Properly, this song should be labeled a "bonus track." It was not conceived or written for the Surprise album, but for an animated movie spun off the Wild Thornberrys cartoon TV show (the family in the show has the surname "Thornberry.") As the movie is set in Africa, it is understandable that Simon was approached to provide the theme song. Not surprisingly, it is closer in sound to Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints than any of the electronic-based tracks on Surprise.
The straightforward theme of the song is contained in its chorus: "There could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you." This "love" is presented in the song is several ways.
One is in the form of protection. The song begins with the image of a child awakening "in the mirror of a bad dream," the implication perhaps being that the subconscious mind acts as a "mirror" to what is going on in the conscious world.
The father admits that he "can't guarantee there's nothing scary hiding under [her] bed." Yet, he vows to protect her from such terrors: "I'm gonna stand guard like a postcard of a golden retriever." This is an odd locution. One can image a father comparing himself to a faithful watchdog. But why a "postcard" of one? Postcards usually depict landmarks... while family pets are depicted in photographs, and such images are not sold at souvenir stands. Further, an actual animal would provide some actual protection, even if only to soothe the child's fear of the dark.
Perhaps Simon means that, since the object of the fear is itself a dream-- a "mirror" image of reality-- only the image of a protector is necessary to defeat it. The implication, then, is that even when the child does not have her father close by, the knowledge of his desire for her safety should be soothing, and perhaps even give her the courage to face her fear alone.
The song's last verse closes with this promise as well: "You don't need to waste your time/ Worrying about the marketplace/ Trying to help the human race/ Struggling to survive its harshest night." The father vows that his daughter will not have to "worry" about business or money. She will not have to develop a "savior complex" and dedicate her life to fixing others' problems, but be able to focus on her own development. And she will not have to be frightened of having to "survive" some natural catastrophe, man-made genocide, or crushing oppression. Her father will protect her from all of that.
Following through on this protection is the promise to be protective even after the danger has passed. The father says that he will not only comfort his daughter when she is shocked awake by a nightmare, but will stay until she returns to sleep peacefully.
Another way the father shows love is through the connection of shared memories. She should know she loves her because he always has. All she needs to do is "follow [her] memory upstream"-- that is, back toward its source, its earliest point. There, she will find the recollection of watching a meteor shower with her father one night. The image of a father sharing the sight of an nighttime astrological wonder with his child was also presented in Simon's earlier lullaby, "St. Judy's Comet."
Still, for all of this involvement and shielding, the father does want his daughter to be able to care for herself. He has faith in his daughter's own good judgement: "Trust your intuition," he tells her. She should not be afraid to take chances or be ambitious; "Cast your line and hope you get a bite," he encourages.
And he knows how to hold her loosely enough to allow her room to develop on her own. "I'm gonna watch you shine/ Gonna watch you grow." He is going to invest his time and care in her... and then step back and watch her succeed and become better on her own.
"I believe the light that shines on you will shine on your forever," the father says, "I'm going to paint a sign/ So you'll always know." It is the words "forever" and "always" that give the child what she truly needs: Security. Confidence. Once she has absolute trust in her father's faith in her, she can have faith in herself.
And so we see why she only needs a postcard of a dog to protect her. That's enough to call to mind the memory and knowledge of her father's belief that he has given her what she needs. He is always there, because she can think of him whenever she needs to.
While the song is about a father and daughter, it is Simon's son, Adrian, singing backup.
Vincent Nguni, with Simon since Graceland, plays rhythm guitar here (and not elsewhere on the album).
Also, it should be noted that longtime Simon accompanist Steve Gadd was the principal drummer on the album.
This pretty lullaby was nominated for the 2002 Oscar for Best Song (it lost to Eminem's "Lose Yourself").
It broke the Top 50 in Ireland and reached #31 in the UK, but did not chart in the US.
Next Song: Getting Ready for Christmas Day