Monday, December 23, 2013

A good Advent

On the day before the day before Christmas, I find myself feeling unusually grateful to God. I felt stirrings of a new life inside me this Advent.

Yesterday, I had a Proustian moment. an old Simon and Garfunkel song came up on the store's speakers. I don't think it's a great song but I doubt I could be objective about it in any case. In any case, the second I heard it, a flood of old memories from childhood came back. I was very young when this song came out, I have no memories of it all from the year it was a minor hit. All my memories come from years later from two sorts of situations" 1) when it would come up as an "oldie" on AM radio and 2) when I would be allowed to go off to play by myself while my mother was visiting some friend of hers and I would discover that this friend of my mother's children owned a copy of Bookends.

All of which, it occurs to me now, makes me something of a mirror image of Proust for he would have regarded being sent from his mother's presence as the deepest misery. Also unlike Proust, I am perfectly happy with these memories as memories and have no desire to regain, or should that be "repossess", them.

In any case, I would pull that record out of its sleeve and play it again and again. I never bought my own copy. I don't know quite why. It may be that I did the same with other LPs that had been big hits in my childhood days and almost inevitably found the experience underwhelming. I particularly remember buying a couple of Beatles albums, lsitening to them for a week or so and never listening to them.

The particular song I heard yesterday was Fakin' It. Listening to it now, it strikes me that there are really only two moments in the tune. One is the opening couplet
When she goes, she’s gone
If she stays, she stays here
I was talking to a guy the other day about a local fiddle player and he referred to her as, "The redhead who haunts all our dreams." And that's what is at work here, the gypsy girl we all imagine.

The other part is the spoken word section in the middle of the song where a man walks into a shop and is greeted by the salesgirl. This is meant to make us realize that the relationship with girl at the beginning is only a fantasy.

It really was a more innocent time.

By the way, Paul Simon learned how to write lyrics in English class. I don't know if TS Eliot would appreciate it but his influence shows up all over Simon's lyrics; you get that same sense of someone craving redemption on the one hand but mercilessly excising almost every pathway to it because they seem too easy, too sentimental.

A final thought until after Christmas, another of his songs from that era was called "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her". Simon insisted that the song wasn't about an imaginary girl named Emily but about belief. Looking for the quote this morning, I see in Wikipedia, he also said that the song "Overs" is about loss of belief. That's interesting because Simon apparently conceives of "belief" in two ways:
  1. Craving but not finding belief is an imagined relationship with a dream girl; for all Simon's insistence that "Emily" isn't even an imagined girl you just know her last name is Dickinson.
  2. Losing belief is the loss of a relationship with a woman.
Look at those two poles, and you can see that it is a way of living that is doomed to failure. (And you can also see that it is an approach to life that haunted a lot of people in that era.) The thing is, there is something backwards in that. If you really want faith in God, you have to imagine yourself as a woman who is open and receptive to the new life he can put in you.

When he wrote "Bridge Over Troubled Water", Simon conceived of it as his message to a particular woman and quite clearly not as a religious song. He failed utterly in that as the vast majority of people who love it, do so because it is a religious song to them. As I've said here before, though, he makes promises to the woman that only God could make. The song works if you imagine the promises are offered to you, to imagine otherwise is blasphemous.

Last word to Christina Rossetti, see you in early January.


  1. Well, you're right. Yes, it was a more innocent time, naive even, but who knew? Thank you for In The Bleak Mid-Winter, and Merry Christmas.

    1. Thank you. I pray that you have a good and blessed Christmas too. Thanks for reading.