- the mother who had died, the child being addressed, and the third party addressing the child. But of course there may be more players in the story, and it was short-sighted of me not to consider that option.
    I would thank you for your bravery in sharing your story, but that act must seem not much compared to the bravery it took to have lived the story itself.

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  35. Mahalia-- And thank you for the compliment!

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  36. Wow, that is so sweet, Paul, and it means a lot to me! It's really taught me to take nothing for granted. Thank you so very much. I look forward to reading the rest of your blog as Paul Simon has always been a favorite of mine. I'm very nostalgic about my childhood growing up in Birmingham (Alabama, not England) and so many of his songs reflect that time in my life. I grew up on music -all kinds- and singing with my mother to the radio is one of my best memories. When I think of that time, it's usually the music of Paul Simon, Elton John, and Billy Joel who come to mind. I was fortunate to see Mr. Simon during the Born at the Right Time tour. It was incredible and one of the best concerts I have ever had the privilege to experience.

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  37. Another Paul...as with anything interpretation is individual. I'm at 22 months since losing my first born son at the age of 27 to what we feel was medical incompetence. I just heard this song on the radio a few days ago, which is unusual in itself as I've not been able to listen to anything with lyrics - just soothing instrumentals. But we're on vacation and I was driving, my husband turned on the radio, without a second thought, we both joined in and started singing this song when it came on. Afterwards I reflected on the lyrics and thus found this interpretation and comment thread. For me I felt it was a message that although I am in deep pain and grief there will be a mother and child reunion with my son and although it feels like a lifetime away, in the grand scheme of things it's only a motion. I'm not in any way thinking of taking things in my own hand. Just another perspective!

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  38. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  39. Mahalia-- I saw that one, too! I will never live down missing the Graceland tour, but he did a lot of Graceland songs on this tour, too.
    Those are some of my other favorite performers, too.

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  40. GQ's Mom-- Thanks for sharing your difficult story. As you may have seen, since you have read the comment thread, this song is a very personal one for many people, and I simply relayed what I thought the song meant... not what I think about parents losing children or vice versa. I knew my interpretation was likely to be seen as controversial, but I still felt it was correct.
    That said, it is interesting to hear what a mother would think of a song called "Mother and Child Reunion," so thank you for sharing your view, painful as it may have been.
    I have to wonder if Simon knows that, of all his songs, this one seems to have meant so much to so many.

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  41. This is bs....he wrote it after seeing a puppy get hit! BUT to the fuck head that wrote the his thoughts....the song is perfect for me...it's how I felt on August 26th 2011 when I woke up and realized my son Had really died..not by suicide or drugs or guns, but in a surfing accident at ECSC...so I know you have a right to speak what you think and feel....but also think about others who might just be living from day to day

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  42. Unknown-- First, let me say how truly sad I am for your loss. I can't begin to imagine what you feel.
    As to the song, I am curious about Simon having seen a car(?) accident that killed a dog as this song's inspiration. I hadn't heard that story before, but I will see if anything corroborates it.

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  43. http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/motherchildreunion.asp

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  44. I'd like to throw my own hat in the ring here, by saying that I think Roy's interpretation--that it is "the mother that lost the child"--has some real merits. You responded to this interpretation with a rhetorical question, asking who it is then that is addressing the mother. The question was rhetorical because you are assuming that it must be the mother who is being addressed in Roy's interpretation. After all, the child is dead and no one in their right mind would address a dead person. Fair enough. I would only add: no one except a mother who has recently lost her child. And that is what we basically have here, I think. Of course, we don't have to be so literal as to imagine that the mother is actually speaking to a body in a coffin. She is apostrophizing. She is having an imaginary or mental conversation with her lost child. In this conversation, she toys with the possibility of killing herself and thus reuniting with her child in the afterlife.
    "Roy's" interpretation preserves the meaning of "motion" that you adroitly sussed out, as well as the relative ages of speaker and addressee, as you describe them. In fact, if you reread your original analysis, "Roy's" interpretation works perfectly well up until the 8th paragraph, where you ask the all-important question: What could be sadder than the death of one's mother? You actually supply the obvious answer (the death of a child), without really stopping to ponder that possibility.
    Both interpretations (yours and "Roy's") are internally consistent. But there are three closely-related reasons why I believe "Roy's" is ultimately preferable. These come down to parsimony, focus, and tone. First, "Roy's" interpretation is simpler. The only important characters in the song are the ones listed in the title. The second and related issue is one of focus. Why would Simon choose the much more complex scenario you describe, in which an unnamed stranger--someone, as you say, who is "not, in all likelihood, a relative"--mediates or triangulates the otherwise clear and direct relationship between mother and child? If the song evokes powerful feelings of sadness and longing, as I think we all agree it does, is this because we are identifying with the airy, philosophical meditations of this unknown person of obscure relation? I think, rather, we are getting the words from the proverbial horse's mouth. Finally, the issue of tone: The scenario that you describe, in which this unidentified adult counsels suicide to a bereaved child, is...what? Absurd? Grotesque, in the literary sense? Perverse? It's hard to say and while I agree that Simon is capable of tackling dark themes, I think the Anonymous writer who spelled ADORE in all caps is right: It just doesn't sound like Simon. That's vague, I know, because "What does Simon sound like?" And I don't really know, except to say, "Well, kind of like what Roy describes."
    So I hope you reconsider Roy's suggestion and I hope it goes without saying that I wouldn't be writing any of this if I didn't really admire the work you've done here. Your insightful and careful readings have added new depths to my understanding and appreciation of what we both agree are some of the greatest pop songs ever written.

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  45. Phil M.-- Let me begin by thanking you for your compliments. If anything, I think it's Simon that deserves the true accolades, for writing songs with such depth that they still inspire global debate generations later.
    As to your points-- yes, the bereaved often "speak" to their departed.
    And this just occurred to me: If the song is about the death of the child-- what if these are the same mother and child as in the song "Save the Life of My Child"? It parses with the line in out song, that the child died "in a mysterious way," as in that song. "He flew away."
    Thanks for agreeing with me that the "motion" involved is one of suicide. That seems to be a point of contention.
    I do agree that it would be very odd and certainly heartless for anyone to approach a bereaved child and say: "Miss your mom? Why not just kill yourself?"
    But even if the mother is talking to herself, and I can see her speaking the verses "to" her child, who is speaking the chorus? Who is saying "I would not give you..."? If the mother is "I," as in the verses, who is the "you"? This is not a rhetorical question.
    In my version, both pronouns have antecedents, even if one of mine is somewhat a monster; in yours/Roy's, who is the "you"?

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  46. Phil M... unless the "you" is the child? She doesn't want to give the child, in Heaven, false hope? So she imagines the child is grieving for not being with her, from on high, the same way she grieves for him? Which is a form of projection but still something a person might do.
    So is she saying/thinking, "Don't worry, child, Mommy is coming-- all I have to do is swallow these pills?"

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    1. I just typed out a response, but it seems to have been lost. Anyway, that would be my guess. In my response, I brought up the line "Though it seems strange to say / I've never been laid so low." Is it "strange" for the mother to say this to the child, because the child is literally laid low--that is to say, underground?

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    2. Phil-- Yes, but who is saying "I've never been laid so low?" if it is the child who has been literally laid low? It would have to be the child, "speaking" from the grave... not the mother.

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  47. Sorry, I was rushing because I had to rewrite my response. It's certainly ambiguous, but I think we can understand this line, like all the others, as the mother addressing the dead child. The most important part of the line, as I see it, is not the rather cliched expression ("I've never been laid so low") but when the speaker (the mother) calls attention to its strangeness ("I know what I'm about to say will seem strange to you, but..."). Here she is anticipating the natural response of her addressee (the child) to what she is about to say. "I know it seems strange to say this to YOU, who are literally laid low..." It seems like an especially important line to deal with in an interpretation of the song, because the speaker explicitly calls attention to it, by commenting on it. Without this commentary ("I know it seems strange..."), the line is just a common cliche ("I've never been laid so low"). With the commentary, it becomes a clever pun.
    I think any utterance by the dead child would qualify as "strange," so there would be no point for him/her to single out one in particular.

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  48. Phil M-- I agree that Simon felt it necessary to acknowledge that he was about to employ a cliche, and so allow us to give it deeper meaning.
    I'd have to read through it some times more, at least once imagining the deceased child being the speaker, once imagining it as the mother, to really see.
    But I do admit that these are readings that had not occurred to me, and I am gratified to consider them-- discovering such alternate interpretations of Simon's work is one hope I had for this blog altogether.

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