Monday, May 27, 2013

Love & Blessings

The first thing we have to deal with is the official title of this track. The album's notes and cover use an '&,' but the website uses "And" (yes, with a capital 'A'). The Lyrics book, meanwhile, uses "and," with the grammatically correct lowercase 'a.' As there is no agreement, I am going with the &; because the album is the original document, and the one most listeners will encounter.

"Love & Blessings" is the last in the triptych of "Love" songs on this album (the others being "Love and Hard Times" and "Love is Eternal Sacred Light.").

The song seems to be about a revivification of an entire country or area. "Love and blessings/ Simple kindness/ Fell like rain on a thirsty land." This image seems to follow that of the second verse of "Boy in the Bubble": "the dry wind" "desert" "dead sand/ Falling." Here, "Fields and gardens.../ Came to life in dust and sand."

Relationships were revived as well: "as if old love was new." And business boomed, too-- along with, not in exploitation of-- this phenomenon: "Banker's pockets overflowing with gold and money."

Then the song shifts to a series of call-and-response phrases. A gospel choir sings "bop-bop-a-whoa," and the speaker replies "Ain't no song like and old song, Charlie," in reference to the fact that this is a sample of a song from 1938, at least (see the Musical Note below).

Who is Charlie? Is it Fat Charlie the Archangel from "Crazy Love, Vol II"? No, Simon uses this name to set up the next line: "Ain't no time like a good time, Charlie." A "good-time Charlie" is a "life-of-the-party" sort of fellow, so this line is a pun.

This, in turn, shifts to "Ain't no times like the good times, Charlie." The good times being, it seems, those filled with "love and blessings," "simple kindness," romance, and full granaries and coffers, all as described above.

Back to "bop-bop-a-whoa," a phrase that proves the link between gospel and doo-wop, two of Simon's favorite genres and ones referred to many times on this album in particular. But here, it seems a shorthand for... something. "Everybody [is] working for" it and one "Can't get enough of" it. But what is it? Money? Sex? Maybe it is different things for different people, the thing that makes them excited.

Tonally, we now shift back to the start of the song, with its imagery of nature and its effects on people. "If the summer kept a secret/ It was heaven's lack of rain." This is ambiguous at best. If it said, "If the summer kept a secret/ it was heaven's rain," then we would assume that the rain was held back, like a secret unspoken, and there was a drought. But "secret... lack of" is double negative of sorts. So... there was little rain, but the heavens didn't tell us about it? I think we would know how much or little rain there was, in any case! We would be the ones who were wet or dry.

From the next lines, it seems that rain was gone... but not missed, at least not by him: "Golden days and amber sunsets/ Let the scientists complain." However, the scientists soon have company in their worried grousing. The autumn leaves were "drained of color." How bad in the drought? "Ghosts in the water beg for more" (and what an evocative image!). Yet, is this true... or is it just that our "memory" was clearer?

The song ends with the speaker being "woken from [his] sleep" by "something." It seems to be the realization that "Love and blessings... [are] ours to hold but not to keep." This echoes Robert Frost's assertion that "nothing gold can stay."

Simon seems to be expressing two related themes, here. One is that the nature of abundance (and scarcity) is cyclical. The other is that people and society change in accordance with these cycles. Abundance brings warmth, which then turns cold when drought sets in. Once we become aware of this, however, we can adjust our behavior, and stay warm toward each other even when times are less kind.

Musical Note:
The "bop-bop-a-whoa" heard in the song is, appropriately for the "bridge" of the song, sampled from The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, specifically, their 1938 song "Golden Gate Gospel Train." (I am unsure whether the group named the song, vice versa, or neither). It was BB King who pointed Simon to the group, when they met backstage at Madison Square Garden for the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Next Song: So Beautiful or So What

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