While this song purports to be about "love," there is no story here of a relationship. Well, a reference to one toward the very end, but nothing like "Train in the Distance" or "Dangling Conversation," which also don't feel like love but at least are about love.
No, here we first hear about "register(ing) to vote." We know how Simon feels about the political process from the lines in "Mrs. Robinson": "Going to the candidates' debate... every way you look at it, you lose." So when he tells us he "felt like a fool" even though he registered out of a sense of obligation, we aren't surprised.
But then he says, self-referentially: "Thing about... 'felt like a fool'?/ People say it all the time/ Even when it's true." So... is he saying that he meant it, or that he didn't? If he would have stopped with "people say it all the time," then the listener would think, "Oh, so he didn't really feel like a fool, he just thought it would sound uncool to say that voting was cool."
Only now, we have "Even when it's true" [emphasis mine]. Which means, "Yes, I know people throw that phrase around-- but sometimes they do mean it, like I do now."
The next line implies that a "conscience" is a person, or at least the kind of entity that could be referred to as a "who." The one that comes to mind (I think is does for most of us) is Jiminy Cricket, the embodiment of the conscience we all all familiar with from the 1940 Disney version of the Pinocchio story (In the original 1883 Italian version, Pinocchio kills the cricket, but its ghost still advises him. In that version, the cricket has no name, but "Jiminy Cricket!" is one American euphemism for the interjection "Jesus Christ!" among many, ranging from "Jeepers Creepers!" and "Judas Priest!" to "Cheese and rice!").
Perhaps Simon is familiar with the original Pinocchio version after all, for in this song, the conscience ends up "sticking on the sole of [his] shoe" like a squashed bug! Does he stomp on the conscience intentionally, or is he so unaware that he has one that he trod upon it unknowingly-- is he immoral or amoral? Either way, it is silenced.
And "it sure don't feel like love." The pressure of a stepped-on thing underfoot, we must agree, is not the sensation we associate with love. Nor is (depending on what "it" refers to, what its antecedent is) registering to vote, or feeling like a fool.
Still, we are not sure why we need to be told this-- were we supposed to expect that these things should feel like love? Perhaps, insofar as voting, yes. Perhaps we are supposed to feel love for, and feel loved by, the person leading and protecting us and making laws and decisions on our behalf. Yet, we don't.
The next verse gives us a short lesson on biochemistry: "A teardrop consists of electrolytes and salt." This bit of trivia reminds us of the line from "Senorita" about the cure-all frog. But Simon again says that tears, "blame" and "fault," all do not feel like love.
How does a conscience feel, then? Simon asks as much, responding: "Feels like a threat/ A voice in your head that you'd rather forget." A conscience is less of an unconditional affection type and more of a potentially punishing, always-scolding nag. And while it is a "voice," it is an internal, "in-your-head" one and so "unspoken." Nevertheless, its harangues can make you "sick."
Well, if a pebble-in-your-shoe, thorn-in-your-side, bee-in-your-bonnet conscience doesn't feel like love, what does? "Some chicken and a corn muffin." Simple sustenance, nurturing nourishment. It's called "comfort food" for a reason! Being told that you are OK and being taken care of-- fed warm, handmade food-- that feels like love. Mothering, not smothering.
Not the "Yay! Boo!" of the cartoon angel and devil on one's shoulders. Doing the right thing because you "had to do it," because of a carrot or stick, doesn't feel like love. Doing something because you want to does.
Being scolded makes you feel awful. You aren't just "wrong," and then told, that, however, you are mostly, usually right and that this is the exception. No, you are told you are "wrong again" [emphasis mine], that being wrong is the pattern... and just look, you have learned nothing after all your trials and errors.
As one does when one is told "wrong again!" Simon thinks about other times he was wrong, proving his accusing conscience's point. He immediately hits upon "August 1993." Not sure what else he was working on then, but his multi-disc box set dropped in September of that year, so perhaps it related to that. For is next example, he cites "one of [his] best friends turned enemy," which might be Garfunkel, but there is too little to go on-- it could be many people, including one his biographers don't even know about.
Then he remembers a fleeting assignation-- at least, that's what "this one time" sounds like-- in a "load-out," a military-supply storehouse. We can imaging anything happening such an unromantic place would not "feel like love," either (although he stops short of saying that he felt the incident was "wrong"!).
Of all songs, this makes me think of "Beat on the Brat" by The Ramones, a song lambasting the inanity of corporal punishment and the mindless sort who practice it. There, the response to a "brat" is to "beat" him "with a baseball bat." This sounds like the kind of thing this conscience, as described in our song, would do. Its response, asked if that were the proper recourse, would be: "What can you do/ With a brat like that?"
Well, there are other things you can do with a brat, actually! Have you tried, instead a baseball bat... maybe a corn muffin?
Next Song: "Wartime Prayers"