Monday, October 31, 2011

Song About the Moon

"Blue Moon." "Moondance. "Bad Moon Rising." Not just three songs about the Moon, but three songs off the soundtrack for the Moon-centered movie An American Werewolf in London (speaking of which, Happy Hallowe'en!).

To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, why are there so many songs about... the Moon? As Simon shows, the Moon can be used as a metaphor for many things.

The first verse assumes that the songwriter actually wants to write a song about the Moon itself. Well, then, one must imagine oneself actually on the Moon's surface, walking along its very "craters." Why in the "afternoon"? Because the "shadows" would be different then, and "alien."

Now, a physicist would tell you that the gravity in the Moon, small as it is, is constant, even in the afternoon. But then, a physicist would also tell you that a "knife" doesn't "jump... off the pavement." So the Moon as a whole is a place of imagination. Even well after the Moon landing, it is still a place unknown.

How unknown? As unknown as, say, Heaven. "You want to write a spiritual tune/ Presto, a song about the Moon."

But let's say that no, you don't want to write a song about the Moon, but about love, about "the heart." Well, then, "Think about the Moon before you start" anyway. Why? The heart reacts to elemental forces; it "will howl like a dog in the moonlight." And if the love is painful or betrayed, the Moon will witness this crime of passion.

In Piece Pettis' excellent song, "Trying to Stand in a Fallen World," he writes: "Bloody Moon is on the rise/ Like a Jolly Roger in the skies/ Bearing witness with its light/To another night of crime." (It's never a "day of crime.")

The light of the Moon is only a reflection of the Sun, and so the Moon reflects the idea of "ever longing for a counterpart," also like a heart.

The bridge, about a "laughing" boy and girl, seems out of place. It seems a reference to some nursery rhyme, although one I am unfamiliar with. What's even stranger, there are plenty of nursery rhymes that mention the Moon-- like the one in which the cow jumps over it-- if the idea was to show that Moon songs are part of one's life even from childhood. But then, these lines don't mention the Moon at all. Curious.

The last verse takes up the thread of songwriting again. This time, the subject is an individual, a "face." The advice this time is to think of a "photograph" that is half-remembered. You should be able to describe it, but not in any detail. The important thing is not what you remember, but how you remember it.

And then... there is a debate between the website and the liner notes. The liner notes say the line is "Wash your hands in dreams and lightning." The website and Lyrics book says the line is "Wash your hands and dreams in lightning." I am going to side with the liner notes, as this is how I have always heard the line.

Also, one regularly will "wash one's hands," so that seems to be a unified phrase, where as when does someone "wash dreams"? Something is "washed... in lightning" either way, so it makes more sense (or equally less sense!) to say that something can be "washed... in dreams" as well.

So before writing, your hands must be cleansed of reality by preparing them with deep, subconscious metaphor ("dreams") and otherworldly, electric energy ("lightning"). Then any inhibitions must be removed: "Cut off... whatever is frightening." There must be an openness, a willingness to experience the new and possibly uncomfortable discoveries you will make.

So, whatever the topic is, from one "face" to the whole "human race," you have to find an image that is familiar to all potential listeners, yet flexible enough to carry your own personal message. Might we suggest... the Moon?

The Moon can be the caring light of a lullaby, the caster of shadows in a horror tale, the resting place of angels, or the warm glow between lovers. That's why there are so many songs about the Moon, and rainbows, and other elements of Nature. We all see them, yet we each see them in our own way.

Musical Note: Some hear echoes of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home" in this track, which would not be surprising. The songs on this album tend to run in two general directions, musically. "Hearts and Bones," "Allergies," and both halves of "Think Too Much" have Latin or Caribbean influences. "Song About the Moon," "Train in the Distance," and parts of "Magritte" and ""Johnny Ace" are taken almost directly from the 1950s, sound-wise. These are two threads that have been running through Simon's songs from the outset, and they are both in full force on this album.

Next song: Think Too Much (a)


  1. I feel like this song is all about there being a good and bad in everything, and it must be acknowledged. Don't just write songs about the beauty of the bright moon, write about it's shadows. A heart can yearn and how in loneliness, and it can also drive us to fire a pistol. Laughter can bring tears and cause us to fall. If you want to writes about your face, caught off your hair (and things you can style and beautify) and acknowledge your flaws.

    1. Stuart-- I can see that. Interesting insight, thanks!