Someone that doesn’t understand much about music or city attempts to perform a deep-dive on why Paul Simon is a genius lyricist


For the past week, I’ve had actually “America” by Simon & Garfunkel going with my head. Even though it’s one of my favourite songs, it’s as well sad for me to listen on repeat play, therefore I’ve never ever memorized it. As a result, I’ve to be going about singing it come myself, yet I’ve kept obtaining hung up in ~ the exact same part.

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It’s the best line of the song:

"Kathy, I"m lost," i said, though ns knew she to be sleeping.The reason my mind keeps difficult on the is due to the fact that the meter’s off. It repeats the same tune and also general rhythm from two various other parts that the song:

Let united state be lovers, we"ll marry ours fortunes togetherToss me a cigarette, i think there"s one in mine raincoatBut there’s a valuation missing, i m sorry my brain keeps do the efforts to to fill up by an altering it to “although i knew she was sleeping,” or “even though”, etc. This could be a perfect instance of overthinking a item of art until you’ve drained the of everything that made that sublime, however in this case, it provided me an also greater appreciation for it.

I’m provided to songs that take liberties with focus or joint to force them right into a particular meter or rhyme. But Paul Simon just doesn’t perform that. If anything, he’ll sacrifice definition for the sound and rhythm that the words.

For instance: Graceland is one of the best albums ever recorded, and also listening come it was in reality the very first time i really understood that friend could choose words in a song based upon how castle sounded instead of what they meant.1If this seems prefer a shallow epiphany, realize that i was only roughly 14 years old in ~ the time. Till then, my understanding of songwriting was that it was choose poetry: you number out what you desire to say, and then come up v synonyms to make it fit the rhythm and meter.2Yes, I had a shallow understanding of poetry together well.

Implicit in the entirety idea of Graceland is the idea that words are liked for exactly how they sound at least as lot as for what castle mean. Numerous of the songs have lyrics sung by south African musician in their aboriginal languages3Ladysmith black Mambazo’s components of “Diamonds ~ above the Soles of her Shoes” space in Zulu, according to Wikipedia, which pressure an English-speaking audience to hear it as music performed through words rather of words set to music. Several of the best English-language lyrics are evocative, however still it seems ~ to be emphasizing sound end quick-and-easy comprehension:

The way the camera complies with us in slow-moMy travel companions room ghosts and also empty socketsI"m looking at ghosts and also emptiesShe to be physically forgottenBut then she slipped into my pocket with my vehicle keysThe lyrics deserve to be abstract because he can just speak “ooh ooh ooh” and everybody would certainly know exactly what he was talking about.

“You Can speak to Me Al” isn’t mine favorite song on Graceland, yet it is the one that feels many to me prefer Simon simply showing turn off what he have the right to do together a lyricist. I think ostensibly it’s a comical take on a man having actually a mid-life crisis, but it’s full of abstract, evocative rash that ns don’t think is an alleged to typical anything. It’s simply there because it’s naturally funny and also musical when Paul Simon claims stuff like

He ducked back down the alley with some roly-poly little bat-faced girlBy the finish of the song, the abstract nonsense build to something approaching a profound epiphany:

He watch around, aroundHe watch angels in the architectureSpinning in infinityI read it as Paul Simon utilizing clever framework to do a comedic and catchy pop song around what could be a weighty topic. Kind of favor “50 methods to Leave her Lover,” which I interpret as a warning not to over-think a breakup. That song alternates in between overly wordy and poetic language through fairly facility rhythm, and then a bunch of silly, straightforward rhymes favor “slip out the back, Jack.”

Two factors for that long diversion around Graceland: 1) I simply wanted come talk around how much I favor Graceland; and 2) being reminded of exactly how clever Paul Simon is around song structure and the sound the words do me far better appreciate exactly how the tune “America” works:

It’s structured choose a individual song, where mostly identical sections repeat, rather of alternative verse and chorus. The sections, together I recognize it:

Moving forward v a purpose. These parts are the persons I pointed out at the top, which room the many rhythmic and musical, v a predictable meter. “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry ours fortunes together.”Introspection. These parts feel choose the narrator letting his mental wander, mental mundane details, and they’re much less rhythmic, much more like free verse. “Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces.” “So ns looked in ~ the scenery, she check out her magazine.”Building come a crescendo. “It take it me four days to hitchhike indigenous Saginaw.” “Counting the dare on the new Jersey Turnpike.” simply put: I’ve been looking for something, and all these other civilization are searching, too.“I’ve gone to look for America.” This is recurring with an ext or much less the specific same framework over and over again, v one exception: the softer, sadder, “And the moon increased over an open up field.” There’s a emotion of darkness and also emptiness, and also because it’s got the exact same rhythm and melody together the declaration to look because that America, a sense that he’s shed his purpose. “Have I already found it, and this emptiness is all there is?”

I’m offered to songs the skip words or large words out to force them come fit a meter, and I’m offered to giving it a pass — also when it’s in the title — due to the fact that I like the song.

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But the phrase “Kathy, I’m lost” breaks the repeated meter, since that’s the point. The “missing syllable” is lacking because the idea that disillusionment is claimed to just hang there.