“That Was Your Mother”

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Yeah, I know Fat Tuesday is almost over here on the West Coast, and it’s long past in many, many other time zones.  I suppose it’s not really an issue for me.  I’m not Catholic and do not celebrate Ash Wednesday or Lent; I only celebrate Easter in the sense that I like hard-boiled eggs dyed pretty colors.  (I will also enjoy Filet-O-Fish sandwiches being on sale at McDonald’s every Friday for the next month or so.)  But here’s a little Zydeco stylings via the great Paul Simon for your musical enjoyment, anyway.

On a totally unrelated note, if you are in need of a giggle, please check out this tumblr blog.  It’s sick and dark and twisted, and I’ll bet it’s right up a lot of my readers’ alley.  You’re welcome.

“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”

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I’ve posted this song before, but it just seemed like the perfect accompaniment for today’s news.  (I certainly wasn’t going to use this musical travesty.)

It seems that last night Paul Simon and wife Edie Brickell were both arrested in a “domestic disturbance.”  To me, that sounds like they got into a screaming fight, probably complete with slammed doors and thrown objects, that was frightening enough to cause someone to call the cops.  When the cops arrived, they were both probably so enraged with each other that they turned it on the cops.  And that earned them both a night in the pokey for disorderly conduct.

Do I think anyone was hitting anyone else?  Probably not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some slapping or shoving.  Would that constitute abuse?  Probably not.  Is their marriage doomed now?  Who knows?  It may have been doomed for years now, and we just didn’t know about it.  Chances are, we wouldn’t have heard about it at all except for the fact that they’re both well-known musicians.  I suspect they’re both feeling kind of stupid right now.

“Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”

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For the new year, a song about, um, making a fresh start.

Not quite a break-up song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” is something of a meditation on the cynicism of the 70s.  A martial drum beat underwritten by feather-light guitar and solid bass is what carries Paul Simon’s almost nonsensical rhymes advising a guy to “slip out the back, Jack” as the way to “get yourself free.”  There’s little substance to this song; there’s not much holding it together besides the drums and chorus.  But it creates compelling characters in the guy who doesn’t know how to break-up with his lady, and his female friend who tells him “the problem is all inside your head.”  Their relationship is hazy, amorphous.  They might just be friends, or they might be friends with benefits.  Or she might be the next girlfriend he ditches by dropping off the key.  The push-pull of their interaction is fascinating.

Although as a song it barely shows its age (nearly 40 years old), there’s a smoky, jazzy quality that places it firmly in the Me Decade of the 1970s. But “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” is not locked into any one time.  That’s part of Paul Simon’s skill as a songwriter.  He used themes and musical styles that were endemic to the time, but kept the references and allusions timeless.  It still works, even if it is still kind of selfish.

“The Cool, Cool River”

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The last lines of this song are some of the finest, most profound words any popular songwriter has ever written.  They’re what make the song matter to me.  They shape the sadness, resignation, and anger in the rest of the words into pure hope.  They take  the weird, syncopated rhythm and turn it into a beating heart.

And these streets, quiet as a sleeping army
Send their battered dreams to Heaven.

To Heaven.
For the mother’s restless son.
Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
Who denies his urge to break and run.

Who says, “Hard times? I’m used to them.
The speeding planet burns, I’m used to that
My life’s so common it disappears.
And sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.”

Read more: Paul Simon – The Cool, Cool River Lyrics | MetroLyrics (with my added punctuation for grammatical correctness)

Repost: “Keep the Customer Satisfied”

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Note: I know reposts aren’t a good way to keep the customer satisfied, but my brain’s a little tired right now.

Paul Simon is an almost unbearably good song writer.  He creates universes, not songs, little worlds that you can enter.  He’s possibly the most literary songwriter out there–a musical Mark Twain, if you will.

“Keep the Customer Satisfied” is weary, but you wouldn’t know if from the tune or the first line, “Gee, but it’s great to be back home.”  He’s happy to see home, but it becomes obvious very quickly that home is not happy to see him.  He’s “hearing words I never heard in the Bible” and Deputy Sheriff tells him outright “you better get your bags and flee.”  And this picture appears in your head of a young man coming back to the small town he grew up in after several years in the Big City.  He probably left for college and some career like advertising or sales.  Or maybe he dropped out and became a con artist or gambler (or a musician).  It doesn’t matter; all that matters is that whatever he does, and wherever he does it, it does not meet with the approval of anyone in Smalltown, USA.  He works too hard for too little, gets mistreated by the people he works for, and when he comes home to finally get some rest, he finds more of the same abuse he got in the city.  This poor bastard can’t seem to win for losing.  And he’s just tired.  If this were a movie, the closing credits might feature our hero as he shoulders his bags and hitchhikes out of town.

Everything is set to an upbeat gospel-style tune, complete with a soaring horn section.  The drums and guitar are snappy and bright.  This music just sounds happy.  But all that cheerful music just amplifies the frayed at the edges life Simon is singing about.  That’s probably the point.  Simon is such a smart songwriter that the juxtaposition is clearly intentional.  And maybe it’s a reflection of how crazed his life as a working musician really was.  I don’t know

All I know is that I listen to this song whenever the iPod chooses it.  And I’d really like to see a movie based on it.

December 8th

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Guns suck.  With all the recent horrible mass shootings, with the murder-suicide committed by Jovan Belcher just a few days ago, you think more people would be talking about doing more to control access to these monstrosities.  But instead, sales are up.  That does not reassure me.  It’s been 32 years since a madman gunned John Lennon down on the sidewalk in front of his New York brownstone.  32 years, and very little has been done to stop the violence.  I’m pretty sure that somewhere, John is very disappointed in us.

There’s been a lot of songs written in Lennon’s memory (most recently, Bob Dylan’s “Roll On John,” which I couldn’t find for this post).  I remember Elton John chiming in first.

I’ve always had a lot of trouble listening to this song.  Elton was one of John’s good friends, playing with him on Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”  “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey, Johnny)” must have been written very soon after Lennon’s death.  And even though it is a bit overwrought and the metaphor a bit strained, it is so tremendously emotional.  Elton isn’t exactly one to hide his emotions, and his grief is palpable here.

Paul Simon reacted in with his typical low-key artistry.  The metaphor of “The Late Great Johnny Ace” is more natural, but no less devastating.  Simon expressed the sudden shock of hearing about the shooting, and the way it brought the city together.

Lennon’s death had such a huge cultural impact that it’s sometimes hard to remember how personal his death was for so many.  John had a lot of friends.  Of course his fellow Beatles remembered him in song.  Paul’s song for him has always been so bittersweet to listen to.  Just a sweet, sad little song remembering his partner for so long.  “And if I say, I really loved you and I’m glad you came along. And you were here today, for you were in my song.”

George Harrison was sad and grieving for his friend, but it seems to me that “All Those Years Ago” was a conscious decision to remember Lennon with joy, although there was a touch of anger there, too.  “But you were the one they backed up to the wall, all those years ago.”  Like Paul, George understood John better than most, understood what he had been through and what he believed.

The person who knew him best was his second wife and soulmate, Yoko Ono.  Her song about John, “Walking on Thin Ice,” is raw and difficult to listen to.  It’s such an intimate experience, it just kind of shreds you to pieces.  “I may cry someday, but the tears will dry whichever way.”

There’s an incredible undercurrent of rage and anger to all these songs.  And there should be.  We shouldn’t sit complacently by and remember John Lennon’s life without acknowledging the violence of his death.  We should all be angry that it’s so easy for anyone to get a gun and kill another person.  So honor John Lennon today and every day by doing something to end this violence.  Demand adequate and effective gun control laws.  Demand better mental health care and education.  Demand support for domestic violence prevention programs.  Make John proud.  Give peace a chance.

 

 

“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”

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Turns out October was a great month for Rock & Roll.  Just a few days ago was John Lennon’s birthday (not to mention Jackson Browne’s. . . Amy over at readncook sure shares her big day with some pretty awesome company).  Today, it’s Paul Simon’s birthday.  I don’t know what is about Libras that makes them such creative and passionate songwriters (and bloggers), but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.  (I remember reading a year or two ago that October 5th was actually the most common birthday.  It makes sense: a lot of babies getting born almost exactly nine months after the Christmas and New Year’s cheer.)

I decided to share one of my favorite Paul Simon tunes to honor this amazing and poetic artist.  He writes such beautifully moving, deeply personal portraits, songs with such charm and wit.  This is one of the more charming and witty songs of his career.  “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” is wonderful bit of nonsense that may or may not be based on something that really happened in Queens, New York.  It always made me think of teenage rebellion, the freedom of hanging out on the streets at all hours with your friends.  Smoking on the sly, boys and girls flirting in that wonderfully awkward way of teenagers everywhere–the weird and wonderful time when you’re not a child and not an adult.  The world is still full of fun, but danger is becoming a real possibility.

This video was made some sixteen years after the song’s initial release, and it just makes me smile.  The supposedly mean streets of NYC are just a playground here (check out those girls doing double-dutch).  Watch out for Yankee legend Mickey Mantle (Paul Simon is a well-known Yanks fan; he and Art Garfunkel still get spotted at games together occasionally).