Monday, April 4, 2011

Still Crazy After All These Years

For all of his insistence that he is "crazy," the speaker of the lyric seems less unhinged than simply sad.

The song begins with an incident of his running into his "old lover." While she seems happier than he is for the coincidence, he agrees to join her for a drink and some reminiscence. It seems that the "crazy," here, follows the plural of "we" and "ourselves"-- they are both still crazy.

The next verse is not narrative, but confessional. He admits to to being solitary, unsentimental, and somewhat a stick-in-the-mud. Perhaps not someone you'd invite to a dinner party, but still not "crazy," although now he limits that adjective to himself.

So why, in the bridge, is he awake at 4 a.m.? Especially if he is exhausted ("crapped out," on some TV appearances, has been softened to "tapped out").

He seems trapped between two truths. One is that he wishes for things he does not have; he is "longing [his] life away."

On the other hand, is working to get those things worth the trouble, if "it's all gonna fade," and he's just going to die anyway?

He still can't sleep; perhaps it is the same night he met his old flame, but after he said good night to her at the bar. Perhaps meeting her is, for some reason, keeping him up. He doesn't seem to be missing her; we saw in the first verse that he was over her. Perhaps he wishes that he weren't-- that he cared about something in his life.

(The sax solo here is by Michael Brecker, a phenomenal jazz talent who passed away in 2007. His other work, especially with the haunting Electronic Wind Instrument, is definitely worth finding on YouTube.)

In any case, he is "watch[ing] the cars" by his window. He muses that if he ever did anything violent-- which is hardly likely, as that would require either physical motivation or emotional passion, and he seems to affect neither-- he would not be held responsible for his actions, but found not guilty due to his insanity.

In reality, as upset as he is, all he can do is watch traffic. He hardly seems like the type about which the neighbors say to news crews: "Oh, he was so quiet and he kept to himself."

Rather, he seems lethargic, moody, and just generally miserable. Not even clinically depressed, as that level of any emotion would be too extreme and taxing.

It is interesting to contrast this song with "I Am a Rock," also about a miserable loner, but one who is more adamant about insisting (unconvincingly) that he is not upset, but also that he is never going to allow that possibility because he will avoid relationships altogether, so there.

Our man here is upset, admits it, but just shrugs, "Oh well, so what, who cares."

Maybe in a world in which everyone ambitiously pursues happiness, allowing oneself to be noncommittal, solitary, and pessimistic is "crazy" by default.

People seem to react to this song as if they approve of the sentiment that one can still be as spontaneous and wild in middle age as in one's teen and college years. Upon reading the lyrics, that reaction proves unwarranted-- that sentiment is not really to be found.

For instance, many, upon re-meeting an enthusiastic old lover, would try to capitalize on the the opportunity of that enthusiasm, either for brief physical or longer emotional re-connection. Not our man, who has been down that road before and sees no reason to want to revisit its destination.

Neither is the song a longing look backward, as are Springsteen's "Glory Days" or Mellencamp's "Small Town." Our speaker seems to feel that while things aren't great now, they never were, either (see "My Little Town")-- and there is no real reason to expect they ever will be.

So he will continue to "long" and leave it at that, content with his overcast sadness and unwilling to risk his comfortable malaise for true happiness-- which would also mean the possibility of true misery. Maybe what's "crazy" is that he accepts that in his character, too, and doesn't care to change that-- and even takes some pride in his resistance to change.

IMPACT: This was a major hit for Simon. Simon won a Grammy for his vocals on the track, and the whole shebang won Album of the Year.

The album went to #1 in the States, #6 in the UK, and even cracked the Top Ten in Norway and Sweden. In a famous bit on a Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving show, Simon performed the song wearing a turkey costume.

The song and its title have become an idiom, part of common parlance; I saw an ad for a furniture store once that said it was "Still Sale Crazy After All These Years." That the song still elicited such recognition decades after its release is at least as much a compliment as a Grammy.

The song was sampled on a track called "Ninna Nanna" by an Italian band called Colle Der Fomento.

Next Song: I Do It For Your Love


  1. I like the idea of this site. I think you could be a little more flexible in your interpretation of the words here. Crazy can mean an awful lot of thinks. I think in this song 'still crazy' means he still has a longing in his gut for some other satisfaction he can't find, still driven by that feeling even as he matures in life, even though he may have thought that feeling would fade.

  2. Lamonti- Thanks so much for the compliment. I agree that the word "crazy" has many definitions (and we will get to one on "Crazy Love Vol II" once we get to the Graceland album. Also, I agree with your interpretation. As I said in my post: "
    He seems trapped between two truths. One is that he wishes for things he does not have; he is "longing [his] life away."

  3. Hi Paul, the song is quite sad, more than people might think, since most of the people do not notice the lyrics that well. The song breaths "long time no see" which stays in mind of the average listener, without understanding the deeper and darker meaning of the song. Wonderful explanation from you.

  4. Anon.-- Thank you. I think the sax solo does a good job of conveying the underlying sadness and resignation, too.

  5. I think the old lover is "still crazy after all these years". Yes, he may be unhappy to be awake at 4am, but he "would not be convicted by a jury of his peers" - his situation may not be as good as it could be, but to my ear, he made the right choice in allowing the relationship to fizzle.

  6. bam-- They both are "crazy." In the first verse, the last pronoun before "Still crazy..." is "we."
    The next two verses are all, and only, about himself, so he is saying that he, himself, is still crazy after all these years.

  7. Paul,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this song. I agree the meaning is deeper than the cursory listen reveals.
    To me, the "Still Crazy" conclusions that end each verse refer not to him, but to society and what we find value in. And "After all these Years" means there's been time for people to wake up and realize these things really don't matter, but they have not and likely never will change.
    Verse 1: people reconnect and reminisce on old relationships. But to the narrator, why bother? The relationships are long gone and no longer relevant.
    Verse 2: the narrator defies the societal norm of pursuing love (socializing) and knows better than to fall for proclamations of love (love songs whispering in ear). Yet he concludes the crazy pursuit of love has always and will continue to drive people.
    Verse 3: I'm getting older and sometimes I wish for the same things as others, but then realize none of it matters in the end.
    Verse 4: he sits idly while watching others with supposedly important places to go and things to do, none of which is truly meaningful. In fact, if he were to act in a really rash manner (impacting himself or others?), no one would find fault in him because society is so fixated on the trivial things.

  8. Anon.-- So this is Simon's version of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Well, if so, he is not that upset by people/society still being crazy. He had adopted the perspective of Elvis Costello: "I used to be disgusted/ Now I try to be amused."

  9. The other Paul: No domino el inglés como para escribirlo. Apenas puedo comprender lo que está escrito. Voy a hacerlo en español, más precisamente en el castellano argentino por lo cual algunas conjugaciones de verbos pueden diferir del 'español correcto'. Quiero felicitarte por tu dedicación a la obra de semejante artista (el otro Paul)Es realmente enriquecedor para los que admiramos y disfrutamos su obra. Permitime decirte que este álbum de canciones abrió mi interés por vuestro idioma y pude confirmar que no había sido en vano mi aprendizaje del mismo, desde mi infancia. 'Still crazy...' lo escuché a mis 15 años, allá por el '77 pero, en estos días, (septiembre de 2016) estoy visitando varios de sus temas con la intención de interpretarlos con mi guitarra y voz. (to be continued) Ari from Argentina

  10. Continuo: Respecto de esta canción, quiero referirme a su última estrofa deseando que confirme si he comprendido muy mal su significado o si mi imaginación ha hecho su trabajo... Cuando comienza diciendo: 'Now I sit by my window and I watch the cars... Siempre imaginé que esa ventana esta en un piso alto de algún edificio... y que cuando dice 'I fear I'll do some damage...' se refiere a la posibilidad que se arroje de esa ventana alguna vez (concretamente un suicidio) con las reflexiones siguientes sobre quién condenaría su acción, llegado el caso... Por todo esto te pregunto: ¿es muy forzada esta interpretación? ¿o proviene de mi poco dominio del idioma? ¿puede aplicar esta posibilidad para el texto de la canción?. Desde ya muchas gracias. Note: sospecho que te las arreglarás para comprender estas líneas en español, de lo contrario y a tu pedido puedo intentar hacerlo en tu idioma. Eso sí: deberás darme unas dos o tres semanas. Vuelvo a felicitar por tu inmensa obra. Considero que semejante esfuerzo se corresponde con la maravillosa obra a la que te haz dedicado. Cordial saludo. Ari from Arg.

  11. Rumipal-- I am sorry, but I don't speak or read Spanish. I do have a friend who does, though. I will send this to him to translate and then respond.

  12. The Paul Simon Project is a collection of videos sung by various Irish musicians over the last two years (and ongoing once all the Corona Virus has settled down and we can leave our houses again). Thanks to Another Paul for allowing me post links to songs as appropriate here. Hope you enjoy. Feel free to share..

    Rob Molumby sings Still Crazy After All These Years