January 12, 2012

Paul Simon Makes Me Vom

I have complicated feelings about Paul Simon.  While I would like to say (and in fact, do say) that he makes me VOM, it's not that simple.

Simon and Garfunkel, depressing or boring as they may be, are fundamentally a symbol of hope.  Hope that a giant weirdo with a giant Jewfro, a giant ego, and an unsettlingly pretty voice can make it big.  Hope that a tiny guy in a turtleneck can emerge as an all-star.  Simon and Garfunkel, together, are an improbable but delightful example of Real Dudes in Love*.

Many of their songs or re-makes are lodged in my subconscious, and I have certainly been known not only to sing along upon hearing but do A CAPELLA VERSIONS WITH HARMONY with a friend or two back in the day.  Cut me some slack**!

I also very much like the sketch on Saturday Night Live (Season 1, Episode 2) where he and Connie Hawkins (pro basketball player) play one-on-one.  Sadly, it is not available online, or not that I can find.  But hey, I'll describe it, OK?  Paul Simon plays basketball!  Paul Simon wins!  Sweet and heroic, plus, you know, he's wearing a jersey with a number (1.5, if I remember correctly) that highlights the fact that he's short***.  "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard" seems like the perfect accompaniment to this heartwarming scene.

But this also takes me to the root of the problem, which is ME AND JULIO DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD.

There is a lot happening in this song, and once I hear the first notes, the bouncy jangle sticks with me, and in fact moves to the #1 position in my brain.

What is this song about?  It is about Paul Simon and his boyfriend Julio having public sex in the age of anti-sodomy laws.  I like that part of the song very much, since I am anti-oppression, anti-homophobia, and pro- using music to fight for justice and illuminate our many experiences.

I mean, right? 

                              It was against the law
                              What the mama saw
                              It was against the law

                              The mama looked down
                              and she spit on the ground
                              Every time the name gets mentioned
                              The papa said "oy if I get that boy
                              I'm gonna stick him in the house of Detention"

Still and all, Paul Simon's fake "Puerto Rican" (and maybe Jewish immigrant) accent and syntax is a mockery, totally racist, and just grating to the ear.  ["Me and CHHHHHHHHHHOOOLIO DOWN BY DE SCHOOLYAR'"] He claims the song is meaningless.  Others claim it is about anti-war protests and Daniel Berrigan.  Other agree with me, that it's about men having sex.

Content and intention only take you so far.  Paul Simon has a genius ear for a melodic hook and the underlying grammar of the uber-earworm, and a poison pen for lyrics.  The stories and lyrics are mostly godawful pap, pablum, and self-righteous/self-important "social issue reporting" at the expense of the folks whose lives and struggle he narrates.  Paul Simon presides over a worldbeat minstrel show, and gets accolades for his sensitivity and scouting abilities, and it makes me want to vom.

Disagree with me?  Go listen to "Graceland" and also find out more about the dispute over credits with Los Lobos.  Find out how much Ladysmith Black Mambazo and other black South African musicians got paid.  Think about the difference between an ALLY to oppressed communities and being a parasite.

Then post here, and tell me your feelings about Paul Simon.  I know he and Mr. Dithers are totally totally TLA****, and I totally totally support that.

*It is either not germane that they have a famously fractious relationship, or super-germane and makes their Symbolic Love even better.

**This is an odd request, given that I cut no slack nor offer quarter to artists and others here.  But still.

***I am not saying it is OK to laugh at people's height. 



  1. If I did not make it clear in the body of the post, I am calling Paul Simon out for MINSTRELRY.

  2. I would like to point out that Paul & myself are not, in fact, TLA. We would have been, but he never called me back after taking ME down to the schoolyard. And that's just rude.

    Seriously, though, I can get behind pretty much all of this post. Love for his Garfunkel days? Check. Totally weirded out by (but unable to extricate my own history from) the Graceland era. Check.

    Here's the thing about the Minstrelry accusation - from what I understand, he refuses to unpack his own songs meanings. And I suspect that is a defense. He's made uncomfortable by the meanings of his own songs, and their implications. So by refusing to think about it, he tries to keep himself off the hook. But that's what MPP is for, people... the hook.


  3. Also, for what it's worth, Jim Croce is my REAL TLA.

    "If Iiiiiiiii could keep time in a botttlllllle, the first thing that I'd like to dooooooooo..."

  4. Mr. Dithers,

    AGREED on all counts: defense, the hook, the rudeness of no call back after a Romance, and your love with/for J. Croce.

    May I ask you to write it out and post it?

  5. ALSO! What about the whole P. Simon + Edie Brickell thing? I have Opinions.