Monday, March 10, 2014


Among the hundreds of words Shakespeare is credited with coining, one of the most popular must be "lonely." In fact, it can be shown by a catalog of his lyrics that Sting would not have had a songwriting career without this word. Simon himself has many titles that use the word in some form, and both songwriters-- now on tour together-- have explored the idea in great depth and breadth.

This is actually quite an affecting little song. It's melancholy without lapsing into lugubriousness.The lyrics are pitched a bit above the average teeny-bop reading level, making it poetic without being academically so.

This time, we have a speaker lying in bed thinking about his lost love: "Loneliness/ You're gone and I must confess/ My nights are spent in misery/ Only my sorrow lingers with me."

In the next verse, Simon uses imagery that Smokey Robinson later would in songs like "Tracks of My Tears" and "Tears of a Clown," of the person who is only smiling on the outside: "Although I laugh, it's just a pose/ Inside I cry, but nobody knows."

He explains that he is "playing a part," but he "can't deceive [his] heart," let alone laugh his way out of his doldrums.

Then he poses a paradox:  "There's no one to share my loneliness," he says. Yes, but if someone were there, wouldn't that mean he would not be lonely in the first place? This is similar to the idea Stevie Nicks poses, in "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?" with her lyric: "I'd rather be alone/ Than be without you."

It gets to the root of why Shakespeare needed the word to begin with. "Alone" is one thing; it just mean "solitary." Some people, like Norma Desmond, even want to be alone. But if being alone is a problem for you, then you are "lonely"... even in a crowd. If "alone" is just "1," then "lonely" is "2 minus 1."

Stevie Nicks would rather be simply "alone" altogether-- with no one at all, and no emotional loss-- than be "without" the one she loves. To her, it is, despite the saying, better to have "never loved at all" than to have "loved and lost."

And Simon, here, could have a friend or brother, similarly heartbroken or longing for love, and at least have someone to "fill the emptiness" and talk about how lonely they are.

The song closes on a note of despair: "I can't forget your memory/ At night, it haunts my reverie."
Maybe things will look better in the morning? "Without your love, I can't endure." Maybe not.

This is not a song of agony, of gnashing teeth and tearing hair. It is not a song, like Sting's "Every Breath You Take," of rage and possessive revenge.

It is simply a long sigh. It's the song of the dull, continuous ache of an endless-seeming, solitary night, spent staring at the ceiling, in a bed with only one's regrets for company. While our speaker's eyes may be welled with tears, he's past weeping. Now, it just hurts.

The bass backup singers presage Simon's use of such groups as the Jesse Dixon Singers and the Dixie Hummingbirds. Meanwhile, the twangy bass-line on guitar  recalls that of early Johnny Cash.

Simon's delivery is a major part of the song's success. He doesn't emote much, or even moan. He's too wrung out, emotionally, for that. He returns to this delivery in songs like "Hearts and Bones" and especially "How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns." This song is a lost, understated gem.

Next Song: Dreams Can Come True

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