Monday, March 21, 2011

St. Judy's Comet

Comets tend to be named for the astronomers who discover them. And one does not think of saints-- religious figures-- as being interested in the science of astronomy. In fact, history is full of antagonism between religious authorities and astronomers.

Yet, comets have been whizzing by for all of recorded history. So they must have been of interest for astrologers. The movement of heavenly bodies-- especially one as dramatic as a comet-- has always been taken as a "sign" for one historical event or another, and one could see how a comet could have been taken as the portent of a miracle performed by a saint and so named for her. Yet, every time I looked for a comet connected with a Saint Judy, or even a St. Judy to begin with, I came up empty.

The closest I can come is St. Jude, and since this song is to a child, one can imagine the child misreading "Jude" by pronouncing the silent "e," resulting in "Judee," which an adult would then spell "Judy."

This album came out in 1973, the year a Comet Kohoutek swung by Earth. It was all over the news and, while it underperformed in astonomer's terms, still was visible without a telescope and captured the public's awe. It spawned dozens of tributes in song as well, by artists as divergent as Kraftwerk and Burl Ives.

So I will hazard a guess that Simon wanted his son to see this astronomic wonder: "I long to see St. Judy's comet sparkle in your eyes when you awake." And it is Simon singing this lullabye: "If I can't sing my boy to sleep, it makes your famous daddy (i.e., Simon himself) look so dumb."

We can picture the father and son watching the comet "roll" by, and noting its tail, the "spray of diamonds in its wake." Then, even though the son was excited by the sight and wanted to discuss it, "the hour of his bedtime [had] long been passed." We can further picture the mother explaining to the father that, since he had riled the child up, he could now be the one to calm him down and tuck him in, explaining that now that the comet had passed, all that was left "flashing" in the night sky were the "fireflies."

The mixed messages given the child of "run come see" and "lay your body down," which alternate, indicate the conflicting tugs all parents feel. We want our children to see the parades, the fireworks, the sunsets, and the once-in-a-lifetime events like comets and eclipses. Yet, we also know that children need their bedtimes and routines... and sleep.

The song is a very touching, personal moment, and one of the prettiest lullabies by a singer-songwriter (and there are a surprising number; Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and Pierce Pettis wrote lullabies, for instance). It's a song style that Simon would not revisit until "Father and Daughter."

Garfunkel recorded an album Songs from a Parent to a Child. Perhaps someday, Simon will release an album of his kid-friendly material. If so, this song is a shoo-in.

Next Song: Loves Me Like a Rock

4 comments:

  1. Hello - I have started following your blog somewhat late in the day,so am working my way back through all the songs I have missed. It's great to revisit so many Paul Simon songs as I haven't listened to some of the albums for years, like One Trick Pony.

    I just wanted to comment here as I have a somewhat differing reading of this song, just thought you might be interested. I always thought that St Judy's Comet was an imaginary comet that sparkled across the sky of an imaginary land, ie dreamland, possibly accessible only by children. So Simon is saying, go to sleep, have wonderful dreams, and I long to see those dreams sparkle in your eyes when you awake. As with so many lyrics I never questioned this interpretation becasue I never really thought about it which is why I am finding it really interesting to read your takes on all the songs, as it opens up new interpretations.

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  2. Welcome, and thank you! I certainly think that, given the lack of an actual comet named after St. Judy, that the comet could be a figment of a child's imagination... and what a wonderful thing to dream about, for a child or an adult.

    Now that I think about it, aren't Catholic saints given "days" (as in St. Patrick's Day or St. Valentine's Day)? And if so, perhaps a certain comet came by on St. Jude's day one year, and thus the two became associated. Again, just a conjecture.

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  3. Sweet Baby James is the most famous lullaby...yet you didnt mention it

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  4. Mr. McGoo-- Yes, it is a lullaby, and a beautiful one. I should have alluded to it. But I can explain why I happened not to. I was using as, a guide, a song list I had made years ago, of songs sung from a father to his child. But that song is not on the list, because it was written by Taylor to his namesake nephew! Another very pretty lullaby of his is "You Can Close Your Eyes." The version in which he duets with Carly Simon is not to be missed.

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