Sunday, August 7, 2011

Long, Long Day

Simon has dealt with the subject of weariness before. The song "American Tune," for instance, ends: "I'm trying to get some rest." Here, however, is a whole song on the matter.

The speaker seems to be homeless, at least at present: "Ain’t got no place to stay/ But any old place will be okay." So to whom is he singing, "Good night/ Oh, my love?" Why can't he stay with her, if he is so desperate? Evidently, he is speaking to her across some distance, by phone or in his mind,

Knowing that the character in the film singing the song is a travelling musician helps. This information is related in the next verse: "I’ve sure been on this road... You don’t see my face in Rolling Stone." (Meaning the music magazine, of course.)

Again, though, if he is with a tour, surely some arrangements have been made for his accommodations. It could be that his sense of homelessness is more metaphorical.

Also, this cannot be the first "long, long day"; this fellow has spent in his 14 years on the road. However, this particular day seems to have been particularly taxing.

The next verse-- more a bridge, really-- is in's version of the song, but not in the film itself. The film version goes:

"Slow motion/Half a dollar bill/Jukebox in the corner/Shooting to kill."

On the website and in the Lyrics book, however, we see these words interspersed with what seems to be a potential woman's vocal (which I have in italics; the rest is in the film version):

"When I see him standing there (Slow motion)
I said, “Hey, there’s a guy who needs a laugh
That’s what I said to myself (Half a dollar bill)

What the hell, we’re both alone
And I’m just standing here

Jukebox in the corner
Shooting to kill"

This version implies that, even though the singer is in "love," he is so desperate for companionship that he is willing to cheat tonight.

As this material is not in the film, however, I am not sure what to make of it. Going back to the film's version, which is, again-- "Slow motion/ Half a dollar bill/ Jukebox in the corner/ Shooting to kill"-- the sense is much more abstract, and it seems the jukebox is what is shooting to kill. It might be that, to a musician who hasn't made it, seeing others' songs on a jukebox is just another painful reminder of his lack of success. Either that, or a specific song it is playing proves heart-wrenching.

The phrase "half a dollar bill" is interesting as well. The usual phrasing is "a half-dollar," meaning either 50 cents or a 50-cent piece. But "half a... bill" implies a bill ripped in half. This might be a play on the saying "Another day, another dollar," implying "Today was only worth half a dollar." Another meaning could be, "I feel about a worthless as half of a dollar bill."

The last verse reiterates the loneliness that is part of the weariness the speaker feels. At last, he is so spent, this songwriter admits that he is out of words and apologizes for it: "I hate to abuse an old cliché."

The day has been exhausting, both physically and emotionally, and the best that can be said about it is that it is over.

Not the most well-known song in Simon's catalog, he nevertheless sang it on his appearance on The Muppet Show, alongside his better-known hits like "Scarborough Fair," "50 Ways," and "El Condor Pasa." (Both the film and Muppet Show performances are on YouTube.)

Next Song: Soft Parachutes

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