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; in the version on In the Blue Light, he lives even closer-- the line is now "I rented a room in my parents' place.").

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.

Lyrical note: Another change to the lyrics in the In the Blue Light version is, near the end, having the moonlight strike "leaves" instead of "trees." I'm not sure it matters, but Simon felt the need to make the change, so I thought I'd mention it.

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