Monday, September 5, 2011

Stranded in a Limosine

Yes, Simon uses the American spelling, not "limousine."

The song is less about the major character, the "mean individual" in question, and more about the reaction he engenders. Throughout most of the song, he is inert, "stranded," and without action or even a face. All he seems to have is a bad reputation and a nice car.

Some questions can be immediately raised by the title. How, exactly, does one get "stranded" in a vehicle? Can't it just, you know, move? Say it was immobilized due to mechanical failure. The passenger is still not paralyzed; he can leave the limo and proceed by foot, taxi, or bus.

And the location of this stranding is odd, too-- a "green" traffic light. Wouldn't that normally mean the chauffeur would press the accelerator and continue the trip?

Next, the first to react are the children "on the street." Are they actually on the street, playing hopscotch and stickball? No, they "come running out the... door," meaning they had been inside their homes. They just live "on the street" where the limo has halted. And enough were looking out their windows so that "all" of them burst from their homes at once. Had they been watching the news, being told by the anchorpeople to look out the window for suspicious luxury automobiles? They run to tell their parents, who are back inside.

It isn't even day, actually. The "individual" vanishes "in the black of night," presumably in the short time-- less than 10 minutes, say-- between when the children alert their parents to his presence and when the "sirens and flashing lights" arrive. So it would have had to have been night already when the "light turned green."

The parents react by swarming, loudly-- they all cried "Lord, Lord!"-- to the scene. The "individual," we now learn, is not just "mean" but a wanted criminal with a "reward" offered for his capture.

So, here is what the police (who show up too late) would piece together... It's night time. Late enough for it to be "black" outside. A black limo pulls up to a red light. The light turns green. The limo does not move. All the children who live on that block, being awake and at their windows way past bedtime, see the black limo in the darkness. They also know whose it is. Excitedly, they run outside to see it closer, then back inside to tell their parents.

The parents, now aware that a wanted criminal is nearby, abandon their children and race to the limo. They are sure that this wanted, wealthy, "mean," and even "naturally crazy" man will simply submit to their citizens' arrest. And not, for instance, have his henchmen step outside the limo with their automatic weapons and start spraying bullets around.

The police, having ascertained what happened, and assume that the "perp" has "left the neighborhood." So instead of tracking him outside the area, they "search the roofs" inside the area. Now, peering down from the high vantage of the roofs might make sense to spot a fleeing person... but these officers search the rooftops themselves, as if the escapee might be up there.

They also "checked the groups," as if this man, whom everyone knew was wanted and was eager to turn in, had insinuated himself with whoever is hanging out in groups at midnight.

By which I mean to say... none of this makes any sense. "Punky's Dilemma" made no sense either, but it did not pretend, or portend, to. This story is told as if it were a true crime report, or an episode of a cop show (compare to another song about a mean individual who runs into trouble, say "Bad Bad Leroy Brown"). And yet, taken individually and together, none of the plot points hold up.

We can only assume the entire song is a massive allegory. A dictator holed up in his palace can be seen as being "stranded in a limosine." The light turning "green" might mean that a revolution has begun. First, the "children on the street," the locals who have no real power, react by calling attention to the situation. Then various authorities-- in politics, academics, the media, etc.-- elbow their way into the spotlight, coming to "divvy up the reward" for predicting the outcome. And then the military-- the US, UN, NATO, what have you-- show up too late, and the dictator has slipped their grasp.

"Stranded in a Limosine" was copyrighted in 1980, and I am not sure which then-current "mean individual" is being referred to. No one dictator, or particular person, is meant. It could as easily be a rapacious executive, a drug cartel kingpin, a philandering politician, a mob boss, a tribal warlord, or any other powerful yet "crazy" person who repeatedly eludes his captors. At first, they are "stranded in a limosine," yet within moments, they "vanish."

Musically, the song is gospel in flavor, yet I cannot imagine an actual gospel group choosing this number to sing on Sunday morning.

I always figured this song was rather obscure, but folksinger Michelle Shocked performs it on her (initially bootleg) album The Texas Campfire Tapes.

It originally appeared on Simon's compilation album Greatest Hits, Etc., and can be considered one of the songs meant by "Etc." as all but one other was already a hit. And the other song did become a hit in its own right, and it is the next song we will consider (see below).

"Stranded" can now be found as a bonus track to the One-Trick Pony soundtrack, which is why we discuss it now.

Personal observation:
Monty Python has an album called Contractual Obligation, and that might as well have been the title of Greatest Hit, Etc. too. Simon released it to finish out his contract with Columbia, before signing to Warner Brothers.

Now, I cannot prove this next idea, and I do not as a rule cotton to conspiracy theories. But when Simon began to create his CD box set at Warner, he went back and asked Columbia for the master tapes from his S&G albums. Columbia said they couldn't find them. All five sets of songs, from all five official S&G albums. Again, it could be sheer incompetence, but how do you lose that? Seems to me more like a case of: "Oh, you need us now, do you? Sorry, can't help!"

Simon had kept some of the original pressings of his S&G albums as souvenirs. He opened the shrink wrap and used them as masters for his box set. To this day, I have no idea if the S&G master tapes have ever been "found." They seem to have "vanished in the black of night."

Next Song: Slip Slidin' Away


  1. I've always liked this song, and I don't even know why.

  2. The multi-track master tapes and two-track master tapes for all of the S&G catalog are all safely located in the Sony vaults in Nashville. This included all of the studio albums, as well as live recordings from throughout their performing career.

    As you say, however, Simon didn't have quite the pull for the "64/93" set to get tracks remastered. It took the Columbia albums box set and the "Old Friends" compilation box set to really bring this about, save for the Sony/Masterworks gold CD of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and the MFSL gold CD of "Bookends."

    All currently available S&G CDs (and newly pressed vinyl) is sourced from the 1997 and 2001 remasters, many of which used new mixes from the multi-tracks using Roy Halee's original mixing notes, as the two-track masters had been compromised due to overuse.

  3. Rudi-- Thank you so much, and several times over! First, I am so glad to know that the S&G masters are not lost to the sands of time. Second, for the obviously well-informed history of this technical and business aspect of Simon's recording career, about which I did not know. I can certainly understand that studio not wanting to let go of such a valuable asset, from a business perspective (the history of recorded music is littered with tales of people losing the rights to their own work, sadly), even if I of course feel Simon should have domain over it... but at least they are treating the material itself respectfully.

  4. I watched the Dick Cavett show from 1970. Paul comments that "I wouldn't want to write a song about a Limosine" and Dick says "maybe you should".

  5. Presto-- Great story. I have the box set of Cavett's interviews with musicians. Can't believe I forgot that exchange. It was a great song, if not a hit. I sure hope that by the "mean individual," he didn't mean Cavett!