Monday, September 19, 2011

Slow Man

I admit that before researching this blog I had not heard of this song. It does not appear on any album, or in any concert, or in any compilation, or even in any sheet music that I have come across. Still, there it is on Simon's official website (albeit with "gate" when "gait" is meant), and so here it is in this post.

Simon has many songs about being tired and overworked ("Long Long Day"). He also has several songs about the effort wasted in clumsiness contrasted with the ease of grace ("One-Trick Pony"). Here, he has a song that contrasts moving slowly with rushing around.

The subject here is a "Slow man," who "is movin’ with a leisurely gait." What is the source of his relaxed attitude? He is nonchalant, in that he has no "chalance" at all ("chalant" is the French word for "hot"; somehow they intuited at that heat and speed were related prior to the thermodynamic theory of molecular motion which proved it). “It doesn’t matter to me/ It doesn’t matter at all,” says the Slow Man.

Then Simon turns a cliche around on itself. "I got a feelin’," he begins. "A feeling that what?" the listener naturally wonders, "That tonight's gonna be a good night?"

No, simpler that that. "I got a feelin'/ That’s all I need." Wait... what's all he needs? Why, the feeling! And whatever the emotion may be, it sustains him.

"Sittin’ in the sun/ Doesn’t worry ’bout the chance of rain/ Slow man/ With the suntan/ Got no reason to complain." This is in marked difference with, say, the equally motionless protagonist of "Stittn' on the Dock of the Bay," who sadly wishes he did have a purpose or future.

Next, the speaker reveals himself: "But I’m workin’ at a furious pace/ From the mornin’ ’til the end of the day/ Me, oh Lord, look at these lines upon my face/ I got to figure out a better way." Which is a state (assuming the song is autobiographical) that Simon often seems to find himself in.

The next line is befuddling, and we can only assume Simon was searching for a rhyme for "home": "Slow man/ Purchases a comb/ Though he doesn't have a wisp of hair." This seems out of character for the Slow Man. If he is short of cash, he still has to eat, so why waste even a penny on a comb he, in the words of the old joke, will never part with? If he is truly unconcerned about everything, how can he care about his appearance? He doesn't even seem to have the gumption to be ironic. It seems a throw-away idea.

The last thing we learn about the Slow Man is that he "Doesn’t own a home." While he might rent, this does not seem to be the implication. Nor does the Slow Man consider himself, in the socio-economic sense of the word, "homeless." Instead, he is a drifter-- someone who is a conscientious objector with regard to the idea of a domicile altogether. While is not a homeowner, the Slow Man feels "comfortable everywhere."

The song concludes with the Slow Man offering some wisdom to our harried speaker: “You got to get the slow in your life.” Years later, Jame Taylor would opine that "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time," which seems a related idea. Another song with the same message is "Inchworm," which encouraged the inchworm so busy "measuring the marigolds" to instead "stop and see how beautiful they are."

There is a basic premise, in Western thought, that action must mean progress and industry, and that idleness by definition is a waste of time. Many non-European philosophies, however, disagree. They emphasize meditation and letting the mind wander.

The artist must embrace both concepts. Industriousness is necessary to create, and inspiration can certainly arise out of activity. But there must also be moments set aside for contemplation, relaxation, and as we say today, "recharging one's batteries" (itself a metaphor that likens people to machines). A writer must also read; a singer must also listen. "Inspiration" also means simply "breathing in."

While even the Slow Man does not suggest his lifestyle is fit for everyone, he does recommend that people take at least a small dose of his medicine and "get the slow in their lives." In other words, they should "slow down," as they "move too fast."

They should try being "Cloudy," so they can start "Feelin' Groovy."

Next Song: Groundhog

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