Monday, December 24, 2012


"You've got the cool water/ When the fever runs high," Simon wrote in the song "Something So Right." He returns to that imagery many years later, in this languid song, which begins "Cool me/ Cool my fever high."

Here, the speaker continues "Hold me when I cry," indicating that love can be passionate, but also compassionate. 

"I need it so much/ Makes you want to get down and crawl like a beggar/ For its touch," Again, the desire is so intense, that, like an illness, it makes one lose one's inhibitions and dignity.

The irony, of course, is that this wonderful, fever-reducing, anxiety-erasing "drug" is "free as air!" It costs nothing-- nothing material, anyway-- to love someone. "Like plants, the medicine is everywhere," refers to the idea that many of our most common healing agents, from aloe to aspirin, come from plants (aspirin comes from willow bark). In this sense, love as as available as something that grows naturally from the earth.

Well, that's what happens when you don't have love. What about when you do? "Makes you want to laugh out loud when you receive it/ And gobble it like candy." It's so easy to find, and hard to get, that if we do, we tend to overindulge and make ourselves sick on it!

"We think it’s easy/ Sometimes it’s easy/ But it’s not easy." This three-stage realization is key. When we are not in relationships, it seems like everyone else is. What we forget is that, when we are in relationships, life is not necessarily any less complex. And when you have love, the question is how to keep it. "You’re going to break down and cry," it seems, either way.

Those who give love, knowing how much the other '"craves" it, can use it to control the other, telling them that they are "not important" and that they "should be grateful." This puts the beloved in a seat of power. When I have what you want, you will do what I want to get what I have.

In the In the Blue Light version of the lyrics, Simon softens the idea of unimportance a bit. Instead of being unimportant in the eyes of others, subjectively, we are all objectively unimportant-- transient and mortal: "We're only here for a season of sunlight." 

So far, Simon does not paint a very happy picture of love. It is almost a drug, creating self-destructive, but coercive, desires. Unlike most love songs, it does not celebrate the emotion as much as lament it. 

But until this point, his focus is on interpersonal relationships. Then he shifts to geopolitics and history. Oh. he sighs, how high is "The price that we pay/ When evil walks the planet/ And love is crushed like clay."

The last lines use the imagery of the Nazis, who called themselves the "master race" and the Jews, the "chosen people," they committed virulent genocide against. But by speaking of these elements in plural, Simon broadens the concept of genocide to all throughout history who have declared themselves master races and lashed out against others in their imagined superiority. 

"The burning temples," are those of the Jews destroyed during Kristallnacht, the city-wide pogrom that initiated the Holocaust. But they are also all those from the Holy Temples in Jerusalem sacked by the Babylonians and Romans to the synagogues, churches, mosques, and ashrams that have been set fire to over all of human history. Very early in his folk career, Simon even wrote a song called "A Church is Burning," about a spate of arson attacks of black churches in the American south in the 1960s. Even today, houses of worship are regularly targeted by hateful violence.

The last words, "the weeping cathedrals," might refer to the response, over the years, by those who were not targeted (this time), but who said only that "this is a terrible tragedy" and that "something must be done."

However, in the In the Blue Light version, Simon eschews this whole historical retrospective, and replaces it with a self-help-ish affirmation: "When daybreak's hopes have come and gone/ Just love yourself, and pass it on." Pain comes from expecting love from others and being disappointed when it does not materialize, he seems to day. Instead, rely on yourself and be a giver instead of waiting to receive. 

This song, despite its title, seems not to be about "love" but about its absence. On a personal level, a lack of love can drive a person to despair and desperation. On the global level, a lack of love leads to an inhumane, and inhuman, attack on one's fellow humans. Such killers see the other as less than human, while they themselves are the ones who have abandoned their claims to humanity.

Next song: Pigs, Sheep and Wolves

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