Monday, December 10, 2012

Look at That

This song, like "Train in the Distance," tells the story of a relationship, of a life, but in much more abstract terms. So abstract, in some lines there are not even words.

The song begins with the symbolic line "Drop a stone in the abyss." In a basic sense, all of our actions are only meaningful to us, in the scope of the infinite universe and its eternal timeline, naught but a stone dropped in the abyss. (Compare to the Kansas lyric, "All we are is dust in the wind.")

But in a metaphoric sense, this can refer to a conception, if one imagines the "stone" and "abyss" are a seed in a hole... or a sperm in a womb. From that beginning, "anything can happen."

Then comes a "hug and a kiss." This could be between lovers, or a parent and child. The latter seems more likely, as the next thing that happens is going "off to school." In the larger sense, it might mean something my neighbor-- who never went to a university but still built a successful business-- once said: "Every day is college, if you pay attention." As Simon puts it: "You might learn something/ You never know,"

Well, after all that school, or at least schooling, comes what? Marriage. "Lovers merge and make a wish/ They close their eyes, and now their dreams are legal." 

Then comes an image of an "eagle," which admittedly might just be there to rhyme with "legal," or it might symbolize America, nature, or other larger forces at work, against the background of which the marriage will take place. 

These images also appear in the same section of the Bible. God says he will carry the Jews out of Egyptian bondage "on the wings of eagles," and is said to have guarded the Jewish camp in the wilderness with a "pillar of cloud" by day and a "pillar of fire" by night. Here, Simon's eagle flies "over the mountain" (Mt. Sinai?) through "clouds of fire" [emphasis mine]. So there might be a sense of God protecting this love-journey the way the passage in the wilderness-- envisioned by some sages as the marriage between God and the people-- was.

Then Simon backs up for a minute to the moment of the marriage proposal: "Ask somebody to love you/ Takes a lot of nerve." No one who has every made or received a marriage proposal needs to have this explained.

As the children's rhyme goes: "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage." The baby, of course, has to learn to talk. And we hear it do so: "ma ma ma," and "da da da." Then it learns to sing: "la la la/ Oom bop a doom." Now, this is Simon's imagined kid-- so when it learns to sing, it learns to sing doo-wop!

And, this is Simon's relationship song, so the relationship has to have... issues. "This is near enough to bliss." (Oh, gee, thanks... I love you too!) "Then over the top we go and down to the bottom." (Well, what did you expect, with that attitude?) "If you were looking for worries/ You got 'em." It's "Darling Lorraine" all over again.

Then there is a series of other nonsense sounds that are less recognizable: "tih," "guh," and "lih." This may represent being at a loss for words, being in a situation that's inexplicable. It may represent finding oneself, as the speaker in "Call Me Al" does, "in a strange world," in which the very words being spoken are unintelligible to him. 

Personally, I think these are supposed to represent the sounds of musical instruments. "Tih" sounds like a light, high tapping, maybe of a "high-hat" cymbal. "Guh" could be a bass or drum. And "lih" is perhaps the strumming of a guitar or other string instrument. Rhythm, bass, and treble are the basic building blocks of music worldwide, so this series of sounds may represent the learning of musical skill and composition.

Every once in a while, you also get an epiphany in life: "Come awake, come alive." And what is it, in this case? "Common sense, we survive." Evidently, there is a calming down, an acceptance, and "we"-- either this couple or the human race in general-- continues. 

And then? Why, life goes on, of course. "Down the road we go/ You might learn something, you never know. But anyway, you got to go." This last line might mean that life proceeds whether we like it to or not. Or it could mean we must "go" in the final sense: die. If so, it would be the logical end to a song about a lifespan.

The repeated title line: "Look at that!" means "Well, would you look at that!" in the astonished sense. But coupled with "look at this" every time, it implies: "Look far, look near-- and you will find the same patterns." Yes, marvel in wonderment at "that"... and now recognize it in "this," your own life...

"Just like that," in an unexpected instance. "Just like this," right now.

Next Song: Senorita with a Necklace of Tears


  1. I'm not sure I agree with this interpretation of a superb song. I think it's more just the story of the joys and responsibility of parenthood. Playing with a young child in early or pre-school years (Throw a stone in the abyss, This is near enough to Bliss), the child learning to talk, building a relationship with parents/siblings, going to school, and growing into his/her teens (If you're looking for worries, you got 'em). But perhaps I'm not looking deep enough. 'But anyway' I enjoyed your thoughts on the song's meaning.
    BA Scotland

  2. Hello to Scotland! Thank you for your comment. Maybe you are right that "throw a stone in the abyss" is a metaphor for conception-- the zygote (stone) in the uterus (abyss) and that the song is about the parent-child relationship and not the parent-parent relationship. It's also possible that it oscillates between both. Either way, it is the story of a family with a child.