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

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