Monday, December 17, 2012

Senorita with a Necklace of Tears

There is no "senorita." This song, in other words, is not about an unmarried woman whose native language is Spanish. Rather, Simon tells us in the course of the song that, "If [he] could play all the memories/ In the neck of this guitar/ [He]'d write a song called/ 'Senorita with a Necklace of Tears.'"

See, if that were possible, he would write a song with that title. Which, since he cannot do that, he has not.

Except... he has. We know this, because you are reading about it right now.

Which implies that, indeed, he could play all of the memories in the neck of his guitar. The neck, of course, is where the notes are determined. The neck hand has to get into position (usually a split second) before the hand on the body of the guitar can strum it. So the neck, in a sense, is where the songs are stored before they are played for the listener. If a song is like a story, the neck-hand remembers it and the body-hand tells it.

But let's back up to the beginning of the song. Simon starts with a metaphor that he immediately abandons, about a "wisdom tooth."

Then he finds a much more fertile image-- that of being "born again." But his response to his friend's claim of being "born again," how a Christian describes having "found his Savior's grace," is to interpret it in terms of the Eastern concept of reincarnation. Aren't we all, in that paradigm, endlessly being reborn anyway? "I was born before my father/ And my children before me," Simon rejoinders, "We are born and born again/ Like the waves of the sea."

Then Simon introduces a two-tier system of approval: What is this concept's longevity, its staying power?  And does he want this system to remain in place, going forward? In the case of reincarnation, he concludes: "That's the way it's always been/ And that's how I want it to be."

Next up for evaluation is "news" of a species of "frog in South America/ Whose venom is a cure" and is "the antidote for pain." This elixir is said to be "more powerful than morphine/ And soothing as the rain." Simon adds a third tier, the present, to his approvals process. The frog-cure passes muster: "That's the way it's always been/ That's the way I like it/ And that's how I want it to be." It has always been true that the cures for diseases come from natural, but overlooked, places. It's a good object lesson to care for the Earth and take nothing for granted.

Then Simon evaluates various personality types: the sycophant and the stoic, those who choose to be ignorant and those who keep everyone else ignorant. Although all of these could be described negatively-- and may even be self-destructive-- once again, Simon says (twice!) that this reality meets with his approval; it was, is, and shall be.

Now we arrive at the verse about the guitar, its neck, and a seemingly absent senorita. I believe I have, in fact, located her.

It has been remarked by many that the shape of string instruments-- the violin, cello, and guitar especially-- resemble the "hourglass" figure of a woman; BB King even calls his guitar "Lucille." And the guitar as we know it today has its origins in Spain. So if a guitar is a woman, it is a "senorita."

Further, the fret-board of a guitar is called the "neck," as Simon states. Many of these fret-boards have small dots along their lengths. Small dots along a neck look like, what else, a necklace. And if these dots are shiny and opalescent (may are made of mother-of-pearl), they may, perhaps, resemble tears.

It is arguable that the "Senorita with the Necklace of Tears" is Simon's guitar: "If I could play all the memories/ In the neck of this guitar/ I'd write a song called/ 'Senorita with a Necklace of Tears.'," Simon writes. And the song would be about the guitar, and the tearful "memories" it knows, having helped him compose so many sad and regretful songs over the years; "Every tear" in her necklace, he explains, represents "a sin [he]'d committed/ Oh, these many years."

Of other people, their religions, and personalities, Simon is accepting. Also, of nature and science and those matters. Of himself, however, and his failings and sins, well, "That's who I was/ That's the way it's always been."

But he pointedly does not posit that this is the way he likes it, or wants it to be! He realizes he has caused many people pain-- pain which they wear like a necklace, on display, hanging on necks and weighing on their chests.

Then Simon assesses two more personality types. Some are unsatisfied, and are defined by "what they lack."  Some are remorseless; they "open a door/ Walk away and never look back."

Still, Simon refuses to "judge" others, only himself. He is very remorseful of "what [he] was" in the past. As for the present, he says, "I know who I am."

And for the future? "Lord knows who I will be." The future is unknown... and unknowable! Is this a reason to fear?

No, Simon asserts, it is a reason to hope! If anything can happen, then that must include good things. Is the future uncertain? Good! Then he has time to apologize, and to improve. "That's the way it's always been/ That's the way I like it/ And that's how I want it to be."

Next Song: Love

14 comments:

  1. I don't know who you are but this the fact that someone took the time to do this for no reason and I access it whenever I want it is the internet at its absolute best.

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    1. 100% agree - I just stumbled on this and already I think it is my favourite website! Thank you!

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    2. poor boy-- and who am I to argue with a gentleman of such obvious discernment?

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  2. Well, love of an artist is hardly "no reason," but I will accept the compliment!

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

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  4. Hans-- Thanks! I was particularly proud of this one.

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  5. PaulSimon is usually circumspect about the meaning of his work so your analysis/perspective is very much appreciated. Of the hundreds of songs Simon has written this is one of the best. In my opinion...which I respect

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  6. Ben T-- Since you liked what I wrote, I respect your opinion, too.

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  7. Love finding this site as it answered many questions I had 're origin of lyrics.

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  8. I found you again in my "On This Day" memories on Facebook. Five years ago I found this site and was particularly taken with this entry, which I must've read three or four times when I found it in 2013, and that many again this morning.

    We're brothers, maybe, from another life. I love and miss you, brother.

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  9. Andrew-- Thank you for the compliment and for the lovely sentiment. One of the amazing things about great music is the people it brings together, no matter how far apart they start.

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  10. I've long loved this beautiful song. Oddly, I got here not because of my initial connection to the tune. A friend recently recommended I try a treatment with that frog venom. I googled, as I was wondering if Simon has actually done it. I was very taken by your style and content here. I was touched by this song before I understood it. Your approach makes sense and has added to my appreciation of the song.

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  11. Rav-- Thank you for your kind words, and I'm glad your agree with my exegesis. And a refuah sheleymah for whatever it was that made you need the venom-cure. Did you ever find out if Simon had actually used it (and did it work)?

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