"Man plans and God laughs" is a classic Yiddish saying. Here, Simon paraphrases that: "Mankind theorizes, and God laughs." (This is the second of three songs on this album whose titles start with the word "love.")
This uptempo song starts with the chorus, defining the opposites of "love" and "hate." The former is a "light," the latter a "darkness." The former is "eternal," but the latter is a destructive "demon that feeds on the mind."
The first set of verses summarize the theory of the universe's beginnings: "Started with a bang... stars and planets... fire... colors... Moonlight... earth." While scientifically accurate, Simon's version is poetic as well, with verbs like "sang," "flew," and "warmed."
The next verse summarizes all of human history. "Earth became a farm/ Farmer takes a wife" (this last phrase is from the children's song-game "Farmer in the Dell"). So we have agriculture, society, even religion and poetry: "Wife becomes a river and the giver of life."
The next line takes us up through the Industrial Revolution-- "Man becomes a machine"-- and then terrorism: "a bomb in the marketplace." This takes up some of the themes and images of Graceland, especially the "Boy in the Bubble."
Well, now it's God rebuttal. Creation? "Big Bang/ That's a joke I made up." How do we know it's God? He says he has "eons to kill." Sadly, we haven't figured out when He's "joking/ someday they will."
God's summary of human existence is different as well. "'Love me'/ That's the main request I receive." Does He answer such prayers? "I love all My children/ Tears me up when I leave."
[Note: in the song, Simon lowers his voice to indicate that God speaks these two verses. He then raises it to its usual pitch for the next verses, which indicate that it is no longer Him. However, in the lyrics, the first-person is not changed at this point, so from the point of view of the song as a poem-- without the clues of the performance-- it continues to be God speaking.]
The idea of God leaving is reiterated from the previous track, "Love and Hard Times." The same way that this off-hand God jokes, He also is, in the words of the Allman Brothers, a ramblin' man: "Sometimes you gotta fly down that highway... [in] a new pre-owned '96 Ford."
Of His ability to take such vacations, God mockingly quotes some human cliches: "Free as a bird, knock on wood, thank the Lord." He's not thanking himself, just pointing out that such pagan concepts as knocking on wood sit comfortably in human minds alongside religion, despite our protests to the contrary.
According to Simon, God is not a fan recent human culture, either: "...pop music station/ That don't sound like music to me." Turning the dial allows Him to comment on another human innovation: "Politics is ugly." God, it seems, is not impressed with millennia of human endeavor.
Except... "At the end of the dial there's the gospel show." While Simon is no secret fan of such music, it is interesting that he thinks God might be, too. Yes, it is beautiful and powerful and harmonious, but it also praises God endlessly. Seems that while God gripes about how all the humans want is for God to "love" them, He's not above soaking up some admiration and adulation Himself.
At this, God pulls off the highway. Why? "There's a blizzard rolling down off the banks of Lake Michigan." Wait, can't God stop the storm? Or divert it only away from Himself?
Sure... but why? God, being omnipotent and beyond time, is in no rush. He also has no real reasons to interfere with the weather patterns He set in motion. Lastly, he seems glad for the excuse to "rest."
Throughout the song, the chorus repeats. Love is light, hate is "sight without sight." As Simon said long ago in in "Sound of Silence," "talking without speaking" and "hearing without listening" lead to despair and idolatry. So "sight without sight," or "looking withing seeing" is a result of hate-- you see the person's skin or clothes, not the person.
Regardless of which is true-- the Big Bang or The Good Book (or even the Big Bang being the "how" of Creation, and the Bible being the "why")-- love is eternal, and eternally good. And hate is evil and destructive, the opposite of creative.
This is the second song on the album so far to deal directly with the idea of Heavenly love, and here that seems the focus, love as a concept, not a romantic relationship. We shall return to the triptych a few songs hence.
The musical referents on this song show that, while Simon has explored the world's music, he is still an aficionado of American roots music.
The background vocals are done by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, a bluegrass act we met in the earlier song "Dazzling Blue."
The harmonica solo is performed by blind harpist Sonny Terry, a folk-blues legend. He played Carnegie Hall back in 1938, made recordings for The Library of Congress, and accompanied Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. He even had a two-year run on Broadway as part of the musical Finian's Rainbow. In the 1950s, he turned to R&B, then back to folk when that wave swept through the '60s. His recordings with guitarist Brownie McGhee are acoustic classics, prized by fans of both folk and blues music. He passed away in 1986, at age 74.
There is also a sample of a 1929 song called "Train Whistle Blues," a Jimmie Rodgers... track. Known as "The Singing Brakeman," Rodgers was a country singer specializing in train-related songs. This particular song is a standard-style blues number about a penniless man hopping a passing train. It is used in the background when the radio in the song reaches the gospel station.
Next song: Questions for the Angels