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