Conspicuous consumption is not something one would expect to hear lauded by a graduate of the 1960s Greenwich Village folk-song scene. Yet, here we have a celebration of decadence-- a person possessed of so much wealth and ostentation that she can even walk, not merely in Cinderella's comparatively shabby crystalline footwear, but with "diamonds" embedded in "the soles of her shoes."
(Even if you could afford this, I would recommend against it, or you would need all of your diamonds to pay your podiatry bills.)
This song sort of takes off on the idea of "You don't feel you could love me/ But I feel you could" discussed in "Gumboots." Here, the divide is economic. We have seen how wealthy this woman is, while her beau is "empty as a pocket." That last word evokes Duncan, who was "destituted as a kid could be... without a penny in [his] pocket." (Also, we hear echoes of The Boxer and other downtrodden characters from Simon's earlier work.)
At this point, the song's pronouns shift, indicating that now the "poor boy" will narrate. And how does he feel about her outrageous display of wealth? He's philosophical about it: "Well, that’s one way to lose these walking blues." If you have to walk, you might as well do it in style, right?
At least, that's what he says openly. As they are walking, they lose physical contact until she slips her hand into his empty pocket (with his "car keys"? Then why are they walking? Maybe they have parked and are now walking to the door.) She senses that he is upset, and she is too.
"She said, 'You’ve taken me for granted/ Because I please you/ Wearing these diamonds.'" Well, that makes no sense-- if she pleases him, then by definition he is pleased by her and does not take her for granted! Maybe he's taken her for granted because she has diamonds and can pay for things, but it's not clear that he is pleased that she wears her diamonds this way.
"And I could say, Oo oo oo/ As if everybody knows/What I’m talking about/ Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes." It seems to me that he feels stuck. It's not his money and he has no right to tell her what to do with hers. But it's got to be a constant thorn in his side to see her waste money like this when he's so broke and would use that money so much more prudently if he had it. If anything is being taken for granted here, it's her money! Anyway, he can't say anything openly, but even his interjections give him away-- everybody knows that his sighs and groans are about this issue. Well, except her, it seems.
"She makes the sign of a teaspoon/ He makes the sign of a wave." The sign language for "spoon" is two fingers on the right hand spooning up imaginary food from an imaginary bowl in the left hand. And a "wave" is shown by undulating both hands palms down on a mimed roller coaster, much like a hula dancer might. So those are not the "signs" meant here.
I think that the average person, untrained in sign language, would indicate a spoon with an upturned, cupped hand (as if asking for something)... while wave would be a cupped hand, too, but palm down (as if telling someone to calm down). The two hands would compliment each other, like a yin-yang symbol. But if she is asking for something with an upturned palm, he's replying, with a downward-facing palm-- "Please ask for something I can actually provide-- keep your expectations low and realistic."
In any event, they prepare for an evening out (and the narrator takes back over). The man tries to gussy himself up "to compensate for his ordinary shoes." She seems already ready to go.
She is still attracted to him despite her earlier comment, calling him "Honey," and asking him, in fact, for something realistic: "Take me dancing." This is a lovely gesture on her part-- even though she knows he's poor, she is giving him the honor of being the one doing the "taking." She does not say, "I can get us into this posh club," or even "Let's go dancing," but "(You) take me."
Somehow, instead of a dance club, "they ended up by sleeping in a doorway." Not even the doorway to either of their buildings, but merely "a" doorway. What happened? Did they get drunk and pass out?
First, we learn what town they are in: New York City. They "ended up... by the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway." "Bodega" is the Spanish word for a small grocery or convenience store. And "Upper Broadway" is not the famous downtown theater district, but farther north, at which point the street gives way to residential areas populated by people of varying backgrounds. So these are not the dazzling "lights" of marquees but the gaudy neon of bars, shops, and small hotels.
And then a pronoun changes the story altogether: "...wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes." So that's what they did instead of going dancing. They went and made his "ordinary" shoes much less so. It must feel wonderful to have someone waste money on you, instead of making you watch them spend it only on themselves.
Now, the poor boy closes out the song, letting everyone know what he feels about this new development: "People say I’m crazy, I got diamonds on the soles of my shoes/ Well, that’s one way to lose these walking blues." Now he is playing it off like it's no big deal-- he's just trying to make walking more enjoyable. OK, sure.
I remember a story that came out of the Hurricane Katrina mess-- one family took the restitution money they received for losing their home to the floods and went grocery shopping... in a limousine. At first, this upset me-- how dare they waste money like that, in their situation! Then I remembered that limos are not necessarily that much more expensive than cabs. And that if you have a large family and a lot of groceries, you might need more than a sedan-size car.
And if you finally have enough money for once and had never been in a limo before, this might be a fun, memorable way to cheer everyone up for an afternoon. After all, going to the grocery store is hardly fun. But if you do it in a limousine... well, that could be one way to lose those shopping blues.
While they get much more to sing later on "Homeless," this song is the first time most people got to hear the powerful-yet-tender vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. More about that amazing ensemble when we reach that song.
The track itself was remixed as a dubstep number, called "Diamonds Dub," by Todd Terje.
Next Song: You Can Call Me Al