Monday, April 22, 2013

Dazzling Blue

This is a jaunty song, as happy as "Feelin' Groovy" or "Born at the Right Time." It is also, if you just read the lyrics, one of Simon's finest promises of love.

The opening verse, however, is hesitant. "Silence is revealing," the speaker muses-- nothing is a secret anymore, not with the Internet and the "CAT scan's eye." There are shades, here of feeling that technology is a double-edged blade, a sense discussed earlier in "Boy in the Bubble" ("lasers in the jungle," etc.). "Now-a-days," (a word not used much, now-a-days!) the speaker continues, "everything is known." And that is somewhat good, and somewhat not, but a fact nevertheless; now we know we know what is "truth or lies" even if no one says anything.

Similarly, whether love is an "accident" or "destiny," the speaker says, "You and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue." Are stars randomly accidental or divinely predestined? It matters not-- the star is dazzlingly beautiful, as is this love.

The next verse contains an echo of "Kathy's Song": "Worlds apart on a rainy afternoon." Back then Simon threw his hands up at creating music under such misery, saying his words "tear and strain to rhyme," so upset is he with being apart from Kathy. But now, music is the answer to loneliness: "Turn your amp up and play your lonesome tune" (a phrase that starts off like a line from "Late in the Evening.")

Another interpretation of this verse is that the couple is physically close, trapped in the living room under the same rain cloud, but "miles apart" emotionally. The line "miles can't measure distance" may imply that physical distance is not meant here.

However, the line about "the road" implies that one or the other (if this is Simon speaking, his wife is also a musician) is on tour. And, while music is the reason they are apart, it is also something they share, and that binds them, even across "miles."

The bridge is a twist on the old line "Roses are red, violets are blue." Here, the star is blue, but the "roses" are "red," and then there is the "fine white linen" of their "marriage bed." A bit more adult than "sugar is sweet and so are you"!

As important as the bed is "a wall that nothing can break through." The idea of a marriage needing a "wall" around it is not a new one. Real life assails it on all fronts, and a couple must be united in defending their fortress. (But how different a wall is this from the "walls, steep and mighty/ That none may penetrate" constructed by the speaker in "I Am a Rock," who defends himself from love!)

So many things bind this couple. The sense of being born under the same star, the love of music, the mutual devotion to protect their marriage from outside assault... and one more: memories. The last verse is about a drive on Montauk Highway, on Long Island. The couple leaves the car to walk "along the cliffs above the sea."

Together, they "imagined it was someday." Which sounds like a marriage proposal, and what a pretty spot for one. "And that is how the future came to be."

But first, "they wondered why." And no answer did they seem to find. But that, perhaps is the point. Now that we know everything... what do we know, really? We don't even know why things are to begin with-- "accident" or "destiny"?

Turns out, it doesn't matter. They found each other, and they are happy about that. Do you really need to know why the star is dazzling blue-- isn't it enough that it is?

Musical Note:
The background harmony vocals are performed by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, are a bluegrass/gospel group. As a pre-teen and soon after, Lawson taught himself to play mandolin, banjo and guitar. After playing in several other bands, he formed Quicksilver in 1979. And in 2012, he was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. (Also on the track are a dobro and fiddle, traditional country instruments.)

The rhythmic background vocals are performed by Indian singers and musicians, who also play a two-headed pitched drum called a tabla, and a clay pot.

And, for good measure, Simon himself chimes in, literally, on glockenspiel.

Next Song: Rewrite



5 comments:

  1. Hi Paul,
    Firstly, thanks for your insights and all the great work you have done in this blog. This is the first place I look when I get utterly confused by a Paul Simon song :)
    But more specifically about this song, I have recently heard “Once In A Blue Moon” which was written back in 2003 by Edie Brickell and I think there might be some lyrical connections here. “Once In A Blue Moon” tells the story of how two lovers meet. Although it is done partly in third person it sounds like the story of Edie herself and Paul. For one thing it is in agreement with the story told in “Thelma” by Paul Simon. And also the song has descriptions of the man of the story which sounds very much like Paul Simon. Descriptions such as these: “But that sad look on your face…”; “Eyes like faded jeans, soft and blue and he had seen everything and he had been everywhere…”; “Til he turned his gaze her way, Longed to see her everyday”; “He was more than fun, She was more than young”. Now these two lovers that Edie talks about have met “Once in a blue moon”. Edie also explains that “He was fine before he met her”… “Til he turned his gaze her way, Longed to see her everyday, Heard a voice inside him say, He'll never never never be the same”. So I feel it might be that the “dazzling blue” that Paul is talking about is the light of the blue moon under which they have allegedly met and as Edie describes they are never going to be the same again and therefore in a sense they are (re)born.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yasmin-- Thanks for the compliment; to quote James Taylor, "That's why I'm here."
    And thank YOU for the Edie song. I have a couple of her albums with the New Bohemians and one of her solo albums. But of course she would have written him a love song, and I should have listened to her whole catalog if I wanted to know his whole story.
    I write this to share what I know about Simon's work-- it's always gratifying to see this blog become a forum for others to share their knowledge, too. I should copy your comment and post it on the Thelma page, too!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yasmin-- Thanks for the compliment; to quote James Taylor, "That's why I'm here."
    And thank YOU for the Edie song. I have a couple of her albums with the New Bohemians and one of her solo albums. But of course she would have written him a love song, and I should have listened to her whole catalog if I wanted to know his whole story.
    I write this to share what I know about Simon's work-- it's always gratifying to see this blog become a forum for others to share their knowledge, too. I should copy your comment and post it on the Thelma page, too!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I always thought, long before Trump wall, that this song was about the US. I don't think it's a love song and to me it seems pretty bitter. Blue red and white are the colors of the American flag and I guess that "sweet July" refers to July 4th. The beginning of the song seems to me quite gloomy: there's no way to tell truth from lie, the sky is empty, meaning there's no stable truth anymore (neither religious nor political - remember "some people say the sky is just the sky"), even though everything is known thanks to technology tools like the CAT scan's eye (everything is known, but no truth is known anymore). I also guess that the "lonesome tune" is the song itself. Maybe it's because I'm Italian and I can't grasp the real meaning, but to me it is natural to feel the echo of American history in many Paul Simon's songs.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Heino-- I admit I had never considered that the song might be about Simon's feelings for America. It is an interesting intrepretation, but one I don't really see, upon re-reading the lyrics.
    Simon was born in October, not July, so he and America were not born under the same star (for what it's worth, Edie's birthday is in March). Also, the stars on the US flag are white, not blue.
    I do agree that the jauntiness of the melody belies the somber nature of the lyrics, especially the opening one.
    If anything, I see the song as rejecting politics, and the world, for the "isolationism" of one relationship.

    ReplyDelete