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


  1. Fun fact, Esmeralda's dream is taken directly from a conversation Paul had with her when he was doing research for the play. I believe he went to Puerto Rico to talk to her and within the first few minutes she told him about this dream. If you believe in this stuff, that is very powerful and it is so cool that he included real aspect of Sal's life and real stories from his family.

  2. Nicholas-- I see that you have researched this play as well as Simon himself! It would make sense to include a dream only if one had heard it reported; it would take tremendous chutzpah to, in the midst of a fact-based play, speculate on a real person's dreams.

  3. It's good to read about this musical. Many of the songs I found on youtube. They are incredibly beautiful; they give me goosebumps.
    And it is a story that is worth to be told.
    I've also seen on youtube the behind the scene documentary "The Capeman on Broadway - A roll of the Dice". It seems to me that it must have been a wonderful musical.It is clear that Paul Simon has done a lot of research.
    I wonder one thing. Has there been contact with the families of the victims too? Even their parents could be alive in 1997.
    Possibly it made no difference to the musical, but I can imagine that they also wanted to be heard. Eventually you can not separate this story from the victims.

  4. Anon-- I'm glad you have been able to find some of the songs and enjoy them.
    Bottom line, I don't know if he contacted the victims' families or not. Some of their families and friends protested the production of the musical, saying that Simon should not try to understand and sympathize with their loved ones' killer, only condemn him.
    I think he was going to try to understand Sal and show that he was rehabilitated. Um, that's what we hope the prison system is doing, right? So at some point we have to say if it is successful.
    Still, in the play, Simon says the victims "cannot... forgive him." Which, as their protests seem to imply, they don't.