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


  1. hot diggity dog, man

  2. I know I'm a couple years late here, but I just wanted to stop and say thanks for writing this. I love this song -- it's so very real and painful -- and it's been fun to read someone else's take on it.

  3. Liz-- Thank you, and the fact that you are reading this means, by itself, that the song has lasted!

  4. Wow this is so well written.This song is like a movie in itself :)

  5. Chris. If you mean my post was well written, thank you. If you mean the song was, well, I agree.

    1. Besides the fact that this is one of my most favorite of Paul Simon's songs, I always knew it had a much deeper meaning. Thanks for helping being the sting even more alive for me, and most of all, for penning such a beautiful songs... "Your breathing is like an echo of our love"

    2. Anddy-- You're very welcome for my causing you even more emotional suffering, I guess.

  6. Just came across this while listening to Simon's reimagining of the song on "In the Blue Light." I hadn't known about the first "Darling Lorraine." Your connecting the two makes me appreciate one of my favorite songs even more. Thanks for writing this!

  7. Larry-- Thank you. Simon does reference other songs a bit, ones ones only he seems to recall; see the entry on "Was a Sunny Day."