[Note to Readers: For those reading these in the order in which I have posted them, this is the last post. As prolific as he has been, Paul Simon has only written an ultimately finite number of songs. As far as I know, I will have-- as of this post-- written about all of them. The only way I will add another post is if I come to know of yet another Simon song, or if Simon releases new songs and albums after this date, October 27, 2014. Starting next week, I will go back and fix any typos or other errors in earlier posts, and continue to respond to your comments. I may also create a page listing all the songs I know of that have been falsely attributed to Simon. I do know that I will start another Every Single Song blog, possibly in 2015, discussing the songs of Suzanne Vega; I know some of you might have assumed either Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen would be my next subject, but I started commenting on Paul Simon's songs in May, 2006 and am just finishing now. Meanwhile, Vega has published fewer than 100 songs, so that would only take me a couple of years or so instead of most of a decade. In any case, thanks for reading, and keep listening to the kind of music that makes you wonder and ask and meet great new people.]
The song is not about Carlos Dominguez, the current CEO of Cisco systems, who is 55, and the same-named Spanish footballer, a.k.a. Carlitos, is only 38. We can know this because this track was written in 1962 or '63, under Simon's alias Paul Kane; it was the flipside of the 45 of "He was My Brother."
[Yes, last week's song was written later, and my intention has been to post these songs chronologically when I know the dates. I also knew that this was to be my last post, and I just didn't want to end the blog, after eight-and-a-half years, writing about Nixon's relationship with Cuba, of all things.]
This song is about a modern-day Diogenes, on a perpetual psychological search. Unlike the ancient Greek, Carlos seeks not for an honest man but for... many things.
We are introduced to him by someone who is concerned enough about this obviously "unhappy man" to ask him two questions: "[You are] always running away/ What are you searching for?/ Why do you cry every day?"
Carlos explains that he searches every day because he "cannot find" the objects of his search. Overall, he seeks "a way I might find piece of mind. Why does he run? "I'm lost." Why does he cry? "I'm afraid."
In the chorus, the questioner repeats himself. This time, Carlos is more forthcoming. "I search for a truth, all I found was a lie/ I look for eternity, but I find all men die/ I'm looking for answers, but I find only fate/ I'm searching for love, I find in this world is hate."
Carlos is having a major crisis. He feels, with Yeats, that entropy is the only rule: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold." There is nothing reliably good, not even anything reliably... reliable.
Those in his mindset have a few options. Some find solace in religion. Some turn to science or some political ideology. Some try therapy or some forms of... self-medication. Some even turn to crime and other forms of selfish stuff-gathering.
And some follow the path suggested by the original version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "muddle through, somehow." They stop looking for the One Big Thing that ties up reality in a nice big bow and instead decide what matters to them, and then work on that.
Viktor Frankl-- a psychiatrist who continued to counsel his fellow Jews even though they were all in the same Nazi concentration camp-- suggested that there is no universal "Meaning of Life," but that each of us must find meaning in life. It's not about asking the Universe "Why are we here?" but asking oneself "Why am I here?"
Poor Carlos is not there yet. He is searching for the Grand Unified Theory and... not finding it in anything created by humans or found in nature. He has yet to stand still and look inside himself.
Perhaps there is no "truth"... but he can be true. There is no "eternity," but he can live a full life, and contribute to eternity through his works and children. There may be no "answers," but there is more than "fate"-- there is self-determination. There is free will. And even if there is no abstract "love" out there, he can still love. He can find love, or make it.
Musically, the song is Simon on a solo acoustic guitar, playing Spanish style, very well. As we have seen, Simon was fascinated with the wide world of music since his youth, ages before Graceland.
As for the lyrics... Simon, well Kane anyway, was at most in his early 20s when he wrote this, and it sounds like it. It sounds like a college-age person who has read the news and decided all humanity is lost. The song ends with the same questions with which it began, and its hero no closer to fulfilling his quest.
It is not inappropriate to, in this case, confuse the writer with his character, an earnest idealist and seeker after truth.
It is 1963, at the latest, when this song is published. The following year, 1964, will see Simon continuing to explore these same themes of yearning in another poetic, acoustic-guitar song. That song, and the themes of despair and hope that it explores, will not only launch Simon on his still-continuing career...
...but will be treasured by billions as one of the best, truest, most important songs ever written:
"The Sounds of Silence."
Next Song: The Mission