Monday, November 11, 2013

The Lone Teen Ranger

The fictional vigilante known as "The Lone Ranger" has been part of American culture for decades. Basically Robin Hood reconfigured as a cowboy, he is a former Ranger, and as such usually traveled with a group of fellow Rangers. But his unit was ambushed and wiped out, save for himself. This is why he considers himself the "Lone" Ranger, even while he is always accompanied by his Native American sidekick, Tonto. Together, they fight criminality as it crosses their path, always on the hunt for the gang that left him an "orphan." The masked character has been a mainstay of American popular culture, his stories told on the radio (he debuted there in 1933), television, books and comic books, and film... even to this year (2013), his 80th anniversary.

This explains the gunshots, ricochets and galloping hooves heard in "The Lone Teen Ranger." Having explored the idea of adolescent loneliness in several other ways, Simon turns to the popular icon and adapts his "lone" status for this purpose. Only this time, the one called "Lone" has legions of followers, while the speaker is the one abandoned by his girl for the Ranger.

The song begins with the bass vocal intoning, "Hi-yo, Silver-- away!" which was the Lone Ranger's catchphrase for galloping off on his shiny white steed, Silver. It ends with the speaker asking "Who was that masked man?" another catchphrase from the show, asked by a witness as the Ranger speeds off into the sunset. Even the sax solo at the break is taken from The William Tell Overture, used as the show's galloping theme song.

The song is one of the few to register a common teen complaint-- a girlfriend's attentions stolen away by a teen idol such as a musician or actor. While totally inaccessible to the teenage girl, this figure's flashing eyes, wavy hair, and dreamy voice are nothing the average acne-ridden teenage boy can compete with for attention.

"Oh, he rides around on a big white horse/ He's as cool as he can be/ And my baby fell in love with him/ When she saw him on TV," laments the abandoned, now-lonely boy. "And since that day... She hasn't had time for me," he continues, "To save my soul, I can't get a date."

He points his finger directly at the character: "You know who's to blame!" Another reading is "You-know-who's to blame," as in, "you know whom I mean without my having to say his name, which I cannot bear to repeat in any case."

The bridge has the line "The Lone Teen Ranger stole my girl/ He left Tonto for me." Meaning not "he abandoned Tonto and chose me instead," but "left" in the sense of "He drank the water and all he left, for me, was the empty pitcher."

The speaker is determined to win back his girlfriend's attention, and affection. His plan? "Gonna wear a mask and ride a horse/ And carry a six-gun too/ She's gonna love me, too."

The poor sap thinks it's the Ranger's accouterments that attract her notice-- the costume and accessories. He couldn't be more wrong. It's the raw masculinity, the brave feats of derring-do, and the flouting of authority that attract her.

Tarzan has no mask, gun, or horse-- barely any clothes, in fact-- yet he manifests the same attraction. D'Artagnan, Zorro, Batman... James Bond, Indiana Jones, Wolverine... back to Robin Hood himself, all such heroes are cut from the same shadowy cloth. Heroic rogues go back even further, to be sure, to Hercules, Pericles, Bellerophon, Thesus, Perseus, and the warriors on both sides of the Iliad conflict.

The song itself is light-hearted novelty fare, full of sound effects, silly vocals, and lines like "She even kissed the TV set."

Yet, even underlying all the ridiculousness, we find another signature Simon teenager abandoned and alone, "unlucky in love." Why, he can't even compete with a fictional cowboy. At least this time, instead of "Cry, little boy, cry," we get the line ""I'm gettin' mad" and an attempt, albeit misguided, at fighting back.

Maybe instead of finding himself a Halloween cowboy costume, our hero will find himself a young woman with standards that are less... two-dimensional.

Next song: Lisa


  1. I think he's talking about how Art gets more attention than he does - Art is the Lone Teen Ranger....

  2. Bonnie-- That could be an interesting reading, except that, well, if Art is the Lone Ranger, then Simon is Tonto, right? And the Ranger "left Tonto" as the consolation prize, for him. It's possible, but more likely just an attempt to ride the coat-tails of a popular TV character.

  3. True, but Simon stated that so much of his writing is how he expresses and manages what he is feeling/emotions. He has said that seeing how AG's singing got the attention of the girls is why he wanted to sing in the first place as well but possibly his popularity even at 21 overshadowed NS more than he could was written in 1962 under Jerry Landis so perhaps it's too soon for my interpretation and yours is correct.

  4. Bonnie-- It's possible that "He left Tonto for me" could also mean "He left the role of Tonto for me to play, as the sidekick to his hero." In that reading, sure, the Ranger in the metaphor could be someone with a better voice or more airplay, either of which would translate into more success with "the ladies."
    But I tend to see the song as part of the overall pattern of his songs from this era about being left out, passed over, and lonely. In this case, he has a sense of humor about it.

  5. "To save my soul, I can't get a date," is a quotation from Western Movies by the Olympics.

  6. Musically, the song seems to borrow from other white doo-wop songs of the period: Baby Talk by Jan and Dean, Rip Van Winkle by the Devotions, and Imagination by the Quotations.

    This indicates that, during this period, Simon was listening to other teen music, was trying to make a hit, and hadn't yet discovered his own voice.

  7. These two posts discuss much the same issue, so I am responding to them at once. It is easy to dismiss any artist's early work as derivative; it is more fun, as you had, to try to peg the exact sources of the inspiration. Also, it's cyclical-- the producers see what sells and ask the songwriters to give them more of that, so that's what get written and produced and sold. An excellent analysis of this creative process can be found on YouTube, a short video series titled "Everything is a Remix."
    Anon 1-- I just listened to the Olympics' song you posted, and it sounds like Simon may have borrowed more than just the one line from that song. He might has well have titled it: "(My baby loves the) Western TV Shows."
    Anon 2-- As the first one (assuming you are different people) indicated, yes, this was Simon's learning-by-copying phase, one all artists go through. Some retype classic novels, some repaint classic paintings, and some reconfigure contemporary songs. It's not that different from any kid clomping around in daddy's huge shoes, learning how to walk.