Monday, December 31, 2012

Pigs, Sheep and Wolves

The animal fable is at least as old as Aesop. And Simon himself used animals as human stand-ins in the song "At the Zoo."

But the most famous modern example is probably Orwell's Animal Farm. Here, Simon uses a similar set of creatures to represent various aspects of humanity.

First, we meet a pig. He's a "barnyard thug" who usually gets his way: "...nobody's gonna argue with him/ He's a half a ton of pig meat."

Next, the wolves. While wild, they pose no threat to anyone in the farmyard: "Never did no harm/ Sleep all day/ Hunt till four/ Maybe catch a couple of rodents /You know, carnivore."

Last are the sheep, passive and pacific. And then, one day, like the sheep that wandered away from Moses' biblical flock: "One of the sheep wanders.../ Separated from the flock/ Where'd he go?"

Sure enough, he gets picked off. A crime scene is declared. Is there any evidence that might point to a potential suspect? "Got a gash as big as a wolf's head." Well, there you go. Case closed.

Except... what's the pig doing? "Wallowing in lanolin/ He's rubbing it into his pigskin." Lanolin is "wool grease, especially when refined for use in ointments and cosmetics." ( Yes, lanolin comes from sheep.

But no one is looking for the pig! "Police going crazy/ Say, let’s get him/ Let's get that wolf." Of course, the wolf has his day in court, but sadly the "court-appointed lawyer wasn't very bright/ Maybe it was just a late night/ And he files some feeble appeal."

The wolf has one chance left-- the governor can stay his execution. But would why he, and be tagged as soft on crime... and in an election year? "The governor says, “Forget it/ It's a done deal/ It’s election, I don't care, election/ Let's give that wolf a lethal injection."

"Here comes the media"-- well, likely they have been there all along-- "Asking everyone's opinion/ About pigs, sheep and wolves." At least they suspect that the pig was involved. But it seems that they are shouted down.

From his wallow, the pig laughs. “This is hilarious/ What a great time/ I'm the pig who committed/ The perfect crime.”

But there is hope. "All around the world/ France and Scandinavia/ Candlelight vigils/ Protesting this behavior./ It’s animal behavior/ It’s pigs, sheep and wolves." (Let's pause to give Simon a nod for his "Scandinavia/behavior" rhyme!)

The allegory works in many directions. The pigs seem to be the ones in power, whether governmental, financial, military, religious, or some combination thereof. The wolves aren't even in the barnyard-- they are the outcasts of society, minorities, useful as (to mix our metaphors) scapegoats... because we all know about those people and what they are like. And the sheep are the good citizens who try to go about their business and stay out of trouble... who get screwed over no matter what they do. 

Yes, sometimes the "wolves" do commit crimes. But a mugger can only rob one person at a time, and then only of whatever cash they have on hand. An embezzler can steal millions, from millions, and no one notices for decades. Yet, anyone who dares suggest that a business be a responsible citizen-- and not lie, cheat, steal, pollute, or impoverish people--  is declared "anti-business" and even "anti-American." 

A great book that is not a fable despite its title, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches by Marvin Harris (which predates Freakonomics by 20 years), argues that-- to use Simon's metaphor-- pigs stay in power, remaining "big and fat," by keeping sheep afraid of wolves. I doubt Simon has read Harris' book, but I imagine he would agree.

Next Song: Hurricane Eye

Monday, December 24, 2012


"You've got the cool water/ When the fever runs high," Simon wrote in the song "Something So Right." He returns to that imagery many years later, in this languid song, which begins "Cool me/ Cool my fever high."

Here, the speaker continues "Hold me when I cry," indicating that love can be passionate, but also compassionate. 

"I need it so much/ Makes you want to get down and crawl like a beggar/ For its touch," Again, the desire is so intense, that, like an illness, it makes one lose one's inhibitions and dignity.

The irony, of course, is that this wonderful, fever-reducing, anxiety-erasing "drug" is "free as air!" It costs nothing-- nothing material anyway-- to love someone. "Like plants, the medicine is everywhere," refers to the idea that many of our most common healing agents, from aloe to aspirin, come from plants (aspirin comes from willow bark). In this sense, love as as available as something that grows naturally from the earth.

Well, that's what happens when you don't have love. What about when you do? "Makes you want to laugh out loud when you receive it/ And gobble it like candy." It's so easy to find, and hard to get, that if we do, we tend to overindulge and make ourselves sick on it!

"We think it’s easy/ Sometimes it’s easy/ But it’s not easy." This three-stage realization is key. When we are not in relationships, it seems like everyone else is. What we forget is that, when we are in relationships, life is not necessarily any less complex. And when you have love, the question is how to keep it. "You’re going to break down and cry," it seems, either way.

Those who give love, knowing how much the other '"craves" it, can use it to control the other, telling them that they are "not important" and that they "should be grateful." This puts the beloved in a seat of power. When I have what you want, you will do what I want to get what I have.

So far, Simon does not paint a very happy picture of love. It is almost a drug, creating self-destructive, but coercive, desires. Unlike most love songs, it does not celebrate the emotion as much as lament it. 

But until this point, his focus is on interpersonal relationships. Then he shifts to geopolitics and history. Oh. he sighs, how high is "The price that we pay/ When evil walks the planet/ And love is crushed like clay."

The last lines use the imagery of the Nazis, who called themselves the "master race" and the Jews, the "chosen people," they committed virulent genocide against. But by speaking of these elements in plural, Simon broadens the concept of genocide to all throughout history who have declared themselves master races and lashed out against others in their imagined superiority. 

"The burning temples," are those of the Jews destroyed during Kristallnacht, the city-wide pogrom that initiated the Holocaust. But they are also all those from the Holy Temples in Jerusalem sacked by the Babylonians and Romans to the synagogues, churches, mosques, and ashrams that have been set fire to over all of human history. Very early in his folk career, Simon even wrote a song called "A Church is Burning," about a spate of arson attacks of black churches in the American south in the 1960s. Even today, houses of worship are regularly targeted by hateful violence.

The last words, "the weeping cathedrals," might refer to the response, over the years, by those who were not targeted (this time), saying that "this is a terrible tragedy" and that "something must be done." 

This song, despite its title, seems not to be about "love" but about its absence. On a personal level, a lack of love can drive a person to despair and desperation. On the global level, a lack of love leads to an inhumane, and inhuman, attack on one's fellow humans. Such killers see the other as less than human, while they themselves are the ones who have abandoned their claims to humanity.

Next song: Pigs, Sheep and Wolves

Monday, December 17, 2012

Senorita with a Necklace of Tears

There is no "senorita." This song, in other words, is not about an unmarried woman whose native language is Spanish. Rather, Simon tells us in the course of the song that, "If [he] could play all the memories/ In the neck of this guitar/ [He]'d write a song called/ 'Senorita with a Necklace of Tears.'"

See, if that were possible, he would write a song with that title. Which, since he cannot do that, he has not.

Except... he has. We know this, because you are reading about it right now.

Which implies that, indeed, he could play all of the memories in the neck of his guitar. The neck, of course, is where the notes are determined. The neck hand has to get into position (usually a split second) before the hand on the body of the guitar can strum it. So the neck, in a sense, is where the songs are stored before they are played for the listener. If a song is like a story, the neck-hand remembers it and the body-hand tells it.

But let's back up to the beginning of the song. Simon starts with a metaphor that he immediately abandons, about a "wisdom tooth."

Then he finds a much more fertile image-- that of being "born again." But his response to his friend's claim of being "born again," how a Christian describes having "found his Savior's grace," is to interpret it in terms of the Eastern concept of reincarnation. Aren't we all, in that paradigm, endlessly being reborn anyway? "I was born before my father/ And my children before me," Simon rejoinders, "We are born and born again/ Like the waves of the sea."

Then Simon introduces a two-tier system of approval: What is this concept's longevity, its staying power?  And does he want this system to remain in place, going forward? In the case of reincarnation, he concludes: "That's the way it's always been/ And that's how I want it to be."

Next up for evaluation is "news" of a species of "frog in South America/ Whose venom is a cure" and is "the antidote for pain." This elixir is said to be "more powerful than morphine/ And soothing as the rain." Simon adds a third tier, the present, to his approvals process. The frog-cure passes muster: "That's the way it's always been/ That's the way I like it/ And that's how I want it to be." It has always been true that the cures for diseases come from natural, but overlooked, places. It's a good object lesson to care for the Earth and take nothing for granted.

Then Simon evaluates various personality types: the sycophant and the stoic, those who choose to be ignorant and those who keep everyone else ignorant. Although all of these could be described negatively-- and may even be self-destructive-- once again, Simon says (twice!) that this reality meets with his approval; it was, is, and shall be.

Now we arrive at the verse about the guitar, its neck, and a seemingly absent senorita. I believe I have, in fact, located her.

It has been remarked by many that the shape of string instruments-- the violin, cello, and guitar especially-- resemble the "hourglass" figure of a woman; BB King even calls his guitar "Lucille." And the guitar as we know it today has its origins in Spain. So if a guitar is a woman, it is a "senorita."

Further, the fret-board of a guitar is called the "neck," as Simon states. Many of these fret-boards have small dots along their lengths. Small dots along a neck look like, what else, a necklace. And if these dots are shiny and opalescent (may are made of mother-of-pearl), they may, perhaps, resemble tears.

It is arguable that the "Senorita with the Necklace of Tears" is Simon's guitar: "If I could play all the memories/ In the neck of this guitar/ I'd write a song called/ 'Senorita with a Necklace of Tears.'," Simon writes. And the song would be about the guitar, and the tearful "memories" it knows, having helped him compose so many sad and regretful songs over the years; "Every tear" in her necklace, he explains, represents "a sin [he]'d committed/ Oh, these many years."

Of other people, their religions, and personalities, Simon is accepting. Also, of nature and science and those matters. Of himself, however, and his failings and sins, well, "That's who I was/ That's the way it's always been."

But he pointedly does not posit that this is the way he likes it, or wants it to be! He realizes he has caused many people pain-- pain which they wear like a necklace, on display, hanging on necks and weighing on their chests.

Then Simon assesses two more personality types. Some are unsatisfied, and are defined by "what they lack."  Some are remorseless; they "open a door/ Walk away and never look back."

Still, Simon refuses to "judge" others, only himself. He is very remorseful of "what [he] was" in the past. As for the present, he says, "I know who I am."

And for the future? "Lord knows who I will be." The future is unknown... and unknowable! Is this a reason to fear?

No, Simon asserts, it is a reason to hope! If anything can happen, then that must include good things. Is the future uncertain? Good! Then he has time to apologize, and to improve. "That's the way it's always been/ That's the way I like it/ And that's how I want it to be."

Next Song: Love

Monday, December 10, 2012

Look at That

This song, like "Train in the Distance," tells the story of a relationship, of a life, but in much more abstract terms. So abstract, in some lines there are not even words.

The song begins with the symbolic line "Drop a stone in the abyss." In a basic sense, all of our actions are only meaningful to us, in the scope of the infinite universe and its eternal timeline, naught but a stone dropped in the abyss. (Compare to the Kansas lyric, "All we are is dust in the wind.")

But in a metaphoric sense, this can refer to a conception, if one imagines the "stone" and "abyss" are a seed in a hole... or a sperm in a womb. From that beginning, "anything can happen."

Then comes a "hug and a kiss." This could be between lovers, or a parent and child. The latter seems more likely, as the next thing that happens is going "off to school." In the larger sense, it might mean something my neighbor-- who never went to a university but still built a successful business-- once said: "Every day is college, if you pay attention." As Simon puts it: "You might learn something/ You never know,"

Well, after all that school, or at least schooling, comes what? Marriage. "Lovers merge and make a wish/ They close their eyes, and now their dreams are legal." 

Then comes an image of an "eagle," which admittedly might just be there to rhyme with "legal," or it might symbolize America, nature, or other larger forces at work, against the background of which the marriage will take place. 

These images also appear in the same section of the Bible. God says he will carry the Jews out of Egyptian bondage "on the wings of eagles," and is said to have guarded the Jewish camp in the wilderness with a "pillar of cloud" by day and a "pillar of fire" by night. Here, Simon's eagle flies "over the mountain" (Mt. Sinai?) through "clouds of fire" [emphasis mine]. So there might be a sense of God protecting this love-journey the way the passage in the wilderness-- envisioned by some sages as the marriage between God and the people-- was.

Then Simon backs up for a minute to the moment of the marriage proposal: "Ask somebody to love you/ Takes a lot of nerve." No one who has every made or received a marriage proposal needs to have this explained.

As the children's rhyme goes: "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage." The baby, of course, has to learn to talk. And we hear it do so: "ma ma ma," and "da da da." Then it learns to sing: "la la la/ Oom bop a doom." Now, this is Simon's imagined kid-- so when it learns to sing, it learns to sing doo-wop!

And, this is Simon's relationship song, so the relationship has to have... issues. "This is near enough to bliss." (Oh, gee, thanks... I love you too!) "Then over the top we go and down to the bottom." (Well, what did you expect, with that attitude?) "If you were looking for worries/ You got 'em." It's "Darling Lorraine" all over again.

Then there is a series of other nonsense sounds that are less recognizable: "tih," "guh," and "lih." This may represent being at a loss for words, being in a situation that's inexplicable. It may represent finding oneself, as the speaker in "Call Me Al" does, "in a strange world," in which the very words being spoken are unintelligible to him. 

Personally, I think these are supposed to represent the sounds of musical instruments. "Tih" sounds like a light, high tapping, maybe of a "high-hat" cymbal. "Guh" could be a bass or drum. And "lih" is perhaps the strumming of a guitar or other string instrument. Rhythm, bass, and treble are the basic building blocks of music worldwide, so this series of sounds may represent the learning of musical skill and composition.

Every once in a while, you also get an epiphany in life: "Come awake, come alive." And what is it, in this case? "Common sense, we survive." Evidently, there is a calming down, an acceptance, and "we"-- either this couple or the human race in general-- continues. 

And then? Why, life goes on, of course. "Down the road we go/ You might learn something, you never know. But anyway, you got to go." This last line might mean that life proceeds whether we like it to or not. Or it could mean we must "go" in the final sense: die. If so, it would be the logical end to a song about a lifespan.

The repeated title line: "Look at that!" means "Well, would you look at that!" in the astonished sense. But coupled with "look at this" every time, it implies: "Look far, look near-- and you will find the same patterns." Yes, marvel in wonderment at "that"... and now recognize it in "this," your own life...

"Just like that," in an unexpected instance. "Just like this," right now.

Next Song: Senorita with a Necklace of Tears

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Teacher

In "Old," Simon drops the names of  Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha, but seems to give his own religious heritage, that of Judaism, short shrift, not even explicitly mentioning it. Perhaps Simon was saving that discussion for another song-- namely, this one. Here, the imagery seems to come largely from The Five Books of Moses.

Or, at least, from his Tablets, on which the words of The Ten Commandments were inscribed by God. This Teacher's "words are like tablets of stone," as well.

The fact that he is a "teacher" as opposed to other religious titles (reverend, minister, priest, etc.) is indicative as well. Several major figures in Judaism are known by honorific appellations, such as Adam the First, David the King, Elijah the Prophet, Samson the Strong, Abraham our Father... and Moses our Teacher.

Even the lines "I was an only child of the city/ My parents were of immigrant stock" could refer to the situation of one of the Jewish slaves to Pharaoh in the city of Cairo, whose parents were descendants of Jacob's sons, themselves residents of The Promised Land and not natives. And like Moses, The Teacher leads his flock on an exodus: "Gather your goods and follow me," he intones, meaning to literally travel after him as well as to follow his teachings. The Teacher's warning is also Biblical in tone; "...or you shall surely die" is a line often repeated in the Old Testament.

But this is not Moses, merely a Moses-like figure. How do we know? This teacher leads his followers to a mountain, but not to Mt. Sinai. First, the Children of Israel never ascended the mountain themselves as those in this song do. Second, while it may snow every once in a great while in the Sinai Desert, Moses encountered no "napkin of snow" there, and it was not "cold" enough to prevent people from "catch[ing] their breath." at The Revelation. Further, Moses' followers ate manna from Heaven, and these forage for "berries." Lastly, Moses dies. This Teacher enigmatically "divided in two."

Very well, then, while this teacher in some ways recalls and evokes Moses, he is not meant to invoke, to be, Moses. So who is he? He is some sort of charismatic leader who can persuade people to leave a nice, warm "city" and subsist on "berries and roots" in the frozen wilderness.

And what is his very alluring message? "It's easier to learn than unlearn." You can't unlearn things where you are; you have to move outside of your comfort zone, away from the things and people that would re-enforce your spiritual status quo. Abraham was told by God to leave his land and home-- and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David all had to as well-- when they underwent spiritual growth.

After The Teacher ages to a certain degree, he undergoes a division usually reserved for one-celled organisms-- he splits in half. One half eats, and the other drinks. The eating half consumes "the forests and  fields" the other drinks-- not the rivers or seas as we might expect (perhaps there are none at the tops of freezing mountains)-- but the "moisture from the clouds."

This is surprising, considering that he could not have been hungry to begin with. After all, it was partially "abundance" that slowed his "step." And, in fact, the followers are "amazed at the power of his appetite." (To consume all that-- and on a full stomach, too!)

The Teacher, who so far has seems powerful but still human, reveals himself to be some sort of unearthly force, if we are to take this imagery literally. If not, he seems to abandon his beliefs of frugality once he experiences "abundance" and becomes a megalomaniac, commandeering every resource and leaving his followers with nothing.

"Sometimes we don't know who we are," the follower laments. Of course, he means himself, but his "we" could include The Teacher, who seems to have forgotten himself. "Sometimes force overpowers us and we cry," the follower continues. First, the Teacher's persuasion led them on a quest into the wilderness, only to abandon them to their privations, but again, The Teacher himself might have been overpowered by a greater force: greed.

Lastly, he calls out to The Teacher to "carry [him] home." Yes, he wants to go back to somewhere warm already-- enough with this endless wandering in the wilderness!-- but he might also be calling The Teacher to return to his own senses and mission: the care of his flock. Maybe by remembering his goals, he will come back to himself. It is unlikely that he will; even before leaving, The Teacher asserted that they were "past the point of no return."

The follower calls out to his leader, recalcitrant though he may be. The follower does not, however, call out to God! Why not? Well, when the followers were subsisting on berries and roots, The Teacher helped provide those. But "The Dreamer of Love" was not helpful even to that meager degree. "Deeper and deeper," He was asleep "on a quilt of stars." Again, when The Teacher began to ravage the land and sky with his insatiability, The Dreamer only slept deeper still.

This is a tale of double abandonment. The Teacher led his followers into a place of danger, and rather than protecting them or taking them to a new home, simply begins to satisfy himself. And God is only interested in dreaming of perfect love, not in the messiness of life.

This profoundly sad song ends with an unanswered plea: "Carry me home!" Perhaps, it is time to stop being followers, to stop asking to be carried. Perhaps it is time to lead themselves out of the wilderness. To walk.

Next Song: Look at That

Monday, November 26, 2012

You're the One

This is another of Simon's songs that seems to be two songs welded together. The first is a love song, the second is a break-up song.

But perhaps it is one song, just in two parts, like an episode of Law & Order. First, we see the explosive relationship being assembled and the fuse lit... then we see the fallout.

There are two people here-- let's call them Chris and Pat, with Chris being the speaker. Chris is an insecure person, regardless of being in a relationship or not: "Nervous when you got it/ Nervous when it's gone" that it is gone for good... and then nervous of losing it again if it comes back.

The problem starts immediately, with the first line of the song. While most lullabies have four angels guarding a sleeping child, over-protective Chris piles "twelve angles" onto Pat, saying "I'd do anything to keep you safe."

Things move slowly-- "little bit by little bit"-- until they are perfect: "Now you got it, that's it." Instantly, Chris starts to "take [the relationship's] temperature every hour," which probably drives Pat batty. Chris also is needy, telling Pat: "You are the air inside my chest."

Then there is a clatter of hand drums, symbolizing discord. Suddenly, there is a break-up! And we start Part II: The Recrimination.

"You're the one!" accuses Chris. "You broke my heart. You made me cry." Here, Simon is mocking the pop-song convention of blaming the other party.

But some part of Chris is rational, after all. When piling on angles, Chris muses: "Maybe that's a waste of angles, I don't know." This part of Chris' mind, capable of analyzing and even debating against its own thoughts, comes back into play. This part asserts itself through a subconscious "dream." Now, Chris is able to put the capacity for anticipating others' needs into use, now, to see another's point of view: "But when I hear it from the other side/ It's a completely different song/ I'm the one who made you cry/ I'm the one who's wrong." [emphasis mine].

Then Simon gives us his moral of the story. Change is constant in "nature," he says, citing the amorphous "shapeless shapes" of "clouds and waves and flame." But "human expectation," unreasonably, "is that love remains the same."

So Chris does the obvious thing: "Blame, blame, blame." Whose fault is it? Chris, for being smothering and clingy? Pat, for not proving some sort of reassurance, or for enabling Chris' neediness to persist past the breaking point?

Yes, and yes-- it's everyone's fault, Simon concludes: "We're the one."

Next Song: The Teacher

Monday, November 19, 2012


"Summer leaves and my birthday's here/ And all my friends stand up and cheer/ And say, 'Man, you're old!'" Now, Simon's birthday is in October, and when he released this album, he was 59 (he was born in 1941, and the You're the One came out in 2000.)

Since this accusation has been leveled "down the decades, every year," Simon finally decides to "stand up" in response. He's not "old," he says... relatively speaking..!

He begins his argument with the assertion that you can trace his age though comparison to some of the landmarks in rock'n'roll. "The first time I heard "Peggy Sue" I was 12 years old," he says, and "First time I heard "Satisfaction," I was young and unemployed." 

But he may have overstated his case. Simon turned 12 in 1953; "Peggy Sue" was not released until 1957, when he was 16. At least he is less specific about the Stones' hit, which came out in 1965, when Simon would have been 24. Simon and Garfunkel has released their first album the year before, but it was not successful; Simon recorded his solo Songbook in 1965, so this is more accurate. It would be one year more before "Sound of Silence" and he would never have to worry about employment again.

What about his other historical milestone, "Russians up in rocket ships" during the Cold War (when "the war was cold")? Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961. So Simon was 20 by then, not "12." But Sputnik, the Russian (and first) satellite, was launched in the same year as "Peggy Sue"-- 1957. 

OK, enough fact-checking. Four or even 14 years here or there is nothing to whine about. He's 59, give him a break. The point is, he's not "old." You want old? He'll give you old!

How about Jesus' birthday, Christmas? That's 2,000 years ago... now you're talking old! And... Buddha! That's 6,000 years ago! Even Mohammed's time was 1,500 years ago.

Notably absent from this list of religious figures is Moses. Which is surprising, given the fact that Simon himself is Jewish. He readily acknowledges this fact in songs like "Hearts and Bones." Then, here, he does mention "The Bible" and "The Koran" has being "old." And maybe you could argue that "The Bible" covers both Judaism and Christianity, but still. Of the three "Western" religions, Judaism is oldest-- twice as old as Christianity. So his point about relative ages would have been strengthened by mentioning Abraham, say.

(Simon then adds his advice to the question of fights and wars that have dogged the Christian-Jewish, Muslim-Jewish, and Christian-Muslim relationships for millennia: "Disagreements?/ Work 'em out." Oh! Of course! Why didn't anyone think of that?!)

But Simon is not here to broker peace treaties. He is too busy racing backward through history... Humanity "has walked the earth for 2.7 million (years)," he says. I am not sure what standard of "humans" he is using, but fine. Then he goes back to the Big Bang, "13-14 billion" years ago. 

OK, now the closer: "Consider that The Lord was there before Creation." So, what does "old" mean to Simon? "We're not old/ God is old." 

As for himself? Well, the whole human race has not changed noticeably since it showed up in the first place. "Take your clothes off," he says, and you'll see "Adam and Eve." Everything human from "war" and "genocide" to "Buddy Holly" continues as well. 

Simon's Bookends album came out in 1968, when he was 27; on that album, he recorded the song "Old Friends," in which he set the bar for what he considered "old": "How terribly strange to be 70." If you know Simon, don't remind him. In 2012, he turned 71.

(Paul McCartney, meanwhile, has long since passed the mark of "When I'm 64"; that song came out in 1967. And McCartney is only a year younger than Simon.) 

Musical Note:
Steve Gadd, Simon's longtime musical collaborator, is the drummer on this album.

Next Song: You're the One

Monday, November 12, 2012

Darling Lorraine

In 1959, a doo-wop quartet called The Knockouts released a song called "Darling Lorraine." This is not that song, which is your typical "I love you, I need you, whoa, whoa" fare.

This, instead, is a song of almost unrelieved and unremitting sadness. It's about a mismatched couple. Frank, our protagonist (a "hero" he is not), describes Lorraine as "hot," "cool," "light" and "free." And himself as, well, "not." The best he can come up with is that he's "tight."

In the opening, he sees her and is immediately drawn to her. He impulsively approaches her and, "with the part of me that talks," stammeringly introduces himself as being from "New York, New York." You know, as opposed to that other New York. This nervous routine isn't working, so he puts on airs: "All my life, I've been a wanderer..." (immediately admitting in an aside that, in fact, he has lived close to his parents his whole life).

As in "Train in the Distance," Frank and Lorraine get married as a matter of course, "and the usual marriage stuff" (a big romantic, our Frank). Then she tells him from (as far as he can see) out of nowhere that she has "had enough." To be specific: "Romance is a heartbreaker/ I'm not meant to be a homemaker/ And I'm tired of being 'Darling Lorraine.'" (This is only the second verse, too!)

Now, a sophisticated or sensitive man might have said, "Lorraine, I love you, and I want you be happy, and to be happy with me. So if there are some changes you would like to make, I'd like to hear them. Do you want to get a job outside the home? Do you feel that I don't treat you as a whole person, but just a love object? What can I do to help you be happy?"

Yes, but this is Frank. Who hears her talking about herself and responds as if it is all about himself. "What? You don't love me anymore? You don't like the way I chew?" (Ellen Degeneres has a routine about a woman who asks her mate: "Could you please just stop that... breathing?!" Contrast this with the speaker of, say, "They Can't Take That Away from Me," or "My Funny Valentine," who finds her lovers' quirks and even weaknesses just adorable.)

Now, Frank married a woman who was "hot (and) cool" and now he tells her "You say you're depressed but you're not/ You just like to stay in bed." Again, she could have some condition that could be helped; at least they could try couples' counseling. But this is Frank, so he says, "You're not the woman that I wed... I don't need you."

After this fight, he admits to himself: "I long for your love." Then he thinks that, if not for her, he could have been a musician, since he is not a very good money-maker. And then he goes back to "I feel so good with Darling Lorraine." He may have been right, in his earlier lie, that he has always been a wanderer. His mind never stays in one place long, anyway.

In the next verse, they are reconciled. It's Christmas. She has made pancakes, then they watch the movie It's a Wonderful Life, and for an afternoon, that phrase applies. Suddenly, there is another fight. Again, in his insecurity, he immediately assumes that the worst is here again; "You're walking out the door?" This time, he says something truly awful: "I'm sick to death of you, Lorraine!"

Now, he wishes he has watched his words, or that they had tried to find the underlying cause of her lethargy earlier. Because now, "her hands (are) like wood," and the doctor's news "isn't good." It is not clear if this is some sort of paralysis or skin condition, but it hardly matters. He has been inflexible ("I'm tight, that's me"), but now she is the one who literally cannot move.

Suddenly faced with prospect of losing Lorraine forever, he becomes the caring man he always should have been. Or maybe he cared before in a way that he thought was caring, without asking her what she actually needed. Now, it's:  "I know you're in pain... I'll buy us something sweet/ Here's an extra blanket, honey, to wrap around your feet."

And then, she dies: "The moon in the meadow/ Took Darling Lorraine." It's now too late to apologize, or give her more freedom, or anything. We can only hope Frank has learned, and does not mistreat his next lover this way.

With this acerbic "love" story, Simon acidly washes away the fairy tale painted by the earlier "Darling Lorraine. Love is often not "divine," as that song promised. "Romance," Lorraine discovers, "is a heartbreaker." It sets you up for a fall, when the story (or song) ends and reality kicks back in.

It turns out, the most dangerous character in Fairy-Tale Land is no witch or ogre or wolf, but Prince Charming, an impossible man we keep hearing about as if he existed. Or maybe... maybe it's the storytellers themselves, who promise us that married couples always live "happily ever after."

A twice-divorced man, listening to a record from around his 18th year. could not help but want to set the record straight about what really might happen to "Darling Lorraine" when the song ends. To do that, he'll have to be brutally Frank.

Next Song: Old

Monday, November 5, 2012

That's Where I Belong

The title implies a question. It says, "that's where..." without saying where "that" is. The opening line answers: at the "big bang," if you will, of a song: "Somewhere in a burst of glory/[Where] sound becomes a song."

The next line contains the word "bound," which could imply three meanings. One is "obligated," as in "contractually bound," taking its meaning from the idea of "binding" something with, say, rope. Another is "inevitable," as in "bound to happen."

But since the overall metaphor is one of place, we can safely assume that, while these other meanings offer some shade of insight, the core meaning is "in the direction of," as in "eastbound train."

Then we shift to a speaking of time, not place, and yet we have: "When I see you smiling/ When I hear you singing... that's where I belong" [emphasis mine]. This time, the answer of "What place?" is, oddly, "This time." The lines in between, "Every ending, a beginning" might serve as the link; both places and times can start and stop. But then, "The way you turn and catch me with your eye," is not a time or place, but a way, a "how."

And we are left with the seemingly throw-away line in the repeat of the chorus-- "That's the way it is/ I don't know why"-- to explain that there is no explanation.

The song is meant to evoke a mood, a sense of being, irrespective of time and place, a situation that evokes the lush, enveloping aromas and smooth, fleshy softness of "lavender and roses." Any place in which the subject of the song is smiling, singing, or glancing at him-- that's where he belongs. Not in a specific place at all-- but with a person, where she (we assume) may be.

Then the music becomes more active and sprightly, and we shift focus altogether. Now, meet a character. He's a "spiny little island man." Like the "fine lady upon a white horse" in the nursery rhyme with "rings on her fingers and bells on her toes," this man also will "have music wherever he goes." He can play it on his "jingling banjo," or listen to it on his "radio" when he stops.

And now we have a place where this man is. On an "island," on a "dirt road," heading ("bound," if you will) for a "river where the water meets the sky." Some sort of delta, then, perhaps a tropical one. When he arrives-- not that arriving is the point-- he will be at a nexus of earth ("dirt"), "sky," and "water."

Right in the middle of the essential elements of creation, ready for the last one: energy (The ancients were not wrong that everything is made of earth, water, air, and fire. They just used the word "elements" and those common examples, instead of what we today would call "states of matter," respectively: solid, liquid, gas, and energy.).

So when the man gets there, it should not be long before his banjo and radio summon that fourth element, the energy that will explode in an "burst of glory," and organize raw "sound" into a "song" or "story." Since songs and stories are what he seeks, that is indeed where he belongs, and where he is bound.

Now, Simon does not play a banjo, although his guitars do "jingle" and chime more than they used to. And he is not "spiny," even if he is, well, not as tall as Garfunkel and so "little" in comparison to some. And he is not an "island man," in that he was not born on Manhattan, even though his office is there now. So he is not this character.

He just wants to hang out with him, by the river delta on an island, fishing in the sky for songs. There, and with whomever he is singing the song to. These are the places he feels he "belongs."

Again, this word has at least three meanings that could apply. Two are covered by Cole Porter in the lyrics from "Find Me a Primitive Man": "Not the kind of a man who belongs to a club/ But the kind with a club that belongs to him." So "belongs" could mean "joins as a member" or "is possessed by."

But there is a third meaning, that of "this jar belongs on that shelf." This is the meaning that relates to "where," to place. Simon (and it seems he is the speaker this time) has been around the world enough times to know that the place he is going is less important that the people he will meet there. Or the songs he will find there.

Where the people who can inspire songs are-- that's where he belongs.

Coming off the intense Capeman experience, Simon returned to the international musical thread of Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints on this, his 10th solo album. It went gold in the US and silver in the UK, cracking the Top 20 in both markets... and the Top 10 in Norway! It also did well in other European and English-speaking markets, and even made the Top 100 in Japan.

When You're the One was nominated for a Grammy, it made Simon the first musician to be nominated for Album of the Year five decades running. (It would take a different Paul-- McCartney-- another six years to match that mark.)

Next Song: Darling Lorraine

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sal's Last Song/ Esmerelda's Dream

Sal (and the book and song title say that the young Sal sings these lines, not the older Salvador-- to a mother, a son is always "her baby" regardless of his age) finally arrives home, to his mother's house. His first words to her are to beg forgiveness, and his words reflect Lady Macbeth's: "If I could cleanse these hands, maybe then/ I could start my life again."

His mother responds that he has "come to the end of the Santa Cruz Road." "Cruz" is the Spanish word for "cross"; perhaps she means that he has come down from the cross and that his penance is complete.

But then Salvador says the thing that he has had to say all this time: He owns his guilt. "I and I alone," he repeats four times. "I and I alone must bear the blame/ For the madness that was done/ For the shame." He even absolves the santero (fortune-teller) and his shells. "When the summer night was torn/ By the dagger of the moon/ It was I and I alone."

Esmerelda responds that she "dreamed" of his homecoming, of his face "in the light." "Let me kiss your hands, no more talk about madness." And then, like a good mama, she says, "I've been cooking since morning/ I wanted your first meal at home to be right."

Salvador hands her something: "This is my book. I've written my life story... All the things I did, for which I am sorry." And then his mother says, "It is repentance that makes good from evil." Even if no one else does, or can, she forgives him.

The last song in The Capeman is hers. In it, she tells of a detailed dream. She was sitting in "an outer room of Heaven." She was wearing her usual house dress and watching two angels-- male, soft-spoken, and blonde-- at a distance. She sees a pulpit, a chair, and transparent marble doors. There is a book on which the angels were chronicling Sal's birth. They carried a broken chain, she says, "laid it at my feet and they were gone."

What does it mean? Well, she interrupts the dream recount to ask Sal; "Do you remember [your] first communion?/ All the children with their candles dressed in white/ And once in prison, you asked me for a ribbon/ To mark the pages that you wrote each night/ Do you remember when we went to the santero/ and he said that you would suffer/ He was right." So these are the images from life that she feels are symbolized in the dream.

The two, taken together, seem to refer to the ideas of new chances and new beginnings: a birth, a first communion, a broken chain. 

The angels might symbolize the white-garbed children-- their halos, the candles. She remarks that the angels' hair is "lightened by the sea and sun." This echoes the people, and heavenly sensation, Salvador recalled at the seaside resort of El Malecon.

Their book likely is Sal's book. The empty pulpit might refer to her ex-husband, the fiery preacher. The empty chair may have been the one Salvador has been vacating. 

But she is in the "outer room" of Heaven because she is not dying and so has no reason to enter Heaven itself. The doors are marble and so impenetrable, but clear so that she can see that there is another side. There is hope.

The last things Sal sings are lines from earlier songs. One is, "I believe in the power of Saint Lazarus," who has fulfilled his promise. Now that Sal's soul has thirsted, quenching rains have been provided.

The other is (and the title of the song is the last three words of the line): "Don't tear apart this satin summer night." This was the prayer he expressed when he was young and in love, before all of the trouble started. Lazarus swore that Salvador would be alone until he repented, and he did lose Wahzinak because he had not. Now that he atoned, maybe he will find someone again.

In the previous song (above), he claims that he was responsible "when the summer night was torn." Now he says "Don't tear apart this... summer night." So who is he begging this of now? His mother? St. Lazarus? Or himself-- his own self-destructive nature? Things are finally hopeful again, he says to himself, so don't screw it up!

All of this is captured in the name "Sal," which is not in either of these songs (although it may be in the dialogue). He is not the burdened Salvador or the dreaded Capeman. He is simply, once again, Sal. As in his mother's dream, which re-recorded his birth 40-some years on, he is born again.

[Note to readers: This concludes the songs of The Capeman. Starting with the next post, we will resume discussing the songs from standard albums, starting with the songs from You're the One. Therefore, we will be resuming the usual schedule of one song per week.]

Next Song: That's Where I Belong

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tony Hernandez/ Carlos & Yolanda

Salvador is free, so he is going back to his New York barrio to catch up with the people he has known since he lived there.

First up is the Umbrella Man himself, Tony Hernandez. Hernandez was the one who brought him into the Vampire gang, and the other one who served time for the murders that fateful night.

Tony calls out to Salvador from the darkness with a compliment: "You know, it takes a strong man to survive." This is the same line he used in the song "The Vampires" to entice Salvador into the gang to begin with. Only know does he realize how right he was.

Salvador is glad to see him: "Man, I thought you were dead." Hernandez replies: no, he's "living in the Bronx." Salvador shoots back: "Same thing."

Hernandez-- not that he should, but that he might-- seems to hold no ill will toward Salvador and calls him his "Death Row brother." He is willing to meet him here-- not in the light, as that might tip off the parole board-- but in shadow, if that's what's necessary. When Salvador invites him to join him to see Carlos and Yolanda, Hernandez declines: "I don't like to see nobody, only you." Perhaps their common troubles have made Hernandez feel that Salvador is the only one who could understand him.

Hernandez continues that his father has died, but he has a daughter now-- "it balances," he philosophizes. He adds that he has a job as a janitor at an area hospital: "But there's one stain that don't fade./ You know what I'm talking about, Sal?" Yes. Yes, he does.

He wishes Salvador farewell and good luck with his writing career. Then he adds: "When I look up in the sky above/ It's like an old umbrella with holes." He was once the fearless Umbrella Man. Once. And for what?

Now, Salvador visits Carlos and Yolanda. He tells them he is OK, but "feels like a ghost." Carlos admits that he understands, having been in jail himself, and he wants to be there for Salvador now, the way Yolanda was there for him after his sentence.

Carlos tells Salvador he has his "papers," perhaps those works he wrote in jail. "I wrote those pages.. with blood," Salvador recalls. Carlos says that's good, "That's the stuff that sells." And when Salvador protests that money was not his object, Carols is all practicality: "You got to eat."

Salvador muses that he will never shake the moniker "Capeman," and Carlos soothes: "No one remembers anymore." Of course, as soon as they introduce Salvador to their son, the boy asks: "Are you the Capeman?" "I used to be your father's pal," he side-steps.

Yolanda says he always will be. Salvador, surprisingly, challenges this: "Or, in your mind, was I the only one?" Carlos sighs: "But Sal, it was dark, so long ago, you and Tony..." This implies that Carlos had something to do with Salvador's incarceration, but Yolanda quashes the whole conversation: "What's done is done."

Then, suddenly, comes a man selling raffle tickets-- the prize is a trip to Puerto Rico: "Leave your worries and your kids in the Big Apple/ We may live in New York City/ But it's Puerto Rico where our hearts belong." Really? So the answer was never to have left Puerto Rico for New York to begin with? Now he tells us!

The song begins and ends with a chorus singing, in Spanish, "My liberty/ My freedom, come." But both Hernandez and Carlos refer to the Puerto Rican Day parade that is just ending. Hernandez asks if it's Salvador's first; perhaps they began when he was still in prison. Perhaps they began in reaction to his notoriety, to reclaim some Puerto Rican pride. But Carlos says "The parade is almost over."

This line comes as a relief. There has been so much "parading" and noise and marching and ado in Salvador's life. Even in jail, he was more mobile than most. Perhaps this line means that he can finally welcome his freedom-- to sit still.

The parade is almost over, but is has one more stop. In the next song, Salvador finally reunites with his mother.

Next Songs: Sal's Last Song/ Esmerelda's Dream

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wahzinak's Last Letter/ Puerto Rican Day Parade/ El Coqui (Reprise)

"Wahzinak's Last Letter" is only one verse long, but it is very sad. In it, she says that the elders of her tribe forced her to "bury" the letters he sent her "in the blowing desert sand." Of course, this is a loss to her, but also to us, as those letters were likely not only very well-written but also would help us immeasurably in understanding our complicated Mr. Agron.

"Puerto Rican Day Parade" is about that-- a parade that, according to the organizer's website: "takes place along 5th Avenue on the second Sunday in June, in honor of the millions of inhabitants of Puerto Rico and (those) of Puerto Rican heritage in the U.S." The first verse, performed by a "singer," just tells us that the celebration is citywide.

The next verse lists several Spanish words that might be images on a parade float-- canoes and flags-- and also mini-coconuts and beer. What's a celebration without snacks and drinks?

"Because I am a Puerto Rican," the Spanish lyrics continue, explaining why he is celebrating today. "I was born a Puerto Rican (using a slang term for a native.) This line hearkens back to the earlier song "I Was Born in Puerto Rico," while the next line, "I am a brother of the coqui (a local tree frog)," recalls the children's chant the musical began with. (In America, an equivalent expression might be "I'm so American, my brother is a bald eagle."). "I'm as Puerto Rican as you like," the song concludes.

The purpose of this song is unclear. It may be to show that the community has moved on from the damage the Capeman case caused it. Or it may serve as an upbeat break in the heart-rending tale... or simply to contrast with the next song, which is about not the entire community but one man returning to it.

Offstage, the children-- this time in New York-- sing the nursery rhyme about the coqui the musical opened with. This serves to signal that our story is about to come full circle, that another generation of children is being taught the old ways in a new land, and maybe their lives will be better than his was.

Then it shifts to Salvador, on a pay phone (this was long before cell phones!) calling Yolanda to tell her he is on his way home, and that her husband Carlos (we assume they are married by now, if not living the country life they had planned) should know to get his things out of storage.

He hangs up, first telling Yolanda. "Don't tell my mother I'm home yet." Evidently, he wants to surprise her himself.

Salvador also doesn't ask for, or about Bernadette. Perhaps he assumes she has moved on by now. It is unclear, in this short verse, if he is going to stay with his mother or try to reconnect with Wahzinak.

Also there is a confusion of place that is more likely made clear by the action onstage. We have Salvador jumping parole to be with Wahzinak in Arizona ("Trailways Bus"), then being captured and sent back to prison. ("El Malecon," it is clear, is a flashback). Then the song "You Fucked Up My Life" takes place in the barrio, which implies he had been set free. Then "Lazarus/ Last Drop of Blood" seems to take place back in the Arizona desert. "Wahzinak's Last Letter," then, was addressed to him... where? And now he is back in the barrio, walking past the "Puerto Rican Day Parade" on his way home to his mother in this one-verse song, which implies that he had only just now been let out of jail.

In any case, the last four songs are set in New York. They will give us the final impressions of Salvador, Hernandez the Umbrella Man, Carlos and Yolanda, and lastly, Salvador's mother, Esmerelda.

Next Songs: Tony Hernandez/ Carlos & Yolanda

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lazarus/Last Drop of Blood

(Note: This time, the "/" does not designate two songs being discussed in the same post-- it is part of the song's title.)

Lazarus has been part of Salvador's story ever since his mother consulted the Santero (fortune teller) back in Puerto Rico. "I see [Salvador] staggering through the desert/ But he must not break his chain/ Till Saint Lazarus, in his mercy/ Turns his thirsty soul to rain."

Well, Lazarus has popped up now and again, but here, he has his first full song. And Salvador has been in the actual desert, jumping parole ("breaking his chain"?) to meet with his lover, whom he had so far only known through letters.

Lazarus appears to Salvador now and tells him that his past is still very much with him-- "Your shadow like a cape"-- and that there is no escape, no joining with his lover, until he starts his "confession."

As if this is not enough riding on the matter, Lazarus tell him that there are immigrants waiting to come into America who will not do so until he confesses. A chorus, perhaps these huddled masses on the Rio Grande at the Mexico-US border, sings: "Break a branch to cross the river there/ To deliver us salvation." Surely, this is meant to also evoke the biblical River Jordan, all that lies between the Wilderness and the Promised Land.

Until now, and as we saw in the previous song, Salvador has always maintained his innocence. But is it the murder that is Salvador's sin? Or is there more?

Salvador's response is to go on the offensive. He says that, if he is a sinner, then he has nothing; "That's all a sinner receives." He says even his freedom does not amount to much, although it was enough to "light" the way across the country. (We also learn that Lazarus was disguised as a "stranger" on the bus the whole way, and only now has revealed his true nature.)

Now, Salvador comes to his point, and recalls the Santero's prophecy: "Where is the rain you promised me?" Oh, yes, Salvador says in effect, you thought I wasn't paying attention, that I was just a "monkey-wild" kid, but I was listening! And then, he says, he waited in prison for 16 years, and no longer believes in "childhood's prayers."

Lazarus shoots back: "You killed and then you smiled." So Lazarus does believe that Sal killed that fateful night. And that yes, even after all the loss and all the miracles of his life (his sentence being commuted from death to life, his eventual parole, his finding love, etc.) he has still not dealt with reality. All of this suffering has been for naught, and all of these gifts have failed to make him see the truth.

Or did it? This verse is key, so I will quote all of it:
"I know remorse would be a river/ In the desert of my heart/
Whose loss is God, the giver/ But my tears won't start./
The State of New York imprisoned me/ The State of New York will set me free/
I break this chain, its pain and memory."

Salvador understands what Lazarus means. He killed and smiled... but he should have wept! He was defiant and defensive, when he should have been remorseful and regretful. The Santero was not talking about actual rain, but tears! How else does a "soul turn to rain"?

Salvador did kill those other teens that night. He has spent the last decade and more denying that he did and, if so, so what? He spent his years blaming everyone and everything from his poor fathering to poverty to racism.

And now Salvador says to Lazarus that he knows that he should cry, and for what reasons-- remorse, confession, re-connection with God, relief, release. He knows he should cry, but he won't. The State-- not God, not his crime-- is what locked him up, and so when the State releases him, he will consider himself "free."

But while Salvador has finally unlocked the Santero's riddle with regard to "rain," he has yet to realize that the "chain" part does not refer to his literal prison shackles or the State's hold on his physical freedom. His chain is the guilt of his crime. He says he has broken his chain, but he has not. For words cannot break it, only tears.

The Santero's prediction is still valid. Until Salvador repents and cries, a chained prisoner he shall remain. Not as a punishment, just a natural consequence. To use another metaphor, you can cover a stained shirt with a jacket and pretend the stain is not there. But you can only remove the stain with soap and effort.

At this point, a voice from the past is heard. It is the mother of one of the victims. She wishes she had died that day, and every year lights a memorial candle on her son's birthday, "for the life he never tasted." Then she tells Salvador: "I've grown weary... but I'll never be at rest/ 'Til the murder that you did is paid for/ With the last drop of blood."

Lazarus has still failed to turn Salvador's soul to rain. And so Salvador's chain remains unbroken. Now Lazarus tells Salvador the price of his intransigence: "Go live in an empty room/ And study the wallpaper... No wife, no child... Let your solitude frighten your neighbor."

"...And write in your book," Lazarus continues, mocking Salvador's literary pretensions, "How arrogant you are/ how ordinary." Then, this, again the logical end to his inability to atone: "Neither pardon nor parole/ Will ever bring you peace."

The chorus moans again for "healing" and "salvation." But none comes.

Next Songs: Wahzinak's Last Letter/ Puero Rican Day Parade/ El Coqui (Reprise)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

You Fucked Up My Life

(This song begins, in the Lyrics book, with two lines ascribed to no performer; they are the same as appeared in the song "Santero." They are in a non-English language, and it is not one I recognize. There are so many accent marks I cannot even type it in accurately. I am afraid to admit I have no further information, but if anyone does, please let me know. UPDATE: A reader who has seen the play provides some information and insights in the comments below)

Evidently, Salvador has had the opportunity to reacquaint himself with some of his old gang-mates. Perhaps at this point he has served his extra two years for breaking parole and is now on parole again, but stuck in New York.

He is not greeted warmly by his old friends. Angel Soto calls him names, then says, "You had your moment of glory/ With your pearl-handed knife/ Oh, what a TV story/ But you fucked up my life." He concludes that his parents were very upset with him.

It is not clear how Sal's crime caused Angel so much suffering. He was not one of the perpetrators. Perhaps the event caused a crackdown on gangs.

Babu Charlie Cruz, another gang member, is clearer about his grudge. "I was on trial with you," he says, and he did some time. This is the cause, he says, of his never being able to land a union job, and for his fiancee leaving him. He also blames Sal's attitude during the trial for stoking anti-Puerto Rican sentiment: "You would walk into the courtroom/ Saying, 'All youse are gonna burn,'/ As if everything evil was Puerto Rican."

Young Sal responds (later, Adult Salvador will, as well) that he "took the weight for all of youse... I was the 'escape goat' for all of youse/ You all came to gangbang/ There were other guys with knives... There was no blood on my knife." As to his attitude, he claims this his ethnic pride. Sure, he says to them, "Stick it to the Jibaro... He don't kiss ass in no courtroom/ With the fucking American flag." A "Jibaro" is a native Puerto Rican, and Sal uses the word to mean a true Puerto Rican patriot (I am not sure if Sal had any Jibaro blood).

And when he says "escape goat," he means "scapegoat," but his mispronunciation could be either an uneducated mistake or the use of some Spanish speakers of an "e" before an "s." (One native Spanish speaker I know, a teacher, spoke to me of the "estudents" at her "eschool.")

Salvador now adds his comments, repeating "I am an innocent man," and that if he owes them anything, he already paid with his incarceration and his eternal damnation, his reputation-- deserved or not-- as The Capeman.

Hernandez, The Umbrella Man, tells Salvador: "You can lie to the press, you can lie to yourself/ But you cannot lie to us/ I was there at your side."

Even if Sal is guilty, it seems too convenient to blame Sal for everything wrong in their lives. They were there that fateful night, too (as they just admitted), and it might just as well have been one of them accused and jailed for more than a decade. Also, they have had their freedom instead, and many chances. They might have joined the army or priesthood, or returned to Puerto Rico, or any other number of options.

In any case, Salvador again protests his innocence, swearing on his medallion of St. Lazarus. Which segues nicely into the next piece, a duet between Salvador and the saint.

Next Song: Lazarus/Last Drop of Blood

Monday, September 24, 2012

Trailways Bus/ El Malecon

This song is one of the finest in the musical. The tone, the Latinate music, the imagery of travel, and level of poetry recall "Hearts and Bones."

Lazarus first joined our story when he is invoked by the Santero way back in Puerto Rico: "I see him staggering in the desert/ But he must not break his chain/ Till St. Lazarus in his mercy/ Turns his thirsty soul to rain." Then the Santero (fortune-teller) and Lazarus sing: "So this, then, is the future/ From which no man can escape."

Lazarus has kept quiet from then until now, showing up only for one verse in "Jesus Es Mi Senor," when he also sang of deserts and thirst. But until now, Salvador has been in Puerto Rico, then the barrio, then jail. Now, he is is going to the desert. He has broken parole (his "chain"?) to see the woman he fell in love with only through her letters to him in prison. She is a Native American, and she lives in the Southwest.

Now that Salvador is going to the desert, it is fitting that Lazarus shows back up to narrate the entire song "Trailways Bus" (track 13, the last one on Songs from The Capeman). This is not Simon's first song about a long bus trip, which would be America. Here, instead of Michigan to New York, the trip takes Salvador south, then west. He might not have gone straight southwest-- via, say, Kansas City-- to throw off the authorities, sure to be in pursuit.

Instead, he hides behind a "magazine" and a "sleepless pillow." He finds himself in "farmland" in between New York and DC, and even sees a "farmer." Also a couple with a "two-month-old" baby. He imagines their lives. Is he jealous? Does he think they are jealous of what they might imagine is his single man's freedom?

As they pass through DC, "the shadow of the Capitol Dome," the source of all laws (including the many he is breaking), ominously "slides across his face." 

"His heart is racing," Lazarus tells us, and Wahzinak is also breathless. She sings that she "has no money to come east," and it is the fleeing killer who must use his untraceable cash to wend his circuitous way to her.

As they go through Dallas, they pass another landmark, the infamous "grassy knoll" that figured in the assassination of JFK in that city. His life has likewise been shut off by death, and he relates to the city's being "away from the feel and flow of life for so many years."

But coming along the Southern border, while it may have helped him avoid pursuit from the North, created another potential problem-- patrols trolling for illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico. They board the bus and single him out simply because he is Hispanic. "Any aliens here?" they taunt. "Yes, I am an alien from Mars," he retorts. They let him go; is it his New York accent?

But even though he has escaped capture again, Lazarus tells us, "He can't leave his fears behind," as he replays his crime again and again in his mind. 

Speaking of memories, the brief freedom Salvador feels recalls one he felt as a child in Puerto Rico. On a smaller island, due east, called Vieques, is a beach called "El Malecon." This word means "an embankment" along the sea, especially one, used as a leisure boardwalk (the most famous one is in Havana).

The rest of the song is laden with images of the stark color of the setting: a white sky and Spanish mission, a black highway and his mother's hair, "dark as the sea at night." He recalls his birth father, Gumersindo, harvesting sugarcane. Meanwhile, his mother was "watching over us"-- meaning himself and his sister, Aurea-- as they played with her in the sand and "filled her skirt with shells." 
It seems like an idyllic scene. Yet Salvador remembers also dreaming of leaving there: "All the big boats used to come/ I called myself their captain/ And dreamed of the day I'd be gone."

If a beach is confining, what must a prison cell feel like? And then his cramped bus seat. But soon, so soon, he will spend two weeks in actual freedom.

Next Songs: You Fucked up My Life

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Virgil and the Warden

In his classic comic lament, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," Hank Williams sings: "Everyone's ag'in' me and it's got me down." Well, almost everyone is against Salvador, too, but instead, it gets him fired up.

At the moment, his opposition is a guard named Virgil. We met him in his eponymous song a couple of tracks back. 

Here, he continues his persecution of Salvador. The song opens with him chastising Salvador for playing his music too loudly, only he adds the insult "spic music"; later, he throws words like "si" and "senior" at Salvador like slurs. 

Salvador retorts that he is using headphones, and furthermore, "Why don't you just go to Hell?" Salvador further threatens to issue another formal complaint to the warden about Virgil.

Virgil responds, basically, "Oh, you're gonna write me up? Yeah, you're a big-shot writer now." He taunts Salvador about his fame as an author and his "liberal lawyers." He calls Salvador a "hernia" and tells Salvador that his report to the warden will fall on deaf ears. 

Virgil's hatred of Salvador is based on several factors. Virgil feels that he himself should have more opportunity and success. After all, he is a working man and a family man, while Salvador is a murderer! Oh, and also a immigrant and a non-native speaker. Further, because they are in the South, Virgil is seen by many outside the South as a "rube," which he feels in an additional unfair slight; in fact, as a white American, he should be ahead of Salvador in the race for success as a matter of course. How awful it must feel to be rigging the game and still losing!

It is very even-handed of Simon to show the reaction by many to Salvador's success. After all, Salvador became famous originally for being a cold-blooded killer... and now he's back on TV, but not on the news. He's on the talk shows, shilling his book. That a convicted murderer of any background should be celebrated so is upsetting to many. Add to this the unfairness felt by the people who went to work to pay taxes for Salvador's incarceration-- and now he's getting out, going to college, writing books, becoming respectable... just who does he think he is?

On top of this is the general hatred many, sadly, feel toward those of a different background, race, language, or national origin, and you can see how a resentment of Salvador's literary pretensions was nearly inevitable. It is a shame that those who protested the musical did not see it, for in this song Simon upholds many of their doubts about the worthiness of such a man as the focus of, for instance, a Broadway musical.

Now Salvador and Virgil have their meeting with the Warden. Before they enter his office, he says to the audience that he is paranoid about someone doing violence to him while he sleeps, and says that if anything does happen to him, he will be sure Salvador is blamed regardless: "Shadows cross my bed/ My blood is on your head.""

Then to Salvador, he says that he has read his writing, and feels that it is revisionist: "You treat your crime as fiction/ When the opposite is true." He then tells Salvador that his parole hearing is in just five months, so he'd better not screw up before then. 

Only he tells him that, it seems, in front of Virgil! Which gives Virgil permission to provoke Salvador as much as he likes, while Salvador dare not retaliate for fear of losing his chance at parole. Five months is a long time to put up with such treatment.

Or to enjoy engaging in it, as Virgil now does. As he escorts Salvador back to his cell, he tells him what he told us in his earlier song about his rifle: "I like that gun for deer... but if it came down to me/ I'd use it right here."

Salvador retorts that it will be hard to aim at a non-existing target: "If this harassment goes on... I won't wait for my parole, I'll be gone." Yes, he tells his guard he plans to escape. Perhaps not the most discreet move.

Virgil gets the last word, which is, more or less: "Good luck with that." Salvador should not feel himself too powerful, despite his fans and high-class friends. On a day-to-day basis, he will be dealing not with them but the man who has the keys to his cell. 

Racist though he is, Virgil does make one valid point: The moral high ground is hard to assert when you are in a dungeon.

Next Song: Trailways Bus/ El Malecon

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wahzinak's Duet/ My Only Defense (Killer Wants to Go to College II).

Wahzinak, you will recall, was the Native American woman who began to write to Salvador while Sal was in jail. Here, we see that their relationship has developed to an intense, intimate level.

Salvador writes at night, for privacy's sake. This is understandable, as he writes "I part your lips... I feel you in your letters." One would have to write such delicate thoughts in private, even if they did not carry the burden of potential bigotry. Salvador already is a lightning rod for daring to dream of college, and now to be in an inter-racial relationship...

Wahzinak replies that she "understands" Salvador's "anger," but for now... "I take your hand/ And guide it through my thighs." The rest of that verse continues this erotic imagery, in a physical vein.

Then, the next verse eroticizes and santifices their ethnicities: "Puerto Rican blood blending with Indian/ In a sacred flame of burning lust." 

But here is also an invitation: "You'll love the colors of the desert." This seemingly throwaway line will have severe consequences down the road.

Together, the two share only love, longing... and the moon. So together, they sing: "The quarter moon stares down through my window/ And reads your letters on my bed." (Where else would one read such material?) "I know they open all the mail I send you/ But love can't be censored." 

We expect a warden to read his prisoner's mail. But is Wahzinak a prisoner, too? In a sense. She lives on a reservation. "We share a history," Wahzinak elaborates, of oppression by "the white man." "The barrio is just another reservation," a ghetto to which non-whites are relegated. (We learn later who is reading his incoming mail; it is not "the white man.")

These lovers are both imprisoned. Both in space, both by prejudice and repression, and both by the several-times-over illicit nature of their ardor. As if to rub salt in their wounds, others enjoy freedom all around them. Even animals: "I saw wild horses mating in the sunrise," laments Wahzinak. And why not? These animals have no rules, no laws, no shame... and yet we feel that we are superior? Why do we humans make life so hard for ourselves?

"I dreamed of freedom," she writes. "The day of revolution is coming fast." (These words were written in the late 1970s. Wild horses are still freer than we allow ourselves to be.)

The next song is, inexplicably, called "Killer Wants to Go to College II" on the Songs from The Campeman soundtrack CD. The Lyrics book gives it a better title "My Only Defense." It is another letter, from Salvador this time.

It is a short but powerful song. In it, he tells Wahzinak that he appreciates her and her wisdom: "I know you're trying to protect me... with your... poetry... from my ignorance... I only wish I could hug you/ You're my only defense."

While by this time we think of him as quite literate, Salvador pleads, "I don't understand your writing/ I can barely sign my name." Perhaps he still feels the sting of having been illiterate for so much of his life, and that he feels himself so beside her felicity with words.

He closes by remembering the violence of his barrio, and perhaps even the pain the nuns caused him in his homeland. "All I ever learned was fighting/ But I'm not the only one to blame." And now, even in jail, he is still a "stranger."

In Puerto Rico as a child, he was fatherless and homeless. In New York, a teen; he was an immigrant, plus an annoyance, then a shame, for his stepfather. The gang members who befriended him led him into a life of killing. In jail, he becomes a man, still an outcast among his fellow inmates because of his intellect, and ambition. "The hatred never ends," he concludes.

And the next song shows yet another source of this all-encompassing hatred.

Next Song: Virgil and the Warden

Monday, September 3, 2012

Virgil/ (Upstate)

"Virgil" is one of the only country songs Simon has written (we might also count "Keep the Customer Satisfied"). This style makes sense, given the character of Virgil. He is a white guard at Salvador's prison. he explains-- or rather complains-- that he could not afford to send his four children to college despite 14 years guarding men like Salvador. And here, Salvador gets to go to college! A murderer, who never held a job!

(This is Track 11 on the Songs from The Capeman soundtrack, and there are a few differences between that version and the one in the Lyrics book, but nothing that affects the meaning of the song.)

The warden is just doing what he is told, he reminds Virgil: "We abide by the court's decision." In the last song, it seemed that the warden had argued against Salvador's release; evidently, he lost and is resigned to defeat.

This only angers Virgil more. He states that he has a hunting rifle and adds, "Smells like hunting season's here."

He defends his personal grievance by saying it is not personal but a professional observation that the inmates who are "smart" and "quiet" end up being "troublemakers." He even goes as far as to say that Salvador is capable of fomenting a "riot" like the 1971 one at the Attica Correctional Facility (also referenced in the film Dog Day Afternoon).

Lastly, Virgil returns to his assertion that, regardless of what the justice system sees fit, he is willing to administer his own justice: "The ain't no way that... smart-ass... gets his degree/ and hides behind the Constitution/ Not while I'm at this institution."

We shall hear more from Virgil later.

(Evidently, Simon wrote a song called "Upstate" for use in the musical, but it did not make the cut. An online search for the word "upstate" in a Simon lyric finds it only in this song, so if "Upstate" does exist, it is not readily available. Anyone who knows the lyrics to "Upstate," please inform me, and I will prepare a post for that song. Thank you.)

While he was not part of the songwriting process, it is interesting to note the choreographer on the project, and eventually the director, was Mark Morris, who is known for his ballet work. His story and list of accomplishments are too long for this space, but interested parties can find that information easily.

Suffice it to say that he is of equal caliber in his field as Walcott, Blades, and the rest of the Capeman talent are in theirs.

Simon only works with the best, and if one wants an excellent musical (and general artistic) education, one need only find and enjoy the works of Simon's collaborators.

Next songs: Wahzinak's Duet/ My Only Defense (Killer Wants to Go to College II).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wahzinak's First Letter/ Killer Wants to Go to College

In prison, Salvador receives a letter from someone named Wahzinak, about whom I can find nothing specific (the letter says she lives "in the desert," but that could be metaphoric as well as geographic). She says she has "read [Salvador's] prison writings"-- Sal had become literate in prison and received his high-school equivalency, as well as being born-again.

Evidently, Wahzniak is also a person "of color," as she puts it, and she feels empathy for Salvador, saying that such folk "must keep fighting." Lastly, she hopes that "one day, I'll ease your hurt."

A fellow, nameless inmate now fills us in on some of the details of Salvador's progress in prison with the song "Killer Wants to Go to College" (Track 9 on Songs From the Capeman). He tells us that Salvador wants to attend college in "New Paltz," where one of the branches of the State University of New York is located. (He did, in fact, attend, double-majoring in sociology and philosophy.)

The inmate also says that in order to do so, of course, he has to be paroled. And this, he was, after his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by then-NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1962 (the murders themselves were in 1959). But it was a later governor, Hugh Carey, who, in 1977, made Salvador eligible for release; Salvador attended college by day and returned to prison at night. 

The inmate continues that Sal wants "to go on TV." I am not sure this happened, although he was interviewed  at the time of his arrest. This time, the inmate says, the intent would be to promote his "book," evidently his memoir. He did write a book titled The Political Identity of Salvador Agron: Travel Log of Thirty-Four Years, which corroborates he was that age at this point and that he had therefore been in jail some 20 years by then.

"Make my life into a movie," the inmate imagines Sal saying. And yes, the idea of a TV movie was floated;  Salvador arranged for any money he would make to go to the victims' families. (I am not sure that the movie was ever made. In any case, today, there are laws prohibiting convicts from benefiting from their crimes.)

All of this attention has flustered the warden as well. He now chimes in, "This boy used to be on Death Row!" Indeed, when Sal was sentenced, he was only 16 and set the record for the youngest person ever to be sentenced to death in the U.S. No doubt, this was part of the argument for leniency. As was mentioned in "Jesus Es Mi Senor," everyone from then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the father of one of the victims had urged leniency before the original sentencing.

The warden worries that Salvador's "violence [will] return." He recalls that, during that earlier interview, Sal told the reporter, "I don't care if I burn; my mother can watch." (Why "burn"? The method of execution was to be the electric chair). 

We can understand one murderer dismissing, jealously, the amazing success of someone like Salvador. But one would hope that a prison warden would be proud that his "correctional facility" actually corrected someone! Perhaps he is of a different mindset, feeling that it is his job to keep the dangerous people caged. It's fine if they want to occupy their endless time with sports or reading or what-have-you, but to actually mature, see the error of their ways, and become "corrected"? 

Maybe... but then to achieve celebrity status?! Just because one is not being punished anymore does not imply that one's should be rewarded! Still, Salvador was a remarkable case-- to go from troubled, illiterate killer to well-adjusted philosophy student is quite an achievement.

"Salvador" might finally be living up to his own name.

Note to Readers: 
I struggled with the idea of actually researching Agron's case. I did not want such information to color or affect my discussion of the songs in the musical. However, this song alluded to a number of facts about Agron and I simply needed to know what they were, as seen above.

Some other information I discovered that was not revealed in the songs thus far:
1) Before his crime, young Sal got along so poorly with his preacher stepfather, he returned to Puerto Rico to live with his father. While he was there, his father's new wife committed suicide, and Sal was the one who found the body. He began acting out, and so was put in a vocational school. Eventually, his father sent him back to New York.

2) There, Sal joined a gang before the Vampires. But it was with the Vampires that he committed his murders. It was a sad case of mistaken identity; he believed his victims were the members of a rival gang they had arranged a "rumble" with.

3) Aside from his life story, Agron also wrote poems in jail, some of which were published by New York newspapers. 

Next Song: Virgil

Monday, August 20, 2012

Time is an Ocean

This song, which takes its title from the last line of the previous song, is a duet, but of an unusual sort; the voices are those of Sal as a young man in jail, and an older version of himself whose fate has not yet been revealed by the plot. The older Sal goes by Salvador, so we can keep then straight. (This song is track 10 on the Songs from the Capeman soundtrack.)

The song tells the story of how young Sal, a punk kid, turned himself into the mature Salvador, a writer.

Sal starts us off, confessing that "the evil that we do can't be blamed on our destiny," and so taking responsibility for his actions. Later, however, he does blame racism for his situation at least somewhat.

He tells us that he has, in the image borrowed from Psalm 23, "walked through the valley of Death Row."

Salvador now makes this observation: "It took me four years to learn I was in prison, not a church," and then two more years until he started to write his autobiography. But, "when I wrote my story/ The words flew from the page/ And my soul in solitary [confinement]/ Escaped its iron cage." By taking ownership of his own story going backward, he takes control of it going forward.

Sal takes back over, writing a letter to his mother and telling her to return to Puerto Rico, since she is so  homesick, singing her lonely Aguinaldo carol. "Go back, don't you worry/ I am your grown up son."

Salvador then observes the "politics of prison/ are a mirror of the street... the politics of race." The prison guards, he explains, are notably paler of complexion than those they control, just as the police were outside. As Sal puts it: "A forest and a prison/ Where the snow and guards are white."

He then issues advice to his younger self: If you want to keep your sanity/ You'll teach yourself to write." He had to grow up fast, once inside: "You were a child of sixteen/ With a twelve-year-old mind/ You came here numb and battered."

Young Sal takes up this artistic and psychological challenge, and the two sing: "I'll take the evil in me/ And turn it into good/ Though all your institutions/ Never thought I could." Sal, of all people, challenges the "correctional facility" he is in to live up to its cynical promise... to correct him!

Then Sal and Salvador say "good-bye," promising to "keep your image in my eye/ 'Til the day I die." But whose image? The prison's (the "your" in the last verse)? His mother's (she does sing one line near the end)?

Or... does the old one promise the young one he will not forget his suffering? Does the young one promise the old one that, if he waits for him, he will make it to that age some day?

Throughout, the title line is repeated: "Time is an ocean of endless tears." Sal cries for his crime, his mother cries for him... and the older Sal cries for the two lives that he he took lives that day-- his victim's, and his own.

Next Song: Wahzinak's First Letter/ Killer Wants to Go to College

The older Salvador is sung by Ruben Blades, an Panamanian singer-songwriter accomplished in both English and Spanish. his songs are alternately poignant and pointed, sometimes in the same piece. Like Billy Bragg, he can be both political and personal within the space of one line. He also has been compared to Springsteen.

But like Simon, Blades was a devotee of doo-wop in his teens, but the realities of his nation stirred his political spirit. If anything, his government forced his hand, closing his college and thus somewhat pushing him to pursue music in the US. Blades also narrowly escaped a legal career! Instead, he worked for a record label-- first in the mail room, where he auditioned!-- and then as a composer and band leader.

His album Siembra sold three million copies and spawned the biggest hit in salsa history, "Pedro Nvaja." But his political songwriting got another song banned from Miami radio. Blades also began writing songs for films, and then acting in them. Probably his best is the funny and powerful Milagro Beanfield War. It's hard to find, but very worth it (and I'll keep the director a surprise!).

Blades has continued to write and perform music (five albums in the 1990s alone!). But to start, I'd  recommend the mostly-English Buscando America for his songwriting and Nothing But the Truth-- with songs by Elvis Costello, Sting, and Lou Reed-- for his vocals.

Along the way, Blades he went to Harvard and earned a master's in international law, started a new Panamanian political party, and ran for president there... coming in second. Their loss.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday Afternoon

Here, Esmerelda, Sal's mother, speaks. He is in jail, but she is somewhat trapped as well, as she explains.

She writes to her son in prison, using his adult name, Salvador. She tells him that lunch is over, but even though it is noon, there is no sunlight in her apartment: "The buildings here, tall as our mountains/ Slice through the windows and cut off the sun."

By "our mountains," she means those back home, in Puerto Rico. She is homesick. Even if life was hard there... well, it is hard in New York, too, but not as pretty outside! Still she vows to Salvador to "never return until you are free." Thoughts of the homeland fo cheer her, especially when she hears the Aguialdo-- a Hispanic Christmas carol of sorts-- to which she dances with her daughter, Aurea.

She confides to him that she has been "unlucky" in love. Her Puerto Rican husband drank and ran around. Gonzales, the preacher who brought her to America, was a "hypocrite," who "beat you and preached about repentance/ Has gone." Actually, she left Gonzales, after he abandoned Sal to his prison fate.

Esmerelda might also point out that the church that took them in to begin with was also, ultimately, cruel to Salvador. Both lands, both husbands, both churches, have made promises of rescue... only to require that they be rescued from them, in turn!

"Another Sunday ends," Esmerelda sighs. This throwaway line is actually very telling. Esmerelda is no longer banking on "Sunday,"... on promises of faith and salvation, especially not by those who profess religious power.

No... "tomorrow is another hardworking Monday." She is trying to depend on herself, on her own work. But this seems another blind alley filled with false promises; "I am still hoping for the raise they promised me." Perhaps, someday, she will have the fortitude to remind her employers of their promise. For now, she is neither dependent on men--husbands or her son-- nor on the Church.

"There's a job as a operator/ If I could speak the language easily." In the era before cell phones, operators were telephone company employees who helped connect calls, provide 411 information, etc.; today, their job would be called "customer service." Naturally, fluency was a requirement. Esmerelda is unaware that classes in English for non-native speakers have been offered in places like libraries and community centers for decades, and she seems still too reticent to even ask after such things.

After all of her struggles, she seems ready to take a break, though: "I view my light with resignation." Further, she is still a several-times-over minority-- a woman, an immigrant, older than most job seekers, a not-quite fluent-enough-speaker. Oh, and the mother of a well-known convicted murderer, which could also hurt her career prospects.

She also seems content to consider "the Barrio" as "our own little nation," a Puerto Rican island, as it were, within the island of Manhattan. Perhaps being close to her people is as close as she can get to being with her family, which dwindles ever smaller. Wistfully, she tells Sal, "Sometimes I hear you run upstairs."

Even with all of her betrayals by the organized Church, Esmerelda still clings to her faith, and tells Sal to, also: "Keep your Bible near you."

Why? Because "time is an ocean of endless tears." Every time she put herself forward-- to the church back in Puerto Rico, to both her husbands, to this new land, and now to her job-- she has been slapped backward.

And now, she sits in her apartment, and Sal in his cell.. each a prisoner wavering between resignation to darkness and hope of sunlight.

But the Bible tells of the rise of Joseph, the Exodus from bondage, the entrance into the Promised Land, the elevation of David.... and the Ascension of Jesus. All stories of lowly people achieving liberty, self-determination, and salvation.

Next Song: Time is an Ocean

Monday, August 6, 2012

Adios Hermanos/ Jesus Es Mi Senor (Cristo Me Todo)

The title means "Farewell, Brothers." And this (Track 1 on the soundtrack) is the song of goodbye, when we see, in some detail, young Sal Agron tried and convicted and led away to prison. First, he says goodbye to his "amigos" in the "House of D"... as in "detention."

It starts with the date, the name of the judge... and the observation that non-Hispanic gangs, white and black, "Well, they'd kill you if they could." So yes, his only friends are those who are truly "amigos," to whose language that word belongs, and those whose world he is leaving.

Now, Aurea, Sal's sister, says that they are not alone in their grief. First, "people are suffering all over the world." Then, specifically, "all over the island tonight"-- Manhattan, that is, but perhaps also Puerto Rico. So she recognizes that the cycle of (male) violence has not spared them any more than it has spared the other "mothers" and "sisters" who "weep" and "grieve."

Sal continues his narrative. He felt the hostility aimed at him by the onlookers, to whom he was "Just some spic/ They scrubbed off the sidewalk."  And the judge is no less subject to this prejudice, saying: "The electric chair/ For the greasy pair." The media are against him as well: "Guilty in the press/ 'Let the Capeman burn for the murders.'... The newspapers and the TV crews/ Well, they'd kill you if they could."

Well, yes, but isn't he, you know, actually guilty? Didn't he and the Umbrella Man kill those people? Yes, the  song implies, but white killers would be seen as just killers, not extra-guilty-- or certainly guilty-- just because of their ethnic background.

Further-- and this point Aurea and Sal state outright-- if the victims had been Hispanic, there might not be as much of an outcry, either: "A Spanish[-speaking] boy could be killed every night of the week/ But just let some white boy die/ And the world goes crazy for... Latin blood." It's not so much that an injustice has been visited on Sal, as much as unnecessary and unwarranted (and, frankly, racist) insults have been added to his sentence.

Sal concludes his story by describing the restraints he is "shackled" with, and the ride to jail in a "black maria" (slang for "police van") through Spanish Harlem. They passed by their friends hanging out "on the corners"-- perhaps to purposely see him off-- and they call out as they pass, "Adios, hermanos." Sal expresses this as "lay[ing] our prayers upon them."

This slides nicely into the next song, an actual prayer. The title means "Jesus Is My Lord." (What seems to be a draft of this song, titled "Cristo Me Todo" is available online; I will note the few lyrical differences between this and the final version.)

Sal is not here; this scene takes place in his stepfather's church, and possibly later at home. We hear the congregation praising Jesus...

...and then Aurea prays. She thanks the Lord for comforting her mother (in the draft, herself as well). And then she thanks the governor (Nelson Rockefeller), for commuting Sal's sentence from death to life imprisonment (in the draft, for hearing "the Lord's voice" to do so.) Bernadette, Sal's girlfriend, also offers a prayer. We learn that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also urged clemency, as did the (female) mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital.

But one man is not moved. And that man is the pastor of this church-- Sal's stepfather, Gonzales. He sees all this Earthly mercy as subverting Divine Will: " the court of the mighty God/ No man can ever change his sentence/ He (Sal) is a falling angel pitched to burning hell." Further, he says that Sal's crime is no fault of his own-- "I tried to teach him,"-- but that Sal chose to follow the Vampires, "the bats and the vermin of their name." He concludes that Sal has "brought everlasting shame on Puerto Rico." (Literary note: Simon and Wolcott here rhyme "sentence" with "repentence." Nicely done!)

At this, the women turn on Gonzales. Aurea excoriates him: "You heart is blacker than the suit you always wear... [You are] A hypocrite who hides behind the Bible" (and "Bible' is rhymed with "disciple.")

Then, Esmerelda does her daughter one better-- she divorces him: "How can you say such things about my son?... This marriage is done."

Aurea has two last comments: "For three long years, my mother prayed for this to come." (In the draft, it's "one" year. In any case, what "this" is unclear, most likely that Sal's life would be spared.)

She concludes: "We made America the land we call our home/ We still believe in this country" (in the draft, she believes "this is our country.")  I am not sure why this is here. She has already thanked the politicians who stood up for Sal, and has not disagreed that the general public and media are generally anti-Hispanic. And it's not as if they would want to go back to Puerto Rico regardless; the economic reasons for their move still stand. Now more than before, in fact, as they will be without Gonzales' income, and they already know what life is like in Puerto Rico with no man's earning power to count on.

Lazarus repeats Bernadette's prayer, and the song ends in a cascade of "Aleluya!" (spelled "Hallelujah" in English).

Sal bids farewell to his "brothers." And, aside from Governor Rockefeller, no man comes to his aid. But he never bids farewell to his sisters. And, it is indeed mostly women who still support and defend him... and save his life.

Next Song: Sunday Afternoon