Monday, October 14, 2013

Wildflower/ Wild Flower(s)

As with "Motorcycle," there is some disagreement among anthologists as to whether the title is one word or two (it is sometimes incorrectly pluralized as well; the "wildflower" in question is an individual woman).

There is also dispute as to whether to credit it to Simon as Jerry Landis (which is accurate) as part of Tom and Jerry (wrong) or Tico and the Triumphs (right). The roughness of the sound and multi-voiced backing harmonies clearly mark it as a Tico track, this time with Simon on lead. But, since there are too few Landis-penned Tico songs to make an entire album, these are usually included with other Jerry Landis or Tom & Jerry compilations, adding to the confusion.

The song itself begins with pounding the tom-tom drums and "shave-and-a-haircut" beat of a Bo Diddley song, and then gets even more... exotic, as we shall see.

The lyrics are about another "Runaround Sue" type named Mary Lou, although it doesn't seem that she runs around to other men. Rather, she is simply possessed of a wanderlust, albeit one of addictive proportions. "She was a wanderer through and through... Like the wind she would roll around."

The chorus explains that her "wild" nature, while attractive, is not conducive to a stable relationship: "She wasn't the type to be settlin' down... Wildflower, come back to me!"

Mary Lou was not the type to simply pop over to New York or Las Vegas for a weekend now and then, either. She traveled "far from home... on her wild shores/ far across the sea."

Soon enough, the inevitable happens. Mary Lou leaves on one of her epic jaunts... but with no sign that she expects to return: "One day when I came home/ I looked around and she was gone."

As distraught as the speaker is-- "I cried about her every hour/ How I love my wildflower"-- he cannot have been all that surprised.

What makes this particular song astonishing, however, is that the instrumentation-- the driving percussion, the reedy musical bridge-- and the mentions of distant lands are not the only parts of the song that give it an exotic flair.

It's the middle third of the song, comprised of lyrics in another language. To my ear, they sound Hawaiian. In any case, there seem to be two lines, each repeated multiple times, something like "Man-gu-ne ma-ku-la-ne" and "la-ha-na-gu-na, la-ha-na-gu-ne." But don't take my "words" for it-- find the song on YouTube (incorrectly identified as a Tom and Jerry track) and let me know if you can translate it.

That Simon was including non-English lyrics in a song as early as 1962, I again assert, astonishing. Those who point to "El Condor Pasa" and "Mother and Child Reunion" as precursors to Graceland are off by several years! Further, using foreign words in a folk-music standby, but it would be interesting to see how early this phenomenon took place in a pop or rock music context.

At his age when Simon wrote the song, it seems, the very idea of traipsing about the globe seemed impossible for him to fathom. So isn't it ironic that Simon himself became someone who explored "wild shores" so "far across the sea" as South Africa and Brazil to find the sources of the music of his youth.

Perhaps he did know a "Mary Lou" who, in showing him the excitement of travel, served as a role-model. If so, aren't we glad she did?

Next Song: Express Train

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