Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teenage Fool

Simon's influences, even his early ones, are many, ranging from The Everly Brothers to doo-wop and gospel. But one that looms large is Elvis Presley. In interviews, Simon has said that he wanted to be Elvis when he was young (he wasn't alone).  And in the movie One Trick Pony, when the band-mates play a game naming dead rock starts, it's Simon who ends the game with the line, "Yeah, Elvis is dead."

Here, young Mr. Simon does his best Elvis impression. You can almost see his upper lip snarl around the "Well"s (or rather "We-hell"s) that start every other line. The opening line, "They call me a fool" comes out: "They-hey call-hall me a foooo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hool." It's pretty adorable.

This song was released in 1958 or so. "Why Must I Be a Teenager in Love?" was released by Dion and the Belmonts in 1959 (and covered by S&G at their last concert before their 1970 breakup.) But "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" came out first, in 1956. It was sung by Frankie Lymon and the (wait for it) Teenagers.

So who's to say who influenced whom? There was enough teenage foolishness to go around.

That's just as far as the title. The theme presages another Dion hit, "Runaround Sue" (1961). In that song, Sue's promiscuity is the reason to "keep away from" her. (The "Wanderer" of Dion's next release that same year boasts of his own promiscuity. But that's a dissertation for another time.)

Simon's speaker's response to his girl playing the field? The chorus is: "They say that you play round with other boys/ Well, I guess that's just the way you are/ You know... that I'll never go/ And I'll always love you so."

So he is either more sophisticated or more desperate than "others." Which is it? It starts by saying "They call me a fool," as if he might agree, that yes, she's so wonderful he doesn't care if he has to share her time. "Just a crazy fool/ Who doesn't care what others say." 

After the chorus, however, muddies the waters somewhat: "They see us going steady." Wait, wasn't she just running around a minute ago?

Ah, but the next line is: "Well, they know we play it cool." Oh, so "steady" is a relative term. The sex-advice columnist Dan Savage recently coined a word that may apply: "monogamish."

Yet, regardless of the "steadiness" of their relationship, he is secure in her ultimate affection: "If they still think that you don't love me/ Well, they're just some teenage fool."

Their understanding seems to be that, to use the imagery of the playground, she's not as much a tetherball as a boomerang. She can do whatever she wants, as long as she comes back when she's done... which she will, as long as he accepts that that's just the "way" she is. So call him a "fool," if you like... but he thinks he has it pretty good; she is physically unfaithful, but emotionally true to him.

Keep in mind, it wasn't even the 1960s yet! Plus, Simon was, at the oldest, 17 when he wrote "Teenage Fool." Goodness gracious. Kids these days.

Next Song: Dancin' Wild

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