Monday, October 27, 2014

Carlos Dominguez

[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


Monday, October 20, 2014

Cuba Si, Nixon No

The only version of this song available in full is on an S&G concert album titled Back to College, a recording of a performance in November of 1969. The college in question was Miami University of Ohio. As I learned when visiting that school, it was named for the Miami tribe of Native Americans, whose territory ranged from that area, in what is now Cincinnati, to the current city in Florida.

The song itself, as the title indicates, is one of Simon's most overtly political, and therefore one of his most dated, tracks. Only his songs "He Was My Brother," which mentions the Freedom Riders, and "Desultory Phillipic,"  which name-checks then-current newsmakers, come close in that regard.

The song seems to be about a US airplane hijacked and flown to Havana, Cuba, instead of its intended destination, New Orleans. There was a huge string of US planes hijacked to, or from, Cuba, starting in the 1950s and running through to 2007. They peaked between 1968-1970... with more than 30 such hijackings in 1969 alone! Many of the planes originated in the Southern US, naturally, but some from as far away as New York.

Still, I did not see any specifically bound for New Orleans but forcibly rerouted to Cuba. The nearest approximation was a Boeing 727 flight from New Orleans to Cuba hijacked in November 1968 by one Raymond Johnson. (One from Dallas was landed in New Orleans, and another from New Orleans was bound for Atlanta... but that one did not occur until 1980.)

The passengers numbering "120," as the song indicates, does match the idea of a smaller plane; the 727 generally carries 150-190 people (a 747 can carry more than 400).

But even the Johnson case is not a decent match. That particular case came a full year before the song was performed, for one. Also, the song describes the following scenario: "You know he's sitting in the cockpit, feels like he's in a dream/ Because he's heading to Havana, he should be goin' to New Orleans/ Pistol-cockin' senor, talking very slow and mean."

So it's seemingly not a "Raymond Johnson" doing the dirty deed. To drive the point home, the narrator points out: "The Spanish-speaking people have a different way of running the show."

Also, the idea that the person in the cockpit is the armed, Spanish-speaking one does not follow, as the second verse makes it clear that these are two different people: "He's got 120 passengers he'd like to get them back alive/ [unclear but sounds like] Pistol man is talkin'; he don't believe the man is jive."

Lastly, this hijacking took place in late 1968, while Nixon did not assume the presidency until January 1969. Now, he might have been president-elect at the time; elections are held in mid-November, and the Johnson hijacking was also that month. Unfortunately, I don't have the exact date of the crime. But it may not matter; "Nixon no" might be in protest of a potential Nixon presidency.

The only logical conclusion is that this was not intended to refer to a specific incident, but was a scenario cobbled from pieces of the many such incidents that had occurred.

Even though a planeload of US citizens is being hijacked, Simon seems to side with the desperado doing the hijacking: "Cuba si, Nixon no." (This may sound like language-switching, but the Spanish word for "no" is also "no.") It may seem odd that an American would side against an American president and in favor of a Communist regime run by Fidel Castro, and one that had aimed nukes at the US (back in 1962, in the Cuban Missile Crisis) at that.

But by then, people had a good idea of who Nixon was, too. If more people had said "no" at that point-- even without also saying "si" to Cuba-- US history would be very different indeed.

It's only 90 miles from a US coast to Cuba. The hijacker has "dysentery," says the song, "but there's not need to worry/ there's Havana on the radio." By plane, it's a very short journey indeed.

Musically, the song is raucous. It's a gut-bucket blues heavily influenced by Chuck Berry, along the lines of "Johnny B. Goode," but lyrically it is snidely political, like a Dylan or even a Phil Ochs number.


Musical Note:
It seems Garfunkel was against performing it. Given that there is only one recording of it altogether, it also seems that Simon agreed to retire it almost immediately. It is also reported that the song was written for the Bridge album but left off of the final version. It remains a curious... curiosity in Simon's catalog.

Next Song: Carlos Dominguez













Monday, October 13, 2014

The Pied Piper

You may have heard, on an oldies station, a song by one Crispian St. Peters that goes "I'm the Pied Piper/ Follow me," with a lot of piccolo in it. This is not that song.

It is another song, performed by a girl group called The Cupcakes, that also refers to the Grimm fairy-tale about the motley-dressed (or "pied") flute player whom, when he was not paid for removing the rats from Hamlin with his hypnotic flute-playing, came back and removed the children. This is why you have to "pay the piper" (yes, this is where the expression comes from).

In any case, our song here-- co-written by Richie Cordell (who sang "Dori Anne")-- credits Paul Simon on the 45 label. Not Jerry Landis or True Taylor, but Paul himself, under his own name. The year? 1965.

There is something wish-fulfilling about a musician writing a song about a guy who, just with his music, attracts all the girls. From Orpheus and his rabid groupies, the Bacchae, through Franz Liszt, to the girls a-swoon with Beatlemaina, music has attracted romantic attention. And for just as long, musicians have been hoping for some of that magical, musical aphrodisiac to work for them.

Here, the girls sing about it from their viewpoint. "He's up and down my block whistling his song/ I've got to follow him as he goes along." She is not alone: "There he goes, and right behind/ The girls all follow him in line... I'm only Number 5 and I fall right in line/ Pied Piper."

So, there's the effect. "I get this feeling that I just can't explain... Funny, how he's got a hold over me."

It's a pretty serious case. Even when he's not around, his impact is felt. "I get my homework and it's gotta get done/ It's almost 10:00 and I ain't begun." And when he actually shows up? "He's underneath my windowsill!/ Will I love him? Yes, I will!"

What's the cause, though? "He's the cutest boy I ever did see." Which never seems to hurt.

But mostly, "Here he comes again he's whistlin' that tune/ I get excited and I run out of my room." Yes, mostly it's the music.

The speaker admits, "I guess it's silly cause he'll never be mine," but still, "I don't feel bad." At some level, she knows it's a schoolgirl crush and is simply reveling in the glee of it all, like any good fan.

For once, the songwriter assays a woman's point of view-- what does he see through her eyes? Why, doting affection for an adorable musician, of course! A cute face and a pretty tune, that's what women want! How lucky for him that that's exactly what he's got.

But the tune is harmless. Adorable, in fact... and it should have been a hit. Shame that it was never rediscovered by, say, Berry Gordy or Phil Spector. How many girls could have identified with having a crush on the cute neighborhood musician? Probably more than a few.

For the guys, what an appropriate role model. Some off-beat clothes and a funky tune? Not to hard to come by. And hey, it worked for the Pied Piper.

Musical Note:
The Cupcakes were, in fact, The Cookies. But they also recorded as The Cinderellas, The Palisades, The Honey Bees, The Stepping Stones... and sometimes weren't credited at all.

Next Song: Cuba Si, Nixon No


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Please Don't Tell Her

This is the flipside of "Tick Tock," on a 45 by Ritchie Cordell (see below).

It's a bitter song, sung by a man who has every right to be bitter.

"Please don't tell her that I love her," the man begins, upper lip set stiffly. "If she should ask me I'll just say/ 'I hope you're happy with your new love/ On this...

Wait for it... here it comes...

"...your wedding day.'" Aw, no!

Not only does he have to attend the wedding between his love and another, he has to pretend to be pleased on her behalf. We might find him, after enduring the ceremony with a forced smile, not on the dance floor but at the bar.

While his pride is wounded, he still has some: "I don't want her sympathy." And anyway, it would only matter to him, as her pity would be insincere: "I know that now she has forgotten/ The dream she used to share with me." Poor guy.

In short, "I must be brave, though she's untrue."

But that's the Smokey-Robinsonesque facade. Inside, of course, he's a mess. "She'll kiss his lips and say I do/ I'll shed a tear by she won't know it."

The backup singers (which sound like they include Simon), sing-- to the traditional processional melody-- "Here comes the bride/ I wanna cry." They, like a Greek chorus, let slip what's really going on.

As Inigo says in The Princess Bride: "His true love is marrying another tonight, so who else has the cause for ultimate suffering?" If he makes it through the whole deal without breaking down, he deserves to catch the bouquet.

Like "Dori Anne," this is a tale of young angst, a popular topic for the slower doo-wop numbers, of which this is one. It has a melodramatic spoken, interlude, a "ba-b-b-ba," a lot of "oooh" in the background... the works.

Simon has often said that doo-wop was one of his major influences, and here we get to hear him assaying the form himself. It's not a classic like "Silhouettes" or "Sea of Love," but it's not half bad, either.


Musical Note:
Ritchie Cordell wrote some of his own songs, which you might have heard, for Tommy James and the Shondells: "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Mony Mony." A cover of the former (by Tiffany) was succeed at the top of the charts by a cover of the latter (by Billy Idol). The only other songwriters to replace one #1 hit with another? Lennon and McCartney.

Cordell also produced "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" for Joan Jett and an album for The Ramones.

Next Song: The Pied Piper

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dori Anne

"The Leader of The Pack" and "Dead Man's Curve" are two of the more well-known "dead teenager" songs (also called "teenage tragedy songs" or even the morbid "splatter platter").


These are songs that drum up pathos by creating an angst-y teen character, often one in a societally disapproved relationship, and usually a "bad boy" or "bad girl" archetype... and then killing them off.

This Simon-as-Landis song, performed by David Winters. In this case, the doomed teen is another archetype, the pure-as-driven-snow one, who of course did not deserve to die.

While most dead teenager songs seem meant as cautionary tales by adults, and James-Dean tragedies to teens, this one is just plain sad. The song starts with a contradiction: “I'm all by myself, but I'm not alone.” How so? “Dori Anne, you’re always with me.” How tender. Is she out of town, perhaps after a move, or attending a distant school?

“I walk along the shore and sit beneath our tree,” the speaker continues, yearningly. “You were 16, my most precious queen.”

“Were”? Oh, no. Well, break-ups happen. Best not to keep revisiting your old hangouts and move on.

“Then came that fateful day.” Suddenly, the song takes a darker turn… The speaker (actually speaking this time, as in “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’”) tells of the tragic death: “A blinding headlight, a crash in the night/ Took my Dori Anne away.” Truly awful.

“The rest of my life, my love will be true/ Dori Anne, I’ll always love you.” True, there is little getting over a trauma like that when one is in the throes of adolescence. (A better line however, would have been “I am always with you,” to invert the earlier “You are always with me.”

Also, there will be difficult times ahead for whomever falls for this boy, as they will have to compete with the memory of a dead teenage—and thereby perfect— romance. No less than James Joyce, in his short story “The Dead,” explores the impossibility of a fulfilling life for the person who marries one who, in turn, pines for a tragically lost teenage love.

So very many teens die each year. Today, it could be gunfire or an overdose or a bully-provoked suicide, but once parents mostly worried about illnesses and accidents, causes of teen death also still prevalent. While it is easy to dismiss or even mock songs like this for preying on teens’ hyperbolic emotional states, teen death does, sadly, occur. And when it does, teen survivors and mourners can turn to such songs to help them cope. Simply knowing that others have endured such pain can be healing, as is music in general— it is part of funeral services in most cultures, after all.

A co-worker of mine is actually attending an annual memorial service for a teen he knew who passed away. The young man was in a band and loved music; every year, attendees are asked to bring a song lyric to read at the memorial.

We’ll never forget him, the Leader of the Pack. 

Musical Note: David Winters began acting on TV as a kid, then moved to Broadway, playing Baby John in the original Broadway version of West Side Story, switching to the role of A-rab for the movie version. He then became a dance teacher and choreographer (Viva Las Vegas), then a director and producer, both on stage and onscreen. Through it all, he never stopped acting.

Next song:  Please Don’t Tell Her




Monday, September 22, 2014

One Way Love

[Chalk up another post under "better safe than sorry," as once again the song is recorded by Simon-as-Landis but the authorship is "unknown."]

"I love you/ Why don't you love me too?" Is this not a heading under which we can safely place a third or more of all songs, altogether? This answer-less question, so often asked, is the basis for much of poetry as well, and trying to come up with yet another poetic way to ask it begs the question-- what's wrong with just coming out and asking it?

The expression "one-way" brings to mind the traffic sign, and our speaker does not disappoint:
"We have hearts that never meet/ Mine goes down a one-way street/ Aching with the lonely beat/
Of one way love."

The subject, in case it is at all unclear, is unrequited love: "For your kisses, how I yearn/ But you never will return/ My one-way love."

The speaker has standards-- "Love should be a dream for two," Faced with his predicament, he has several options. One is to seek revenge. One is to pine forever. And there are dozens more.

But this time, a surprisingly mature tack is taken: "You don't care, so I decided/ I must break away from you."

Since she doesn't care, who is he telling? Himself. He is asserting himself, to himself, to reinforce himself.

He has had what some psychologists call "an attack of dignity." He has come to the conclusion that he is deserving of affection and, since this person won't provide it, he has the right-- the duty-- to seek it elsewhere. "There must be/ A true love meant for me," he declares, adding confidently, "I can find her if I try."

How will he know he has succeeded? Simple-- it will be a two-way street: "She will care as much as I."

And then? "Then my heart can say good-bye/ To one way love."

For a teenager, this is a remarkably mature work, on a psychological level. Faced with an unreturned affection, many teens would not have the presence of mind or self-worth to simply mourn and move on? How many songs do we have about "one-way love" that turn into a dead-end street? Isn't the Heartbreak Hotel  itself "down at the end of Lonely Street?"

Love should not be "one-sided," the speaker says. So, he leaves his one-way street and heads down another road. And if this one also leads nowhere... there are always still more roads.


Next Song: Dori Anne


Monday, September 15, 2014

Let's Make Pictures

This dreamy, breathy melody is prescient of "Cherish" by the Association, or perhaps that was a throw-back to this earlier sound. (Again, the author is "unknown," but the song is on a CD of Jerry Landis reissues.)

The song opens with a chorus of women singing what sounds like an ad for a vacation: "Sunlight shining on snow-capped mountains/ Lovers strolling by sparkling fountains."

But the speaker then reveals that this is a vacation he takes in his mind... when he is in the embrace of his beloved. "Close your eyes, I'll close mine/ Kiss me/ Let's make pictures, pretty pictures tonight."

With his eyes thus closed, he anticipates the serene scenes he will imagine: "One by one, soon they'll come/ I see pictures when you're holding me tight."

So intense are these images that he prefers them to both visual reality and any sort of auditory input: "Don't wanna hear bells ring, bird sing/ Like some other lovers do."

Lest the person kissing and holding him feel left out, thinking perhaps his flights of fancy are solo excursions, he clarifies: "I just wanna see those pictures of my future with you."

The other notable feature of this song is that Simon/Landis speaks some of the lyrics, as in the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." This was not a precursor to rap, as the lyrics are not read rhythmically, but simply read, the way an actor might read his lines.

The song portends to sophistication, but is clearly the work of a teenager trying to sound mature. But that's the case-- he can't afford to take his girlfriend to Tahoe to see sunlight glinting off snowy peaks, let alone to the famous fountains of Tivoli near Rome.

All he can do is visualize being able to take her to these resplendent romantic vistas. Luckily, he has a vibrant imagination and the poetic gifts to express it. Also, a girlfriend appreciative that he wants to take her to such pretty places, and might have the ambition to pull it off.

Every success begins with a dream, and she inspires him to lavish dreams. Maybe they will only make it as far as Coney Island or Niagara Falls. But wouldn't you rather be there with someone who thinks that it's just grand... than someone who grouses their way through Paris, muttering about prices and waiters and traffic?

Maybe this couple grew up into the one in Simon's song, "America," imagining their way down the highway from Michigan to New York on a Greyhound: "Laughing on the bus/ Playing games with the faces."

Even now, while they are just making out on the couch, he is able to transport them to the Riviera. So, it's only in their minds-- where, after all, is their love?


Next Song: One Way Love









Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Can Feel It Happening to Me

[Note: According to the liner notes I have, the author of this work is "unknown," but I am including it just in case.]

This is a very mature song, and an old-fashioned one, more along the lines of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" or "Embraceable You" instead of an Elvis or Everly song.

The song is set in the same circumstances as "Some Enchanted Evening," another song of that ilk. Our speaker sees a stranger from across a crowded room... OK, so he doesn't say it was "crowded," per se, but still, "I saw you clear across the room."

"I can feel it happening to me," he begins, ending with, naturally, "Let me see/ That you can feel it happening to you." This, then, is the theme-- did lightning strike her, too?

At first, he assumes, yes: "...when your eyes met mine/ Then the fire was there/ Desire was there." It's a bossa nova-ish number, but the emotion is as physically taut as a tango: "I'm aware of something very strange/ Deep inside, I know there's been a change...  Then the chills began/ Thrills began/ I held my breath/ Half-scared to death/ My knees grew weak/ I couldn't speak."

Then, he has doubts. What are the chances of lighting striking twice? "It started suddenly... can it be that love begins so fast?" Probably not... And did he ruin everything by his behavior due to his assumption/ hope that it had? "I'm afraid that I'll frighten it away/ If I... stare too much."

The song uses repetition in a very sly, sophisticated way to indicate that, regardless of whether she requites his ardor (yet)... he still has to say 'Hello' first! "Here I am/ Wondering how to let you know/ That here I am/ Wanting you with all my heart/ But when to start?"

To recap-- He sees her, has a love-at-first-sight experience, thinks she caught the spark too, and almost faints. Then he recovers and thinks, "Oh, great. I really came across as desperate. I imagined a whole relationship in my head and I don't even know her name yet. All right, let me take a breath. I'll wait for an opening-- stop ogling her! Come on, get a grip!-- and try to introduce myself without proposing if I can."

In the hands of a teenager such as Simon/Landis at this point in his career, the whole thing comes across, unfortunately, as a bit too sophisticated. This song belongs, instead, in the repertoire of a Mel Torme or Wayne Newton.


Next Song: Let's Make Pictures



Monday, September 1, 2014

The Growing Up Years

This is a special song if only for the fact that its arrangement consists of just Simon (sorry, Landis) and his semi-acoustic guitar. It's also a thoughtful rumination on adolescence.

George Carlin said that he resented being told to "Have a nice day." It put pressure on him, he fumed: "Now I've got to go out and somehow manage to have a good time!"

Our speaker feels the same sort of pressure to go find a party or something. "People all say, 'Laugh and be gay!/ Youth is the time for fun and pleasure.'" The adults around him wish to live vicariously through his winsome exploits, no doubt. But his mind is on more serious (ahem) matters.

Then another adult, one in more immediate authority, tells him to only focus other serious matters. "Dad tells me we can't go steady." His father tells him to limit his attention to schoolwork... and not to get too involved too young: "Don't try your wings before you're ready."

Faced with this intractable fate, our speaker does resigns himself, and breaks up with his girlfriend. "Now you and I must say goodbye/ There's nothing else we can do."

However, there is still a longing-- "How can I ever live without you?"-- and with it comes a resistance to his father's ironclad rule.

After all, time is on his side. While "long are the growing-up years," on the one hand, they will eventually result in his... actually growing up. And "strong is the ache in my heart." This convinces him to play the long game, and consider the break-up a temporary status, one to be reconciled once he reaches adulthood. "...when we're grown, you'll be my own," he vows, "Never, no never to part."

Now, we adults know that this is unlikely. Yes, there are cases in which high-school sweethearts wed. But in general, once college keeps two young adults in separate time zones for four years, such passions cool. Since they can't be with the one they love, as the CSN song goes, they love the one they're with.

"Youth is wasted on the young," sighed Shaw, sounding like one of the adults in the song urging teens to sow their wild oats. But this teen doesn't even have time for that. He's making some very grown-up commitments that he can't even keep because of his schooling.

It's a shame that his father can't see that his goal-- preparing his son for adult life-- is being done in a limited way. Yes, part of being an adult is getting a degree, finding a job, and making a living.

But another major part is making a life! The relationship he's being deprived of would mature him in other, equally important ways.

Chances are good that his serious young man will seriously pursue the young woman he is so serious about, once he gets the freedom to do so. This might be one of the times high-school sweethearts weather the storms of college and do end up together.

For now, maybe he should have his dad talk to his mom. She'd set the old man straight.


Next Song: I Can Feel It Happening to Me

Monday, August 25, 2014

That Forever Kind of Love

Even thought this Johnny Cash-like number mentions grooms and brides, it will never be used as a wedding dance. How do we know? Its first lines are: "All of my friends who've gotten wed/ Seem to wish that they were dead." And, as they saying goes, it's all downhill from there.

"I'll lead a bachelor's life instead/ Unless I find/ That forever kind/ of love."

Divorce rates rose sharply in the late 1940s, then settled back down... but never to the almost-nil figures they had been. Still, the stigma on divorce-- societal, religious, etc.-- was still in force, and many unhappy marriages persisted.

"Take a happy bride and groom/ Look at them-- it's love in bloom," just like most of the pop songs of the day insisted it could, would... and should.

"But later, watch their dream go 'boom,'" Simon, as Landis, laments. "They didn't find/ That forever kind/ of love." [emphasis mine]

The chorus paints their average day: "He buries himself the paper/ She complains and nags and wails." For those of us who don't remember, "the paper" is what we called the newspaper, which was printed on actual paper and delivered stories of yesterday's events to our homes. So the more he ignores her, the more upset she gets, and the cycle escalates (it's a three-dimensional cycle, OK? Just... go read your paper.)

Our speaker is almost thoroughly disenchanted. After all, he has been sold in marital perfection since he was tucked in by Mother Goose and entertained by Walt Disney: "It seems like happy endings/ Are only in fairy tales."

Well, almost disenchanted. He still holds out hope that the "forever kind of love" exists, and that it will happen to him-- "I wouldn't mind/ That forever kind of love"-- and that the glow of early love will last: "Married and yet so starry-eyed... Forever groom and forever bride."

While there are many songs about wanting, finding, and getting love, there are far fewer about keeping it. And this one is about not keeping it. Again, yes, there are dozens of break-up songs, but the idea is that once you are married to the love of your life, you're finally done with all of that "Wishin', hopin', thinkin' and prayin'" and "tossin' and urnin'" that define the dating process.

But the speaker finds that even marriage is no guarantee of happiness and contentment! He surveys his married friends, and finds they have a whole new set of traumas and dramas to deal with.

"Why do fools fall in love?" then, as another song asks, answers itself. Why? Because they're fools! And "why must I be a teenager in love?" is also self-explained by the idea that we never stop being "teenagers" when it comes to love-- love make us teenagers all over again.

Our speaker is almost mature enough. He'll wait for the kind of love worth waiting for-- love with another person who wants to maintain that sense of wedding-day bliss. But soon after the wedding day-- actually, as soon as the ceremony is over-- we stop calling the couple "groom and bride" and pronounce them "husband and wife."

While it is wonderful to try to maintain that wedding-day bliss, it must also be understood that it is impossible to, under the stresses of daily life. Such high expectations cannot help but be dashed. The "forever kind of love," he will have to learn, is possible. It's just a different kind of love that the wedding-day kind-- not the same, as he thinks.

As a friend of mine puts it-- how many put all their planning into their wedding, which lasts just a day... and none into their marriage, which is supposed to last forever.


Next Song: The Growing Up Years


Monday, August 18, 2014

The People in the Story

The word "sentimental" is in the opening line, and that's a good word for this whole song.

It starts off obliquely, the way a person with an embarrassing condition might approach a doctor: "If I had... a friend... who has a rash..."

Similarly, this story starts: "There's a sentimental story/ Of two people that I know..."

It's not really a spoiler, even, to reveal the ending: "I'm the boy-- the girl is you."

Still, the speaker approaches her with this sideways shpiel, telling her about this hypothetical couple who "always loved each other so." In fact, "The people in the story/ Lived a storybook romance."

Well, as the Yiddish saying goes-- if it doesn't get better, it gets worse. Either he is working his way up to a proposal, with something like, "Would you like to live happily ever after with me?

Or... um...

"Then they had a lovers' quarrel/ No, I don't recall the reason why.../ And the boy said, 'Goodbye.'"

He was so mad he broke up with her, and now he doesn't even know what he was mad about. Oops.

But wait, if he broke it off, why is he talking to her now? "Now, he's begging for forgiveness/ And a chance to start anew."

It is an interesting approach:. "Imagine, hypothetically, two people in love, and, in theory, the boy stormed off for no real good reason. If he said he was really really really sorry, hypothetically, she'd have to take him back, right?"

He'd better have a better strategy than this. Let's hope he showed up not just with a "sentimental" song but flowers or chocolates or concert tickets (all they have done so far is "go to movies" and out to "dance").

The good news, he is admitting fault, he is coming forward, and he is not blaming any of it on her. Guys like that don't fall out of the sky. She should tell him they can start a new chapter (oh, great. Now I'm doing it).


Next Song: That Forever Kind of Love





Monday, August 11, 2014

Hiding in the Chapel

The songs starts with a city-wide search for the speaker: "All over town, the question is going 'round/ 'Where, oh where, can he be?'"

The reference to the old song "Where Has My Little Dog Gone?" leads us to understand that they are searching for him out of concern, and that this is not, say, a manhunt for a criminal.

However, he is not hoping for rescue, either. He is, in fact, just looking for a place to be alone to mope. "I'm hiding in the chapel... You ask me why I sit here and cry... Oh, Lord above/ The only girl I love/ Has gone."

Even though he is not a criminal, he is using the chapel as a sanctuary of a similar sort. Mostly, he is hiding from the concerns, blandishments, and cheering-up of others. He is sad, and wants to be sad. And, just as a wounded animal does, he found a safe den in which to lick his wounds, so to speak.

In a way, he is also signaling those who search for him that he is in severe emotional pain. If he were mostly fine, he would seek their solace and allow himself to be comforted.

Also, he is hiding, he says, "from a broken heart." Something about the chapel allows him to feel distracted.

The next line is somewhat melodramatic: "Here I'll stay, until I hear her say/ That she wants me back again." This is passive-aggressive, but also typical behavior for a wounded person. Probably, he will stay until he gets hungry enough to leave.

Up to this point, he has imagined that his lost love has done one of three things-- moved on, mourned the loss of their relationship, or joined the search for him in order to take him back.

Then he realizes, or has somehow heard (unlikely, as who could tell him?), a fourth possibility: "If it's true that she is hiding, too..."

She might be pulling the same stunt he is! In that case, "I'll search for her." Well, he has put himself in a Catch-22. He is willing to seek her out of she is hiding, but cannot know if this is the case since he is hiding!

It would be easy to deduce that the speaker is disturbed. More likely, he is freshly hurt and simply seeking a place to be alone with his thoughts-- and the Lord. His behavior in this sense, is rational in its irrationality. Of course he's not making sense; his world has just been upended!

There is an assumption that someone sad needs to be cheered up. But sometimes, it's important to just be sad, to have the feeling fully, and let it subside on its own. Attempts to suppress it will only cause it to fester and build up pressure until there is an outburst.

Our speaker is in mourning, a legitimate and perfectly healthy reaction to heartbreak. He will get better, and sort his conflicted feelings out. At least he knows that he needs privacy and solitude in order to do so, and has the wisdom to seek out a place where no one will look for him, so he can recover in peace.

NOTE: This next series of songs is not available, as far as I can discern, online. They are on parts 2 and 3 of a series of 3 CDs collectively titled "Paul Simon aka Jerry Landis: Work in Progress." The subtitle most likely refers not only to the songs but to Simon, as they predate his Simon and Garfunkel output, and so present--to borrow a phrase-- a portrait of the songwriter as a young man. It is an excellent series, with very good biographical and discography (discographical?) information.

Next Song: The People in the Story






Monday, August 4, 2014

Let Me Steal Your Heart Away

Simon, then going as Landis, became the lead singer of the Mystics in 1960. A fairly standard harmony group, their entire catalog seems to consist of 15 tracks, mostly covers. With Simon as a member, they sang their big hit, the Welsh lullaby "All Through the Night," "I Begin to Think of You" and this track.

I hesitate to discuss the track at all, however, as I can only find that the Mystics sang it, not who wrote it. If Simon would want to disown this song, I would not be surprised, as it is simply a series of cliches strung together.

In their entirety, the lyrics are:
"Let me, let me steal your heart away
I'm in love with you, so in love with you
Take me, take me, don't forsake me
Oh, I want your love, yes I need your love

There have been others before you
This, I cannot deny
But now at last I've found you
I know I'll love you till the day I die."

With repetition and instrumental fills, they stretch this to more than two minutes. There is really no need for interpretation or analysis, regardless of who wrote it.

In the interest of completeness, I am posting this song in case Simon did write it. I would not be surprised if he did not. I would also not be surprised if he did... and didn't care for anyone to know.

Next Song: Hiding in the Chapel




Monday, July 21, 2014

Little Doll Face

[Note: according to some liner notes I saw after this was posted, the song's writer is "unknown."]

There is a Saturday Night Live routine called "Shy Ronny." Andy Samberg plays this character, who is voluble enough to freestyle rap... except when in the presence of Rihanna. Then, he is struck dumb by the power of her beauty, so she thinks he is just dumb.

This scenario, of being made speechless by the presence of an overwhelming radiance, has been part of human experience for a long time. Here, Simon-as-Landis explores the phenomenon from Shy Ronny's standpoint.

The speaker is despondent, as the girl with the "Darling little doll face"-- we know that she has "freckles," and "lashes" that "flutter," but no more of her appearance-- won't even "look at" him. Of course, this is because she doesn't "even know" him.

Of course, he doesn't know her, either. To her, he's a non-entity. To him, she's not much more... just a pretty face that may as well be on a doll.

Some might say this is sexist objectification, and in a way it is. He does see her as an object, a toy at that. But it's simply a reflection of the fact that he does not know her yet as a person... still, he wants to. He does not wish to only see her this way, but for now, her visage is all he has. Well, that and a high opinion of her personality-- "You're lots of sugar, and some spice."

Yes, this nursery-rhyme reference is in keeping with the "doll" metaphor. In fact, it sounds like there is a toy piano on the track.

Mostly, we know that he is not going to get to know her. His objectification of her has made her, in his mind, unapproachable: "Whenever you walk near me/ I'm hypnotized completely... If you'd speak, I'm sure I'd stutter."

He is entirely convinced that he is deserving of her lack-of-notice, and that she is way out of his league. "You're Little Miss Paradise," he tells her, and you can't get more unobtainable than Eden or Heaven. He is sure that she was "born in this world to entice," but be out of reach, like some sort of mythical siren.

"How can I ever tell you/ How much I love you," he moans. He can't, but that is fine because he doesn't love her. He loves her face, and the idea of her, but he doesn't know her well enough to love her.

Until the speaker is able to see her not as a doll, but as a person, she will remain nothing more than an ideal and an idea.

Jim Henson, of Muppet fame, once said, "The only thing between me and my goals is me." This guy needs to start seeing himself as good enough, and her as approachable... and human. Not a doll or angel or statue on a pedestal.

Next Song: Let Me Steal Your Heart Away



Monday, July 14, 2014

Tell Tale Heart

This song is named, of course, for the famously eerie Edgar Allan Poe story. A murderer would get away with it, as he hides the body beneath his floorboards. But he hears the victim's heart still beating, ever more loudly... and he imagines his impromptu guests do as well. He is tormented by their nonchalance-- surely they must hear it too, and are taunting him with their blase chitchat! How it ends, you likely know; if not, I am not one for spoiling an ending.

Simon, writing here as Landis, uses the image of a heart that gives the game away as the inspiration for a romantic tale.

The speaker begins by explaining that, while he notices his ex-girlfriend with her new beau, with whom she is seen "everywhere," he only "pretend[s]" indifference. "Foolish pride makes me hide/ My tell tale heart." In fairness, simple good manners would probably dictate the same course of (in)action. She knows how he felt for her, but it's over-- what good would his mentioning it do?

He has moved on as well, it seems. But again, all is not as it seems beneath the, um, floorboards. "Other cheeks close to mine/ Make believe I can deceive/ The tell tale heart." This is unfortunate for his new significant other as she is led to believe that she has his full attention and affection, yet does not.

Through all of this deception, he knows his own truth, and he is now starting to believe that his masked emotion is not very well masked at all. His tell tale heart is going to tell tale-- or as we say now, "tattle tale"-- on him.

Here, the music, which was smooth and Latinate and accompanied by a hushed vocal, shifts dramatically into surf rock. "Many a romance may break up," our speaker realizes, "Many a teardrop will fall/ But the beat-beat-beat of a tell tale heart?/ That is the worst fate of all."

The "beat-beat-beat" in the case of the Poe story, and in the case of this tale, serve a similar purpose-- to reveal a secret that the speaker feels may be no secret at all. "Everyone can see through my outward calm and innocent mien; they all know my guilt," each feels.

At least our speaker has the nerve to admit to himself that, "Deep inside, I still know/ That I love, love you so." His conclusion? "It's clear I need you near/ This tell tale heart."

Be that as it may, he does not have very many practical options for resolving his situation. He would have to overcome several obstacles-- ending his new relationship, getting his ex to end hers, and then making it work now with someone it did not work with before.

Yes, he must move on. But first he must get over her, or risk having his love for her poison every relationship he has going forward. And first of all, he must admit to himself that he is not over her, a realization his relentlessly throbbing heart has driven home.

This is a remarkably sophisticated song, even beyond its literary reference. In a very short space, Simon has sketched out a classic tale of love, longing, and regret. It is full of pain and sadness, and even fear... of being discovered, and having his personal anguish leak out and hurt others.

This is a very emotionally mature and self-aware work, especially from one so young.

Next Song: Little Doll Face


Monday, June 16, 2014

Funny Little Girl

This is somewhat a gender-flipped version of "My Funny Valentine," about a man whose looks are "laughable/ unphotographable." Yet, she loves him anyway: "You're my favorite work of art."

Here, the speaker says about his girlfriend that "you wouldn't call her smile a work of art." She also has "freckles," which some consider unattractive (personally, I could never see why), and has a "funny way she wears her clothes." All in all, she's "a cute and funny little girl."

Yet, it's not despite these quirks, but because of them, that our speaker is drawn to her. Her personality is winning-- she's "such a honey"-- and as to her un-artistic smile? He finds it "funny how it breaks [his] heart."

This is an unfortunate use of the term, which almost always has negative connotations. Here, he means that he finds her heart-wrenchingly lovely.

Yes, he does not just find her merely adorable, but arousing! "Every time we meet on the street/ Well, I just have to catch my breath... a little glance from her can set me all a-whirl."

Then, we are surprised by a clever way of describing the "heart in one's throat" feeling of intense emotion: "An elevator ride starts inside/ And it scares me half to death!" This is a very innovative and clever way of describing this feeling, at once startling and refreshing, yet instantly recognizable and familiar. Colloquial, but undeniably poetic.

In case we thought that his heart was breaking because he loved her from afar, and that their street-meetings were accidental, we have this affirmation: "I thank the Moon above and all the stars that shine/ That this funny little girl is mine."

A slight song, but what a relief it must be to the "plain Janes" of the world that they can find a nice man who will over the moon about them, even if they don't look like the starlets described in all the other songs.

Also, the song stresses the importance of a sense of humor. How many comediennes became huge stars based on their quick wits, despite having less-than-model-perfect features? And how long do such superficial things last, in any case?

The speaker is smart enough to know that "she has a great personality" is not necessarily damning by faint praise, but some of the strongest praise there is.

Next Song: Tell Tale Heart



Monday, June 9, 2014

Haven't You Hurt Me Enough?

[Note: according to liner notes in a CD I came into possession of after having posted this, the writer is "unknown."]

I admit I expected less from this song. It seemed like it might be another whiny "woe-is-me" number about a man suffering at the "cruelty" of a woman who doesn't love him back. And now, she's-- what, seeing guys she does like? And he's taking it personally...

Nope. This song is about a man suffering the at the cruelty of a woman who is actually being actively cruel.

At least he has not internalized her meanness and blamed himself. He even tries to analyze her behavior.

It starts with her breaking it off, and breaking his heart. Still, he is willing to move on and "forget." All healthy behavior on his part-- you mourn, then you move on.

But she is not content to leave it at that. She actively torments him: "Last night just for a joke/ You called to say hello... You call just to tease me/ And tell me about the other guys you see."

As former US First Lady Nancy Reagan said, there is a name for people like this, and it rhymes with "witch." There is really something wrong with someone who adds insult to injury, rubs salt in wounds they have inflicted... and keeps kicking the person they have already, as we used to say, kicked to the curb.

She knows this hurts him-- "You knew that every word was breaking my poor heart"-- and he starts to realize that this is her motivation: "Does it make you feel good to know that I'm feeling blue?"

The German word for this is "schadenfreude," happiness at someone else's pain. In this case, it's coupled with sadism, happiness from inflicting that pain.

Through his tears, our sensitive man keeps working on understanding her logic, warped as it is: "I know you don't love me/ Why do you want me to keep loving you?"

Then it dawns on him that the answer is in the question: "Your pride's too strong to let me go." By continuing to torment him, she continues to revel in her strength, and her power over him.

He tries to appeal to her compassion, although he already knows she has none: "It's all a game to you/
But I'm the one who cries." And so the song ends as it began, with our victim still in tears.

Verbal and emotional abuse, stalking, and other such bullying has since migrated from the telephone to the worldwide party line that is the Internet.

And men do suffer such abuse, even physical abuse, at the hands of women. A recent video showed two actors demonstrating this by arguing in a London park (search on YouTube for the channel "POZAPAPO"). First, the man shoves the woman. Instantly, women accost him and protected her. In the second scenario, she shoves him into the same fence. Women watched... and some even laughed. (The men in the park avoided involvement in both cases.)

Then the video ends with this statistic: "40% of domestic violence is suffered by men."

Far from being a whiny song about a man who imagines that a woman's disinterest is a personal slight, this is actually a very brave song about the difficulties of dealing with abuse. How do you defend yourself without coming across as the bully? How do you stop someone from calling night after night? What do you do with people who never hurt you "enough"?

Decades after this song was written, society continues to struggle with these issues.

Next Song: Funny Little Girl










Monday, May 26, 2014

Only One You

Sometimes, the formula works.

This is another "list" song. The speaker lists things that there are many of, then contrasts that with the fact that there is "only one" of his beloved.

The imagery is entirely taken from nature. The first verse lists water-related things-- "waves" and "shells." The second verse moves to the forest and mentions "birds," "leaves," and "hills." The third names objects given as tokens of affection-- "pearls" and "roses." The chorus gives us "mile after mile of prairie/ Drop after drop of rain."

Each verse ends with "But only one you." This message is emphasized by the last lines in the chorus: "But if I searched for another you/ I'd go searching in vain" (which is what rhymes with "rain").

Musically, the song is another Everly-esque melody, but given a flamenco-lite strumming accompaniment.

For all the formulaic elements, however, the song is quite effective. Given the other songs that were popular at the time, there is no real reason this should not have been a hit.

Perhaps because of its predictable structure and natural imagery, the song has a timeless feel. If it had been covered by, say, Peter Paul & Mary or by Joan Baez, the listener would have to be entirely forgiven for thinking the author had been some Robin Hood-era bard from York, and not a modern teenager from New York.

And wouldn't it be a great hoodwink for some Renaissance-Faire performer to play this piece on a lute... and then tell everyone it was written by Paul Simon in the late 1950s.

This song presages works like "Sparrow" and "Scarborough Fair," which made up a decent percentage of Simon & Garfunkel's recordings. Perhaps Simon thought this number too simplistic for his duo work.

But with a slower tempo and a vocal by Garfunkel, this could have been a hit... or at least a concert favorite at the level of "April Come She Will," or "El Condor Pasa."

I'd be curious to hear a report from a coffee-house singer who presented this song as a traditional folk number as to the audience's reaction, both before and after the revelation of its actual source.

It's discoveries like this and "Forever and After" that make exploring Simon's early work so rewarding.

Next Song: Haven't You Hurt Me Enough?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The title of this song is an appellation usually reserved for the story of Jesus. Although the movie of that title, about that story, did not come out until 1965.

As you might guess, Simon a.k.a. Landis does not tell that story here. Instead he tells a more personal one. And a much more frequently told one, especially in the realms of pop music and movies.

Yes, our story here is about a young man who was not just "so blue," but "lonely, too." Why? He "had a broken heart." So sad. How sad? "All day I sat and cried/ Teardrops I couldn't hide." Poor thing!

But wait! "That was just the start/ Of the greatest story ever told." Oh, we are so relieved! Go on...

"I saw her there/ A thrill beyond compare," he continues, "She was my dream come true." Well, this is wonderful. Sometimes, the whole song goes by and no love object is found. But we don't know the rest-- does she return this affection? Because in some songs, we know, she does not.

"When I asked her for/ Her love forevermore..." How brave, and sudden! After all, he just saw her a moment ago, and hasn't even introduced himself. And...? "She added, 'I love you'/ To the greatest story ever told."

My word. This story does, in fact, keep getting better. Yet, there is cause for concern. She loves him now, but will it last?

Before we find out, the speaker interrupts and-- without singing-- intones: "Every day, we hear stories/ Some new, some old/ But the story of love/ Is the greatest story ever told." Too true. How could we ever have thought otherwise?

At this point, our suspense is broken. "And now, we're happy now," (yes, "now" twice). Why? "We made that sacred vow." A wedding! Now, there's a capper to a ripping tale.

"For now we're more than friends." Well, we would certainly hope so, by this point. What about going forward? Any worries?

We thought not. "Our love will grow and grow/ 'Cause with each kiss I know/ There'll never be an end/ To the greatest story ever told."

If the tone of this review is somewhat withering, is it only because this is one of the sappiest things Simon has ever written. It's almost as if he knew it was going to be cloying, opening the song with the words "Tell me a story," like a child.

If the point was that there are quite a few love songs that are almost perfect replicas of this one, that point did not have to be made by writing yet another version of this most by-the-numbers narrative. For example, take McCartney's "Silly Love Songs."

And that's also true if the point was "events, told in sequence, are a story-- and sometimes true stories are better than fictional ones." There was certainly a more interesting way to say that, as well, if it even needed to be said.

"Aeroplane of Silver Steel" is overwrought and "Back Seat Driver" mean-spirited, but at least those songs were a stretch in some direction. But even a snooze-inducing bedtime story like this shouldn't have to sound like it was written by someone who was already asleep.


Next Song: Only One You



Monday, May 12, 2014

Beach Blanket Baby

Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket BingoBikini Beach, and even How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. In just two years (1963-5) former Mickey Mouse Club member (aka Mouseketeer) Annette Funicello starred in all these movies. There were also the Gidget surfer movies (starting in 1959) and TV show ('65)... not to mention the music of the Beach Boys (first album, '62), and the whole surf-rock sound, grounded in Dick Dale's ringing surf guitar (first album, also '62).

But this song was on the first breaker of that, um, cultural tsunami.

First, we meet our resident object of desire: "She was sittin' underneath her beach umbrella/ in a teeny tight bikini, red and yella." The song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" came out in 1960.

Not surprisingly, "she was gettin' lots of whistles from the fellas," we are told, when one fella in particular (also not surprisingly, a musician) "began to play on his guitar."

He begins the mating call of the surfer: "Beach blanket baby, all alone on the sand/ Let me hold your hand," but then immediately decides that euphemisms are pointless. "We can love the night away beside the sea/ ...share your blanket with me."

At this quite forward move, "She was giving everyone the coldest shoulder." Interesting, how she somehow manifested her disinterest in general, when we have to presume that by this point the other bathing-suited suitors (not equipped with music-making equipment) backed off.

The musician was not, however, deterred by this reticence. If anything, "her teasin' only made the boy get bolder."

Her blanket, umbrella, and bikini were no match for his ardor. "It wasn't long before he got to hold her/ She cuddled up," accepting his advances as he continues to pitch his rhyming woo: "You're a beautiful sight/ Let me hold you tight."

This lasts for quite some time, because by "now the moon above is shining on the ocean."

Then, things take a turn, perhaps. Perhaps he is just continuing with his lines. But perhaps he actually falls in love with her. Because he stops simply hinting at sex and now "tells her of his love and his devotion."

She seems to have turned this corner with him: "for their hearts are beating wild with new emotion." (yes, the rhyme is "ocean/devotion/emotion." I was semi-expecting "suntan lotion," but then recalled that the Sun had already descended by this point...)

His words become less lustful and more romantic: "You're an angel to kiss/ I'm in heaven like this/ I will always love you till the end of time/ Beach blanket baby, be mine!"

What began as purely physical attraction seems to have, in the space of a day, evolved into something deeper. While the listener may or may not be surprised by this (it was still the 1950s, after all), it seems that both occupants of this beach blanket certainly were.

After all of the first-person songs about loneliness and fighting couples, it is nice to have a simple, silly-sweet romantic narrative. Even if it happens in the third person.


Next Song: The Greatest Story Ever Told



Monday, May 5, 2014

Back Seat Driver

[Readers-- Two milestones have been reached, thanks to you! April, 2014 marked the first month in which this blog received 5,000 pageviews in one month. And it was also the month which saw the blog's 100,000th pageview since its launch in May, 2006. Thanks for all your support, comments, and readership over the years.]

"Backseat driving" is generally done by someone in the backseat, and it involves unasked-for suggestions made (often in a constant stream) by the passenger to the driver. In this case, we assume that she is in the front passenger seat, but the terminology remains.

This is a comedy number along the lines of "Yakety-Yak," about the frustrations of adolescence, but closer to the "Wake Up, Little Susie" format in that it is about getting into trouble while on a date, and in that the conversation is between a couple.

The song begins with a boyfriend telling his girlfriend that, while they are going for a spin, he wants "No backseat drivin', y'hear?" Even at the beginning of the song, we hear the anger in the young man's voice: "Talk, talk, talk/ I can't take no more/ If you don't like my driving/ Just open the door/ Get out... Start walking."

The song's structure varies between dialogue-- both cajoling ("Don't you know how to relax?") and yelled ("Why don't you stop buggin' me?")-- and rhymed lines.

Then this slice of sexism; "When you drive with a woman/ You got to take it slow." Like any such remark, it is unnecessary. Perhaps Simon meant to show that the driver is not entirely the hen-pecked victim here.

Out of frustration, our driver says to his date: "You take the wheel/ I'll give all the orders/ And see how you feel/ Turn left, turn right/ Watch out!/ Didn't you see that red light?!"

His psychological experiment worked out too well. Either she is a lousy driver, or he succeeded in distracting her, or the other car was to blame. It could be all three. In any case, we see that some accident or moving violation has happened, because the last thing we hear the boyfriend say is: "See what you've done/ If you're such a good talker/ Talk us out of this one!"

You almost feel sorry for the guy-- no one likes to be corrected while he or she is doing something, particularly as delicate as piloting a two-ton, gas-powered machine that can punch a hole in a brick wall. But then he has to go all Archie Bunker on us with that sexist crack.

Maybe they just deserve each other.

Next Song: Beach Blanket Baby

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tick Tock

This jumpy little number is musically very similar to "Duke of Earl" and "Runaround Sue." Also, Simon's own "Lone Teen Ranger."

Content-wise, it reminds me of a study I read of, in a way, indignation. Subjects were asked to sort the same basket of beads in various ways, over and over, until they had what the researchers called "an attack of dignity" and refused to sort them one more time.

Various philosophers have put it:  "That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!" or "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" or perhaps most simply "We're not gonna take it/ No, we ain't gonna take it/ We're not gonna take it anymore!"

Here, Simon-as-Landis writes about waiting for his date to show. As the song starts, "She's two hours late/ and now it's almost 8 o'clock." Which means she was supposed to arrive at 6:00. Already, in the first verse, our hero is griping, "I'm looking at my watch/ I wonder how long I must wait."

By the second verse, he wonders if, in the parlance of the self-help book, she's just not that into him. "I wonder if she stood me up," he beings to realize. And then comes the attack of dignity: "She can't do that to me!"

Except... either he is very desperate or she is very attractive, because, after five hours: "Now it's almost 11 o'clock/ I guess I'll wait and see." Then he even gives her another hour on top of that! "Now it's almost 12 o'clock/ And I'm here in a stew/ Should I stay or go back home?/ I don't know what to do.

Finally-- after six hours!-- he gives up. "One thing I know for sure/ That girl and I are through."

If this is the death of a relationship, we see the protagonist-- or maybe just "agonist," as he is in so much agony-- working through the stages of grief (which even their theorist regrets having called "stages" as they are not necessarily ordered; they are more like "aspects"): Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

He doesn't believe she is intentionally this late-- "Where can she be?" Maybe something happened to her? He is then furious-- "She can't do that to me!" He bargains, giving her yet another hour.

We don't see him being sad, per se, but then we only get to hear his comments on the hour. Finally, in a mix of anger and acceptance, he dumps her in absentia. Whatever her reason was, he certainly gave her enough of his time, and he will give her no more.

The upbeat tempo of this song, ostensibly about how slow time goes when one is waiting, might be mocking of the speaker. What a dope he is, waiting six hours for his date. Whatever they were going to do on that date is certainly over by now... the movie concluded, the restaurant closed. Yet, here he sits, the only sound the "tick-tock" of his watch.

Even at the end of the song, when he knows he is going to leave her, he does not say, "I have given her long enough and I'm going home now." Maybe this overly patient young man is supposed to serve as a warning to listeners-- don't let this happen to you!

Next Song: Back Seat Driver



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Educated Fool

"She really schooled him!"

The idea of non-academic, especially romantic, life-lessons being equivalent to a formal education-- or such formal schooling being a metaphor for the informal sort-- is a long-standing one. (I'll italicize all of the education tropes used in the song).

Simon-- here, as Landis-- finds much metaphoric overlap. Here, our hero says he: "Took a course in misery/ Got an A on my exam/ And here I am."

The song's title, "educated fool," is an echo of the oxymoron "sophomore," literally a "wise fool." Smart, but not street-smart.

"I was green," he continues, using a standard image of un-ripeness. "The teacher was so mean," referring to the woman who schooled him. "I believed in all your lies, but now I'm wise." Meaning, now, he is a savvy as he is studious.

Next come two nice turns of phrase. "I learned my lesson very well/ You cheated from the start." Yes, these are cliches, but Simon gives them double meanings by calling them to mind in an academic setting. Then he offers this great rhyme: "Now I hold a/ Love diploma."

"Cheated" in the romantic sense means "was infidelitous" as is the idea of being "false or true"-- but they also refer to tests and quizzes. The whole song is really very clever like this. A longer version might have mentioned "multiple choice," "a textbook case," and even "detention."

He has learned his lesson, he says, but he still fails the test: "Guess I'll go on loving you/ Though I graduated school/ I'm still a fool/ An educated fool."

This could have been the theme song to the film An Education, about a young woman who skips school yet gets exactly that anyway.

My aunt's father was a local butcher, a successful and gentle man. Asked if he regretted not having had a formal education like the one he was able to afford his children, he smiled and said, "Every day is college, if you pay attention."

And, this song would argue, even if you don't.

Next Song: Tick Tock


Friday, April 11, 2014

Teenage Blue

Sometimes poets know things before scientists can prove them. We now have a copious body of evidence that shows that the adolescent mind is quite undeveloped, and swimming with hormones. We have sociology and psychology backing this up with reams of observations about adolescent behavior patterns, plus news stories with tragic endings for anecdotal evidence.

But the songwriters were asking "Why must I be a teenager in love?" long before that.

Simon, on this track, puts it thus: "There's nothing bluer than teenage blue." Teen emotions are intensified, and without experience-- or a fully-formed frontal lobe-- to mitigate them them, they soar and dive like kites in a storm.

"There is no love like teenage love/ there's nothing truer than teenage true," our speaker begins, in the grand tradition of starting a discourse with a grand pronouncement (as does this blogpost. Hey, if it ain't broke...)

Naturally, this is, then, personalized to "you"-- the woman he is addressing. Since he has already used the word "blue," we know this is not a happy conversation: "My love for you was teenage love," he says, as we notice the sad past tense.

What happened? "We quarreled and said we were through." After one fight? Clearly, we are dealing with relationship amateurs. "And now I'm feeling teenage blue." Which, as was stated, is the worst kind of blue.

What was the issue? We don't know. All we have is the line "there's nothing truer than teenage true." So maybe he is just saying that he will still hold their love dear even though they parted. Or maybe he is saying, "Well, I was true..."

In any case, even this adolescent has the self-awareness to make the following set of observations: "Maybe if I were older/ I wouldn't feel so sad," which is probably the case, given the above-mentioned research. But, "You know you are my first love/ And it hurts real bad." It is a given that the first time having any experience is heightened by unfamiliarity, so this is also probably the case.

Further so is the notion that "I will love you through all the years." This first impression of passion will likely be intense enough to keep the memory of the feeling intact for a lifetime. Said more simply, can anyone forget their first love?

The mind, like the body, strives after balance and homeostasis. 'I am sad because the girl is gone,' it thinks, 'but if she comes back, the sadness will stop.' "OK, mouth, do your thing and make the pain stop," the brain instructs. So the voice sings: "Say you still love me, I beg of you/ Don't leave me feeling teenage blue."

That may work. But he's going to have to woo her back with something more about what he has to offer if she does, rather than what she has to offer him-- a return to the status quo... which generated the rift to begin with. As a certain president might put it: Ask not how your girlfriend can stop you from being sad, but how you can keep her happy.

Simon has, by this point, been working through images of loneliness, heartache, and heartbreak for a number of songs. Here, he really nails it. The song balances poetry and straightforwardness, with its one clever way of turning a phrase. The simple melody and affecting delivery allow the purity of the sadness to be palpable.

This is one of his best early works, and it's a shame it's not even on YouTube. The only place I found it was, of all places, a celebrity website called "Who's Dated Who?" A site dedicated to chronicling past romances, as it turns out, is not a bad resting place for such a long to land.

Next Song: Educated Fool

Monday, April 7, 2014

Play Me a Sad Song

Yet another song with the "Earth Angel" chord progression.

Today, a "DJ" is someone who makes music by running someone else's album under a needle and moving it back and forth rhythmically. But once-- when the radio was used as a music-listening device instead of a political megaphone-- a "disc jockey" just played someone else's records over the air and let us listen to them. For free (well, there were always commercials).

These DJs would often take requests, answering the listener's phone calls and playing what he or she wanted to hear. This was true at least up through the 1980s; after that, radio content was largely pre-selected by national corporations that owned stations nationwide (the better to sell the airtime for those commercials).

The speaker here doesn't even call the DJ. He just sort of wishes his request at the radio: "Play me a sad song, please Mr. DJ/ Play me a sad song tonight."

One can hardly blame the poor kid for his despondency. As Sam Cooke would later bemoan, it's a classic case of: "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody... I'm in an awful way."

Our speaker puts it: "Saturday night... Don't have a date... don't want to hear a lullaby/ I can't sleep, I just sit and cry."

Of course, going out "stag" is out of the question. It would just publicize his undesirability: "Don't you think I want to go where other kids go?.. I've got nobody to hold me tight."

So he's alone with the radio, which is "playin' the Top Tunes tonight." From Top of the Pops to American Top 40, one of the most popular formats was a simple countdown of that week's most popular songs, as measured by albums sold, requests made, or some other such metric.

Our speaker is not up for such fare. He knows that other teens are playing this countdown at their parties and get-togethers, commenting on the worthiness of that week's rankings.

Instead, he agrees with Elton John, who in "Sad Songs Say So Much," opined: "It's times like these when we all need to hear the radio/ 'Cause from the lips of some old singer/ We can share the troubles we already know." In short, misery loves even virtual, musical company.

So our left-out boy wishes for, not dance tunes or lullabies, but "a song of love/ 'Cause that's all that I'm thinking of."

"I bet I'm the loneliest boy in the world," he sighs. Of course, any one of the thousands of people who have heard this song have had that exact same thought.

Eventually, he despairs even of despair, which is both tiring and tiresome. "Sitting here crying won't get me a girl... Oh, what's the use? Guess I'll turn off the light."

He pulls up the covers, murmuring as he drifts off, "I feel so lonely." Maybe things will look better on Sunday morning? There're always color comic strips on Sunday mornings...

Next Song: Teenage Blue


Monday, March 24, 2014

Shy

This is a throwback number, even as early in rock history as it falls. It would be home in the repertoires of the Andrews Sisters or Bing Crosby; one can imagine a Fred Astaire-style tap dance number to accompany it. The song even starts with syncopated snaps that recall tap dancing.

The lyrics mostly expand on the title, with the speaker explaining in various ways how, when he is in the presence of the object of his infatuation, he becomes tongue-tied: "I'm so shy when I'm with you/
Don't know what to say or do" and "When you come walking by/ All that I can do is sigh" and finally "I/ know I love you til I die/ I can't say it cause I'm shy."

He does regret this state of affairs-- "Gee, I wish I weren't shy"-- and does attempt to overcome his reticence. "Each night I look in my mirror," he explains, "And practice what I'm going to say to you." He gives himself pep talks: "I tell myself, 'Be confident.'" He sallies forth with brave intent:"I/ raise my hopes up to the sky."

Of course, once the moment presents itself: "I'm scared to death the minute that I'm with you." Oh, dear. Sigh, indeed.

Since we don't know of the woman's reaction, we have to assume there isn't one. She isn't flattered that he is overcome when he is with her. She isn't annoyed by timidity. It's possible that this is one of those cases in which the boy moans, accurately, "She doesn't even know I exist."

The song plays the idea for comic effect, and the tone is lighthearted. We can image it as a vaudeville number, with a sad-sack crooner mooning and batting his eyes over a hotsy-totsy flapper way out of his league. She flirts with the audience instead of him, inviting their hoots and wolf-whistles. At the end, she leaves the stage, bored. He smiles, sighs, shrugs broadly, and toddles after her, still mooning. Curtain.

Next song: Play Me a Sad Song








Monday, March 17, 2014

Dreams Can Come True

This lilting little number follows a familiar pattern.  In the first verse, the speaker hearkens back to childhood. In the second verse, he is teen, awakening to the idea of love. And then the third verse finds him discovering this love (the listener/subject of the song, of course, a.k.a. "you.")

Simon's take on this trope has the child as a dreamer-- "I would dream of castles and kings"-- and budding songwriter: "Every song I sung [sic]/ Told a tale of wonderful things."

He grew up believing that... well, see the title.

Once he gets the idea of falling in love, he is content to be passive about it and trust to fate: "I dreamed that someday I/ Would awake and find you, my love." If dreams can come true, they will have to do so on their own. To be fair, he found her passively, as he predicted: "You came into my life."

Then, he says that he had done with dreaming: "I knew that my dreams were through." At first ,we imagine that he means that he no longer had the need to dream of love, once he had it in actuality.

This is true, but there is another side to his no-longer-dreaming, namely, the realities of life and love in the real world: "...we faced sorrow and strife." A rude awakening, for this dreamer.

Further, he did find the wrong person first, and it is implied that she was unfaithful: "I could feel that this love was true." There is an emphasis on "this," implying not only that there were others, but that those relationships were... problematic.

"Dreams can come true," the speaker repeats again (for that line, twice, is the chorus), concluding, "And you are my dream come true." Awww!

The melody is, well, dreamy. The backing vocal, however, is unusual to the point of being distracting. Instead of the usual "ooh-wah-ooh" or "sha-la-lah," we get this: "Run-tsu-dee-run-do-run-tsee-run." And, on top of that, some "ch-ch" vocalizations.

Perhaps this is meant to further the idea of the lullaby feeling of the song. If so, it's no "too-rah-loo-rah-loo-rah."

There is nothing wrong with the idea of trying to create a new "wop-bop-a-loo-bop." But maybe not in a love song...?


Next Song: Shy

Monday, March 10, 2014

Loneliness

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






Monday, March 3, 2014

Wow Cha-Cha-Cha

In case anyone was wondering, this song is a cha-cha. Once again, the singer is neither Paul nor Art, but someone professional, playful... and a tad generic.

This song is a dismiss-able bit of pop fluff, but it's really nice to hear Simon-- excuse me, "Landis"-- just enjoying himself. There is no anxiety here (save for the repeated line "don't you ever leave") or loneliness, or anything but good, clean fun.

Speaking of generic, the lyrics are almost too cliche to bother with: "When I cha-cha-cha with you, wow!/ Like a shock from out the blue/ Feel that message comin' through/ It's love, cha-cha-cha."

Yes, our singer sings "cha-cha-cha." About 10 times. But to be fair, anyone assaying this dance is muttering "one-two... cha-cha-cha" to himself as he does so.

The rest of the lyrics are about as obvious as they come: "Don't you dance too far away/ Here is what I have to say/ Love has finally come my way/ It's heaven" and "How I tingle through and through/ You have made my dreams come true."

Oh, and the bridge? "Kiss me/ Hold Me/ Thrill me" each followed by, you guessed it, "cha-cha-cha."

Did it take a Paul Simon to write this? No. But it did give him the chance to try yet another "world music" rhythm... and pen something airy and sprightly about dancing and flirting with the one you love.

Only a true curmudgeon would scowl at something like that.

Next Song: Loneliness


Monday, February 24, 2014

(Please) Forgive Me

This is an extremely sad number. It's from the point of view of a desperate, depressed person, and his reasons for his woe are revealed somewhat... but never made perfectly clear.

The song starts with the same chord progression as "Earth Angel" and dozens of other songs from its era. The other thing we hear is a young, Pat Boone-rich, Johnny Mathis-creamy voice that I am very sad to say is not identified.

The lyrics open enigmatically: "Sitting here thinking what life's all about/... till I'm ready to shout./  I've lived a big lie and now I'm going to die."

Which is dramatic... but so far unspecific. The second verse has the speaker approached by someone he knows: "that man," about whom we only learn that he has a "smiling face."

This man has a task, namely escorting our speaker "to that place/ Where life's at an end and where there's not a friend to love."

At this point in the riddle, we are ready to guess an answer. The speaker is a convict. He has lied about something, and is now to be executed. The man's-- jailer's-- smile now seems much less benign, and much more sinister.

This seems extreme-- capital punishment is usually reserved for crimes of violence and murder. Most of the severest lies involve only, perhaps, embezzlement or fraud. But even the most big-time thieves only get life imprisonment. In this case, living a double life is costing his actual one. Were drugs involved? Murder by proxy? Treason?

We don't know. Perhaps the death penalty is being used here metaphorically; life imprisonment can seem like death, and a place "without a friend" might imply solitary confinement. Or perhaps the songwriter is ignorant of the legal code, or simply decided that jail wasn't dramatic enough for his poetic purposes.

In the bridge, we see that "die" might, in fact, have been an exaggeration all along: "I'm on my way to stay/ And when I'm gone I'll have pity and fear/ For those like me who never will be free." Oh, so it is life imprisonment?

Maybe... the line then is then completed: "...who never will be free/ Of a worthless life filled with sadness and strife." So, he will not be "free of [his] life." He will have to live with his misery...but not literally die.

It begins to dawn on the listener that the substance of the punishment is immaterial. The speaker is going to be punished for his lie of a life, either by dying for it or by a "living death" of lifetime incarceration.

The song ends twice. Once, with an Aesop-like device: "The moral of my song is easy to see/ Don't live a life like mine-- be happy and carefree/ Love and be loved, then life will be but a dream." This seems unnecessary. In a 30-second public service announcement, we might need to be told outright that only we can prevent forest fires. But here, this spelling-out of the theme is a bit egregious.

Then, this, tacked on to the very end: "O Lord, please forgive me." Well, now we have the title. But it's unclear as to whether he is asking the Lord for forgiveness, or if it's more of an "Oh Lord," an expression like "Oh dear," "Oh woe," or "Oh man."

Simon returned to this character, the repentant criminal, in "Wednesday Morning, 3AM" (and its remix, "Somewhere They Can't Find Me") but in a more specific, less bathetic and preachy way... making the song more effective. He gives the criminal a definite crime, full of detail. And he gives him a lady love to leave as he flies justice.

What hasn't changed is what the criminal most regrets. Not, say, having disappointed someone or having hurt someone or even having sinned. No, he regrets what might have been, had he not committed his crime.


Next Song: Wow Cha-Cha-Cha

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just a Boy

The idea of an inter-generational romance is not new. Sometimes accepted as "May-December romance," sometimes derided as "cradle robbing," it is a fraught subject. Terms like "MILF" and "twink" are just the latest in a long line of attempts to deal with this, shall we say, phenomenon... going back through the movies The Graduate and Harold and Maude, the song "Maggie Mae," the novel Lolita, and even, in a way, all the way to the tale of Oedipus.

This time, we get a touch of foreshadowing in the title itself. The first verse is still circumspect: "I am just a boy/ Not a... man/ But your love gives me strength/ To do the best I can." This speaks to the age of the male speaker, not his subject.

But no doubt can be had after the second verse. Here, he more pointedly contrasts the two of them. He is "unwise and full of fears." But she counters that with "the wisdom of many years."

Yes, we have just unquestionably entered-- as the TV show title would have it-- Cougar Town.

While there are many rites of passage in every culture that delineate the passage to adulthood, one can be deemed universal-- the one in the chorus: "Though I'm young/ I still can understand/ Your love, someday/ Will turn this boy into a man."

The "someday" gives us hope. Perhaps this is a crush on a teacher or a friend's older sister or (we hope) single mother. But it is clear that this, um, "relationship"-- and the older person in question might not even be aware of it-- has not yet been consummated. So no investigations or lawsuits are pending. Yet.

The last verse seems to throw a wrench into our theory: "Though I'm just a boy/ On this, you can rely/ You are just the girl/ I will love till I die." Still, it is doubtful that his calling her a "girl" means that we are wrong and that she in fact is one; he has already said he has "may years." Rather, it is probably a compliment: "I don't see you as 'old'! In my eyes, you are youthful like me, and so a totally appropriate choice for me (even if you are not, technically, 'young')."

The situation is common, and so the sentiments are. The idea that "I am in high school, but everyone else my age might as well be in grade school, as I am so much more mature" is often followed by "and therefore, I can only love someone as mature as I... someone already past high-school age." Finding such a target of one's aspirational affections is not hard, and such songs are the next logical step.

Let us hope that this is a schoolboy crush on a teacher or something, and that (despite his protests of love unending) he will soon find someone more appropriate before restraining orders are brought to bear. If he does confess his feelings, she is, we hope, able to use her "many-yeared wisdom" to break his heart gently.

Next Song: Forgive Me

Monday, February 10, 2014

I'd Like to Be

This slight cha-cha is a song of the sort I call simply a "list song." The songwriter comes up with an idea, and then just extends it for the length of a song, listing as many permutations as he can rhyme.

Examples abound. Take the song this one presages, "The Way You Do The Things You Do." In that Temptations classic, the speaker compares his lover to a list of various objects that are known for performing certain functions very well. Her smile is so she's so smart, she "could have been a schoolbook"; and she's so pretty, she "could have been a flower." The whole song is a list of such things she "could have" been.

Here, the speaker lists the things he would like to be. And all of them are in contact with the body of his beloved.

These include her clothes ("high-heeled shoes," "coat around your shoulder")... her accessories and jewelry ("ribbon in your hair," "belt around your tiny waist," "your bracelet and your glove").... even her cosmetics.

In fact, the first such items he mentions that he'd "like to be" are: "The lipstick on [her] your lovely lips... the polish on [her] fingertips."

The most intimate object he'd like to be is... well, no, this was still the 1950s! It's not a clothing item at all, but "the chocolate candy that [she] tastes."

And, in case you were in total suspense about what he rhymes with "glove," the last line is the payoff: "But most of all/ I'd like to be the one you love."

This implies she has not returned his affections yet. It remains to be seen if she is interested in returning the affections of one so very, very interested in touching her-- nay, enveloping her.

While most of these things encircle and embrace her, the way "tender" or "loving"-- to borrow terms from other such songs-- arms might, the "chocolate candy that you taste" is an unmistakeable metaphor.

One way of looking at this is that he wants things to be equal. He wants to envelope her, but is equally willing to be enveloped by her. But that, in today's lingo, is almost definitive co-dependency.

Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with erotic images expressed by one who is already intimate with his listener. But there are two "red flags" here. One, the images are erotic too soon, before intimacy or even familiarity. The other is the smothering nature of the images.

While we can argue that the Temptations song has its faults-- it literally objectifies the woman by comparing her to objects, for one-- at least there is only one image of "holding you so tight." Here, almost every object the speaker conjures is one of surrounding her or buffering her from the outside world. Surely, irrational jealousy cannot be far behind.

Also, the Temptations song is upbeat and airy. Our song is smoky and  sultry. The emotion meant to be conveyed is seduction, but he knows she doesn't even love him yet.

So while, structurally, the song presages "The Way You Do the Things You Do," on an emotional level, it foreshadows a more shadowy one: The Police's "I'll Be Watching You."


Next Song: Just a Boy

Monday, February 3, 2014

Aeroplane of Silver Steel

There is nothing wrong with experimentation, with trying something new. Edison is said to have told a reporter that, no, he did not fail more than 5,000 times when trying to find the best light-bulb filament. In fact, he did not fail even once! Rather, he said, he successfully proved that those 5,000 filaments did not work.

This song, "Aeroplane of Silver Steel," does not work. If it were an "aeroplane," it would not fly. It is at once too childish and too over-reaching in its attempts to be mature, like a toddler shuffling about in his father's loafers. Even the spelling "aeroplane" hints at the European, archaic ambitions-- no mere "airplane," this!

The structure is pop-operatic, like "Memory" from Cats. The guitar work is hyper-dramatic and Latinate, a flamenco or tango. So the whole effect is that this was a song left out of Man of La Mancha.

"Aeroplane of silver steel high in the night/ Someday, I shall soar with you in your flight," the speaker begins. "Never has another flown as high as you and I." This is high-flown poetry, indeed.

"I shall fly my own plane high above." Now, what will that rhyme with? "The earth which holds me while I'm dreaming of/ Roaring through the clouds, and speeding fast, to my love."

Now, the song makes a sudden break from its soaring rhetoric and strummings, and finds a cha-cha rhythm. All of that... stuff was introduction. Now we are onto the subject itself. Which is-- what happens when the plane lands? Well, our dashing Red Baron is not coming empty handed!

"To bring her chocolates/ To bring her candies." Well, that's thoughtfully, if predictably, romantic. Anything else in the cargo bay? "To bring her herbs and tasty spices that she can cook." Ah. Well, all the early explorers sought the Spice Islands. But... cook for whom, exactly? Some hungry pilot, hmm?

"To bring her ribbons/ To bring her laces." Our Flying Ace have been to both the Spice Islands and the Silk Road, it seems. This is one domestic little lady he has. I mean, I'm not seeing any diamonds or furs on the manifest. "To bring her tingling silver to fill her pocketbook." Close. But why "tingling?" Did he mean "jingling?" Or is this money that is begging to be spent?

This list is repeated. Then, not leaving the faster rhythm, the first verse about the aeroplane is repeated. And the song ends.

In general, three kinds of people fly their own planes. One flies for business, whether spraying crops with chemicals or entertaining festival crowds with stunts. One is the rich playboy who flies for both business and vacations; the plane is fun, but mostly just a convenient, luxurious method of getting where the fun really is.

The third is the weekend pilot for whom his plane fills the same function as another man's speedboat, motorcycle, or off-roader-- simple thrills.

Then there is the speaker. His airplane-- excuse me, "aeroplane"-- is just a long-range shopping cart. He seems to enjoy the sensation of soaring, but mostly the vehicle is his method for procuring expensive items with wish to lavish his (rather domestic) lady love. No, the internet has not been invented when this song was written. But mail-order catalogs had been.

Perhaps he wishes to travel, like George Bailey of It's a Wonderful Life. And he wishes his wife had more adventurous tastes in goods and travel, but is too much of a homebody to actually spirit off to Gay Paree or The Mysterious Orient or the sultry bazaars of The Levant.

So this is his compromise. He will fly to Far-Off Lands... and bring their bounty back to her! But nothing too exotic. He hasn't brought back any furs, but also no tiger-skin rugs. No diamonds, but no anklets or nose-rings, either. No artifacts or handicrafts. Just "chocolates" and "spices." (It could also be that the speaker was not a reader or movie-goer, and had no real knowledge of the huge variety of exotic items Far-Off Lands offered, even to 1950s tourist.)

In any case, even if she still isn't inspired to follow him, at least he isn't tied down to Levittown.

So why doesn't this aeroplane reach the clouds? Our speaker has an imagination big enough to imagine limitless possibilities of travel... but not enough imagination to know what to do with so much opportunity. He's a would-be swashbuckler, but as a New Yorker cartoon of a middle-aged pirate had it, he's "too much buckle and not enough swash."

And so the song's lofty ambitions are also unfulfilled. With a soaring melody and a fantastical metaphor, all it can come up with is... dinner and dessert. And a sewing project for the weekend.

Next Song: I'd Like to Be