Monday, June 24, 2013

The Shine

Paul Simon is listed as the third writer on this track. The first, naturally (this is on his album), is Harper, is son with his first wife, Peggy Harper. The second? His second wife, Carrie Fisher. With three writers' ideas involved, this is the longest track on the album (it's also in 3/4 time, appropriately enough).

It's incredible that these three people are able to write a song together, given their tangled histories. But perhaps not so surprising that the song is a break-up song full of regret, a number of the "how did we let it fall apart?" variety.

It begins with the idea of twilit space, "between waking and sleeping/... where the land meets the sea" (shades of "Scarborough Fair": "...find me an acre of land/ between the saltwater and the sea strand.") There, speaker says, "the shadows are keeping/ the shine that you once kept for me."

It's an interesting idea, taking the idiom "she's taken a shine to you" and imagining that "shine" as an entity of its own. The time between wakefulness and sleep is also the time of stars and moons, which also shine, and which appear in the next verse. Their shine is outside, however, while his former lover's, from her "sun" has "abandoned [his] room."

There's a line in the film The Philadelphia Story in which a man tells his would-be lover: "You're lit from within," and that idea mirrors the next set of images: "Your luminous smile.../ glows from your bones deep within/ Auroras were born on your skin." Women have been described a "radiant" before, but this woman is almost radioactive in her intensity.

Next, we have some technological imagery, relating to the speaker's regret. He wishes to "rewind our lives" as if it were a videotape and "erase the danger with a magnetic pen." This verse loses the light-based metaphor of the previous verses, but perhaps there is no way to convey a return in time with such imagery. Light is light, yesterday as today.

The next verse has a very simple, but very poignant couplet: "Maybe I didn't love you the way that you wanted/ But I've never loved anyone more." Well, we found the "danger," then, didn't we. This relationship was doomed from the outset; while the amount of love was never in question, the way the love was conveyed was not what its recipient required.

"It dazzled from your sun to mine," is how that love was transferred. Perhaps that was the problem. A sun does not need to receive light, and so both participants in this relationship were so busy "shining" love forth from themselves, they did not stop to receive any of it from the other. "I've never loved anyone more" sounds wonderful, until you realize that too much light is not necessarily illuminating but, after a point, a blinding light (compare to a "deafening noise").

The speaker concludes that he needs some, as we say today, "alone time," now that he realizes that "nothing I say seems to change your mind." Again, perhaps what he should be doing, instead of saying anything, is listening.

Unfortunately for a song that has been fairly lovely to this point, it ends on an unsavory joke. The dismissive expression "(stick it) where the sun don't shine" tells the listener to please deposit his opinion in a part of the human anatomy that is, shall we say, rarely in need of sunscreen.

Had the song ended, "Everywhere I look is just a canyon/ Where the sun will never shine," well, fine then. It would have been sad-- and fitting, since the bulk of the song was about being in his lover's "shine," and now he is relegated to the shadows.

Instead, the last line is about a canyon "where the sun don't ever shine." This "don't," I'm sure, is meant to merely sound casual, which was a wrong choice on its own, given the lovely poetic language we have had thus far: "The stars are all laughing and twinkling/ In a language they share with the moon." Sadly, instead of simply being colloquial, the word conjures up the above colloquialism.

Up to this point, the song is as pretty a break-up song as they come, a lullaby a heartbroken soul sings to himself as he fitfully drifts off to sleep, alone in the dark, after the shine has worn off.

Next Song: The Girl For Me

[Note to readers: This concludes Simon's current output to date. As was discussed, when this point was reached, this blog will circle back around to Simon's first, 1950's-early 1960's work... and progress forward again until his first official Simon and Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., until the promise in the blog's title-- Every Single Paul Simon Song-- is fulfilled.]


  1. That is an interesting take on the last line. I see the casual style as finally a raw expression of true feeling from a man tired of trying to sugarcoat the narrative with poetic metaphors. But it wasn't really written together regardless. As Harper tells it, Carrie came up with the original lyrics (her first attempt at a song) which were then redone to good effect by Paul a few months later. It isn't clear how much of her version still remains.

  2. Elizabeth-- Thanks for clearing up some of the details about the song's progress. I still maintain that the last idea, "where the sun don't... shine" calls to mind that expression whether it was intended to or not, and should have either been modified or left out. There is no way that 3 people heard that line and didn't realize how it might be taken by listeners.