Monday, April 23, 2012

She Moves On

(Before I begin the analysis, I have to say that I am exceedingly disappointed with the Lyrics book here. The line is "Down in the maroon light," an evocative description of a sunset. The liner notes and website agree with this, which is what Simon's voice clearly says on the track. But the book has it as the simple, cliche "Down in the moonlight." Did anyone read this book before it was published? What's the point of having a book if its words cannot stand as THE definitive versions of the songs? All the book's editor needed to do was copy and paste from the website. Really! Not that this is the best move either-- the last word of the song, "on," is left off of the website version. Come on, people! Who's in charge, here? Listen to the songs, look at the liner notes, and get it right-- it's your job. I'm doing this in my spare time and I'm finding mistakes all over. OK, rant complete.)

The title says it-- She moves on. Ah, but he doesn't. He thinks he does. He thinks he did!

The song even starts: "I feel good/ It’s a fine day." He is at an airport, it is sunny, and "a cloud shifts." Since gray skies are gonna clear up, he's putting on a happy face. What happened? "She moves on."

Better to have loved and lost and all that. And he is OK with it. Well... sort of...

The speaker had really depended on her for a sort of salvation. He was "lost" and love "found" him (shades of "Amazing Grace"?). But when things change, and when he leaves the stage and "the song ends," well, "She moves on."

He feels happy just to be alive and to have survived having been left. But she just keeps... leaving! "She is like a top/ She cannot stop."

If, for example, "a sympathetic stranger" (himself, maybe?) um, "lights a candle in the middle of the night," or starts to spark something, she can't even handle that meager level of commitment and leaves again. Why a candle and not say, a torch? A candle is a religious, pure light.

She calls him her "storybook lover," perfect, and so too good to be true. She even warns him: "You have underestimated my power." This is not a candle, she says-- it's a stick of dynamite.

More worship imagery: "Then I fall to my knees/ Shake a rattle at the skies." He is now praying for her to stay, so he doesn't revert to being "lost" again; "I’m afraid that I’ll be... Abandoned, forsaken." Interesting that her eyes are like "coffee" only in their color-- they are not warm at all, but "cold."

Then, an interesting development. This woman, so insistent on keeping her distance and freedom, is somehow affected by him: "She can’t sleep now."

"The moon is red"-- this does happen, when certain particulate matter is in the atmosphere, or during a lunar eclipse. It is also a sign of the Revelation: "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe–inspiring Day of the Lord comes."

So it's the end of the world! For him, because she does not want him. For her, because she does.

She can't sleep, she is so aroused and befuddled by him: "She fights a fever/ She burns in bed." This image of a feverish dream also appears in "How the Heart Approaches": "In a fever/ I distinctly hear your voice/ Emerging from a dream, the dream returns... I dream we are lying on the top of a hill... And your voice is the heat of the night/ I’m on fire."

So "she needs to talk." And instead of brushing this off as a case of "storybook" romance, she confides (in the "maroon" light of the "red" Moon, by the way!): “Maybe these emotions are/ As near to love as love will ever be.” This is as far as she has ever gone, emotionally, she says, and as far as he thinks she can go. But at least she was nice enough to tell him. What can he say? "So I agree."

Then "the moon breaks" (this may be sunrise) and the moment is over. "She takes the corner, that’s all she takes." While I am unclear if there is an expression "to take the corner" (British, maybe?) it is clear that she is not able to take any more than a small piece of him with her, again-- "that's all she takes." And... "she moves on."

The pain is a s bad as he had expected. Not just pain-- frailty, without her love there to prop him up. This time, he does not fall to his knees in worship, but in weakness: "I grow weak, I go slack." He can't "catch" his "breath," because she has "captured" it. He has had the wind knocked out of him.

But by the next morning, as he watched her plane lift off, he is fine. Before her, he was lost. Then he thought that, because she found him, he was found. But then she left... and remarkably, he didn't go back to being lost again!

So maybe he needed her... to show him that he didn't need her. Or anyone.

And she? She was just the catalyst for this reaction. Did she change at all, because of him? If so, not that much. She... well, as always, moves on.

MUSICAL NOTES: Raymond Chikapa Phiri-- Ray, for short-- one of the guitarists on this track, was the founder of Stimela, a gold and platinum-selling band from South Africa. He was one of the first artists, along with Joseph Shabalala, whom Simon worked with on the Graceland album.

Vincent Nguini, the other guitarist, is from Cameroon, but first worked with Simon on this album. He arranged the guitars for this track, and also "The Coast," and "Cool, Cool River," as well as the horns on "Proof."

Next Song: Born at the Right Time


  1. Ha, thanks for the invite. Though I check this blog so regularly I don't know if I need to subscribe for updates. :) Thanks for letting me comment. Like you, I could talk all day about this stuff, so it's fun to have found someone else to chat about it with.

    Carrie Fisher has said this song is about her. That was a tragic relationship, as you can tell by the sharp, pungent pain of these lyrics. Very evocative imagery. The "rattle" makes me think of a baby or small child---it seems to emphasize the man's helplessness and futility. The song is tough to listen to. It covers a whole range of emotions, from bitterness to anger to fear to indifference. Paul says the song is about men's fear of women's anger.

    I found this clip from an interview with Carrie to be of interest. It made me think of the setup of the song:

    "Once, when I was flying to Los Angeles, we'd been fighting all morning, so Paul drove me to the airport to get rid of me faster. As I was about to get on the plane, I said: 'You'll feel bad if I crash.' And he shrugged and said: 'Maybe not.'"

    Paul never ceases to amaze me with his versatility. One moment he can write the most tender, heartfelt love-song, next moment he can write the most bitter, nasty breakup song... and make it sound believable every time.

  2. Well, anyway, join. A follwer list is like a magnet-- the bigger it is, the more others it attaracts.
    I thought it might be about her, but it was so long since the breakup. Also, it implies that she cycles through relationships quickly, and I have no idea if that is true about her. Maybe I should have gone to her one-woman show just to see if she said anything about this marriage.
    I thought of the "rattle" as some prayer instrument that Paul had observed on his many travels.
    To me, it's more about the fear of being without love. In the song, she is never angry-- just indifferent. Which of course is worse. So I can see if his defense mechanism was also indifference-- if you don't care, why should I?

  3. Ohhhh, that kind of a rattle. Hm, hadn't thought of that meaning.

    Well, it could be indifference, but when she says "You have underestimated my power, as you surely will discover," that sounds more ominous. I believe Simon when he says it's about fearing women, but I also think you're right that he's afraid of being without love. But perhaps the woman is taking out her anger by threatening to leave, because she knows what a crushing blow it is to him. It's a very unforgiving portrait really.

    I would have thought it would be too long after the breakup with Carrie to be about her as well, but I'd trust her to know. She quoted the line about "cold coffee eyes" and said, "Yep, I'm a b*tch. Poor Paul, he had to put up with a lot."

  4. I know that Carrie was bipolar, and when she was "manic" she was restless, and always wanted to be on the go ... hence that line in Hearts and Bones, about driving off to Mexico in the middle of the night. Also, it was characteristic of their relationship that they repeatedly broke up and got back together again. I think it finally ended around Graceland (many years after the actual divorce)

  5. I always hear "Moonlight" but I think you're right.

    "She takes a corner" -- I think he means they return to bed for the rest of the night and she takes a corner of the mattress. Like: she's done with him.

  6. I thought of that, regarding the rattle, since he shakes it at "the skies."
    And yes, stringing a guy along by constantly threatening to leave is definitely something he would fear.

  7. Craig-- The only source, including the vocal track, which says "moonlight" is the book.

    And maybe it doesn't matter, a corner "of" what. The idea is that she only takes a small piece, and then moves on.

    1. Or that she takes "a corner", a small something leaving the singer neither unmoved or satisfied ??

    2. jdb-- Whatever it is she takes, she seems to take whatever she wants, and just that much. It does seem clear that the speaker wants her to take more ("That's all she takes"), and he wants more of/from her.

  8. PegTheLeg-- Interesting point about Fisher. Manic episodes can certainly cause sudden, panic-like moves. I suppose it was silly of me to try to write about Simon's material without also reading her books and novels. It's not like she hasn't written about her side of the story (I've only seen the movie version of Postcards from the Edge...).
    Also, when I'm done with Fisher's memoir, I can always hand it off to my Star Wars-obsessed friends!

  9. By the way, can I interject that this is an AWESOME piece of music. The bass, the saxophone... amazing.

  10. I love this song! "she takes the corner, that's all she takes, she moves on" has always been an image in my mind of her turning around a corner--he has set up lyrically that they are on a walk. so I've always interpreted "taking the corner" as kind of turning the corner as if to go down another street (striking out on a new path or maybe running away from this one to that one). more like "taking her leave." and not taking much else with her since "that's all she takes, she moves on." a bit of a mind-bender and that's part of what I love about his music. he takes us listeners on a beautiful journey and gives us the opportunity to continue to ruminate on its meaning.

  11. I like that explanation of "taking" as in "we're taking the short-cut," as opposed to "taking" an object or part of one. So "taking a corner" means choosing to travel by way of the street corner." Which dovetails (speaking of corners) well with the concept of "moving on"-- turning a corner, changing direction. Nice!

  12. Hi there :) I'm not really a big fan of blogs, no perticular reason behind that, but when I found yours I just really felt a need to at least leave a reply. I'm a huge Paul Simon fan and She moves on just wouldn't get out of my head today so I decided to check it up a bit and I found your amazing interpretation of the song. It was so well written that I read it twice :) I'm gonna chech your blog a bit more, because I think I may enjoy other song interpretations as well.


  13. Kaja-- Thank you for your kind comment. This is one of those songs that gets into your head, possibly because of the sax part. Please feel free to read the blog in any order you choose.

  14. Interesting analysis. I love this song, and it's fun to read someone else's take on it. I've always seen it as being framed by the first and last verses, which are the same, and then the body of the song is him reflecting on what he learned from the relationship in the second verse (feel the bite whenever you believe that you are lost and love will find you, etc) and recounting how it went, then reiterating that he's fine now—moving on literally as the plane takes off, and metaphorically with the cloud shifting.

    The slightly eerie overtones of the "storybook lover" lines are so unique. I love the way the woman figure in this song is portrayed as an almost mystical creature. And the "maybe these emotions" verse is such a striking way to explain the confusion that you can sometimes feel in relationships. I just love this song.

  15. Trisha-- If I understand you, you are saying that he feels that, since she has moved on, he should too. There is a grieving period, but in the end he says, "I feel good." She moves on, as she does (always present tense), so he should not take it personally that she moved on from him, too.

  16. "Takes a corner" is in reference to the now broken moon. The moon is burning red like a heart, or in passion. She is a trade by raising his passion again only to break his heart again, because all she needed was a peice,to sustain her for a while. While he wanted it all and this got his heart broken again and falls to his knees. That's my thought anyway.

  17. Stuart-- I hadn't thought of the "corner" referring to the Moon, since it usually round. Maybe as a half or crescent, or when it "breaks," it has "corners."
    Point taken (pun intended).

  18. When I first heard this song I thought of the novel "Fool on the Hill" by Matt Ruff. That book has a character in it who is a Muse--she enters the lives of artists, and then leaves them abruptly, to inspire them to create better art. That book came out a couple of years before Rhythm of the Saints, and I always wondered if this song with its "storybook lover" was a reference to that character.

    Or, of course, it could be a call-back to Paul's relationship with Carrie Fisher. That works too.

  19. Rob-- There have been many stories about muses, some fictional (from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to a whole Albert Brooks movie) and some real, like Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel.
    I am not sure that this song, however-- even if it is about Carrie Fisher-- is about the speaker accepting that this woman, while she was only in his life for a while, was at least his muse. I think it's about a woman who keeps breaking his heart, an maybe has finally stopped.

  20. Carrie has confirmed that this is one of the songs about her. Whether Paul was the love of his life as he was of hers, which she strangely doubts, it was a long term emotional attachment and relationship requiring creativity from both sides that without question propelled him to high levels of artistic achievement. As she relates the state of 'nothing else matters' that explains a feeling of rapturous love in "Wishful Drinking":

    "Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person. Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often you meet someone from your tribe. Which is how I felt when I met Paul Simon. Paul and I had the secret handshake of shared sensibility. We understood each other perfectly. Obviously we didn't always agree but we understood the terms of our disagreements."

  21. Elizabeth-- Probably the only other songwriter/muse relationship that resulted in so many songs (at least the only one I can think of) is Billy Joel/Christie Brinkley. I think he has a whole album's worth of songs about her...
    I suppose there also Adam Levine and "Jane," and some divorce/breakup albums, but I mean writer/muse relationships across the span of many albums, over years and even decades of creative output.

  22. And in my opinion he did get some of his best lyrical lines out of her quotes. Carrie can go off sometimes on how different they are but always comes back to the music and the love of his words that have a certain rhythm and that are very soothing to her. Which is a high complement coming from such a naturally sparkling storyteller and narrative talent.

    Paul Simon & Carrie Fisher - Peter Ames Carlin

    (A one minute primer from Simon's biographer on the relationship for people who have no idea what we are talking about !).

  23. Elizabeth-- Sounds like Simon may owe her some royalties... unless she also quotes him in her works and they break even.

  24. Carrie does joke in her play when quoting his lyrics as it being OK because she never received any other form of alimony. And lovely alimony it is. :). It is hard to know of course what to take from the upbeat, "feeling fine" ending. There is a quote of his I always come back to from around 1990 that captures the feeling of writing from odd angles and jumping all over because it is when a subject is "so tender that you can't stay on it for a really long time, so you run away from it, and then your mind comes back to it compulsively." Carrie has also said the title She Moves On is "ironic"...probably from both their perspectives.

  25. Elizabeth-- I guess there are just some people you never get over.

  26. I texted Paul's line to a nearly ex-lover today "maybe these emotions are as near to love as love will ever be." Thank you Paul, for allowing me to say so much with your words. Too bad I had to text them. I am a horrible singer. Another note ... since I first heard this song in my 20's (late 40's now), I've always thought it was "she took the car, that's all she took." Not as poetic as taking a corner, but I loved the image of her just leaving with nothing but the car. So many times, I've wanted to do that ... just drive away ... sigh.

  27. A--First thought: I hope the ex recognized and appreciated the reference. If not, who needs 'em, right?
    Second thought: Good God, is this album 20 years old already? I think of it as one of his "newer" ones!
    Third thought: There's a movie scene in that idea-- a woman breaks up with her boyfriend, gets in a car, and drives off. His friend says, "Hey! She took YOUR car? Aren't you going to try to get it back?" And the guy says, "I'm just going to be glad that's all she took, and leave it at that."

    1. You made me smile. Helped in getting over now ex-lover. I left the car. It was leased, I think.

    2. Anon-- Thanks. Poor leasing agent. But they must have policies that cover that...

  28. i like the way you analyze pual simon songs, but here is my take on these lines:
    "A sympathetic stranger
    Lights a candle in the middle of the night
    Her voice cracks
    She jumps back
    But she moves on"
    Is about two lover makin love on a hiding place. A stranger arrives and cuts her breathing because she feels danger. But anyway they continue making it.
    It's an image suggested by rhythm. Then the image looses on the mood of the song. Is a man talking about the love of his life, which was pure passion.

  29. Crazyness-- Thanks for the compliment. I suppose it's possible that the "sympathetic stranger" was someone else. But if two people were making love in the dark, how is the stranger who provides the candle being "sympathetic"? He is interrupting them... and calling attention to something they were doing in the dark and trying to keep secret.
    The other interpretation I could offer is that if someone is sitting alone in the dark, a sympathetic stranger might light a candle as an attempt to offer comfort-- but the person is so high strung and depressed she is shocked and scared that someone approaches her. She cannot believe he would help (perhaps no one else ever has)-- so he must mean her harm, and she flees.

  30. Stranger is difficult to interpret in the context of their relationship without knowing more what things were like between them at the time. It could be a slightly wry, humorous reference to an obvious sense of estrangement on both sides or only from one or the other. The fact that it is followed by "But she moves on..." implies she may have been momentarily open to staying (or given that impression) but that it was a fleeting thought at best. I don't want to speculate more because we really don't know but the lighting of a candle would significant for setting up the burning imagery to come. And as a more positive, purposeful shining of light and hope in a dark world than the moon or burning, fever, etc. IMO.

  31. Elizabeth-- Are you trying to connect the song "Stranger to Stranger" to this song? Aren't these songs about two different people?

  32. Its the exact story of his breakup with CF.

  33. Charles-- Thanks! It's great to have the "she said" half the story.

  34. Cool, all interesting, thanks. Here is my offering - This song always conjured a simple fan going to the show, the female singer under a spotlight in the corner of a room, she moves on to do it all again the next night, but he is left with all this, he is filled with life.

  35. Brian-- Interesting reading. I suppose all performers, including athletes, must feel this way now and then. I suppose sometimes they are gratified to be able to do what they love, sometimes bored at the repetition of it all.