Monday, January 27, 2014

Forever and After

This tender break-up song represents a leap forward in Simon's writing capability. It presages the folk-guitar songwriting that defines, for many, the Simon and Garfunkel sound.

The opening verse is in the traditional a-b-a-b rhyme scheme. It also contains what is called a "concrete" image. Rather than some vague musing about missing a sweetheart and some poetry about dove or rainbow, it gives the listener a real-life, daily-life "metal picture" to symbolize the passage of lonely time: "How long am I going to miss you?/ How many cigarettes will I have to burn?"

(Think of later concrete images of Simon's: "She crept to my tent with her flashlight" from "Duncan,"  "Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike," from "America" " and "Laying out my winter clothes" from "The Boxer.")

The first half of this song, in fact, is a series of questions, a technique used in every song from "Close to You" by The Carpenters to Dylan's signature "Blowin' in the Wind." The speaker here continues, "When can I make my lonely heart realize/ That you will never return?"

Then we have a couplet that seems to imply that it will be the refrain: "How long will I hear your warm laughter?/ I'm afraid-- forever and after." This is a nice gloss on the overused "forever and ever" or "forever and a day."

Since the title of the song is "Forever and After," we presume that we will next have another quatrain, again followed by this couplet.

We're wrong. We have another two lines; still, we think these might be the second half of the chorus, especially since they continue the question motif:  "How many times do I hurry home to you/ To find you gone, to find you gone?"

This repetition of a phrase is very reminiscent of the folk songwriting style. Think of "We Shall Overcome," "Kumbaya" or "This Little Light of Mine" ("Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine").

Then, we have two more verses, but each has six lines, with the third and sixth rhyming. The first of these is "Each time I held you near me/ I hear you say you love me/ More than the day before/ You'd smile when you would see me/ Take your kisses to me / And go on wanting more." [The emphasis on the rhyme is mine.]

In this verse, we hear the speaker rehashing the relationship, as in many break-up songs, missing both his sweetheart and the feeling of being in love. We hear him think on the good times, as we expect.

Next, we assume he will wonder "what went wrong." Did he make a mistake? Did she? Was there someone else? Did they simply outgrow each other... or get pulled apart by fate?

But all we get is: "Though things sometimes went wrong/ It never, never lasted for long/ It wasn't worth the care." In this case, that expression means means "it wasn't worth the bother, the trouble." When there were fights, they were brief and unimportant. So as far as he is concerned, the reason for the break-up remains elusive.

There seems to be a grammatical disagreement between the plural "things" and the singular "it." But consider the "correct" alternative: "Though things sometimes went wrong/ They never lasted for long." That's just not how people talk. "It," we know, refers to the particular disagreement, whatever it was about, not the "things" that went wrong.

The song ends with the reason the fights were short: "For then we had each other's love/ We had so much, so much to share, so much to share." There's that internal repetition again.

There is only sadness here. No anger, no finger-pointing or name-calling. Just a wonderful, tender love that... ended. Perhaps if the speaker knew why she left, he could get what we today call "closure," and find a lesson to carry forward into his next relationship: "Well, I won't do that again" or "I won't fall for someone who does that again."

But we all know that, sometimes, there is no answer, no closure. And when that happens, we can find ourselves wondering, "If it was so great, why did it have to end?" We reminisce, question, smoke another cigarette, and wonder... forever and after.

By altering his verses' shape in mid-song, and presenting a potential chorus and then not actually repeating it, Simon does two things. One is to symbolize the song's theme-- expectations going unmet-- in its very structure.

The other is to begin to delineate his signature style. He begins, here, to explore the idea of altering a song's structure midstream, of fusing two songs into one. He also sings solo, to an acoustic guitar-- not a "pop music" move.

This is a Tom and Jerry song, to be sure. But it's one of the few that, had it appeared on a Simon and Garfunkel album, would have been completely at home there. Yes, it has elements of The Everly Brothers wistfulness, and the melodic folk tradition, and the new grittier folk style.

But it fuses these elements, then adds a confident intelligence and a willingness to not find answers to the questions it raises. With "Forever and After," we really stop hearing the pop star-wannabe that was Jerry Landis... and we start recognizing the mature Paul Simon we know today.

When this song was written, he could have been no more than 18. As if we weren't impressed enough already. No, Simon was not finished trying to be Elvis or Dion... or an Ink Spot, an Everly Brother or Brill Building teen idol, as we shall see (and it's possible that, in his 70s, he's still trying!).

But he was starting to come into his own, find his voice, and define himself as a songwriter. It's still the 1950s when this song is recorded. But "Forever and After," in style and substance, is a 1960s song. More importantly, it's a Paul Simon song.

Next Song: Aeroplane of Silver Steel

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