MICHAEL L. RICHMOND
THE ARC OF LOVE: DIVORCE AND SEPARATION IN THE SONGS OF PAUL SIMON
Failing to understand their clients´ goals and desires, attorneys may give the wrong advice. When attorneys fail to account for the emotions which color their clients´ stated goals, they cannot gain a true picture of what course of action best serves the client. Few areas of practice provide the dangers of misunderstanding that present themselves daily to the divorce practitioner. Attorneys who have not personally experienced the emotional roller coaster on which litigants in a divorce action must ride can only understand their clients´ emotions vicariously, yet only with an understanding of the clients´ feelings can the attorney properly advise and counsel them. In seeking to empathize with a client who experiences emotions attorneys have never felt, attorneys may profitably study popular music.
We can experience another´s feelings and emotions through poetry´”emotions and circumstances to which we would not otherwise have access. Paul Simon, through his songs, offers us the same experience as do poets through their work. As Simon said in a 1986 interview, ´I suppose an artist is someone who takes the elements of his life and rearranges them and then has them perceived by others as though they were the elements of their lives.´ A poet, a songwriter, an artist, a novelist´”all attempt to give the auditor or reader self-awareness from their words. Simon´s personal experiences with divorce and separation as expressed in his music provide attorneys an opportunity for a vicarious experience that might promote a better understanding of clients and their viewpoints.
Simon sees truth as a goal in his song writing, a truth that extends beyond the reality of his personal experience. ´I´ve always believed that you need a truthful first line to kick you off into a song. You have to say something emotionally true before you can let your imagination wander.´ Simon cites John Lennon as another songwriter who presents his audience with ´little stories that are enigmatic´ and from which the audience can derive their own truths. Unlike Lennon, however, Simon feels he adds an element beyond the simple story. ´I try to open up my heart as much as I can and keep a real keen eye out that I don´t get sentimental. I think we´re all afraid to reveal our hearts. It´s not at all in fashion.... So I try to reveal. And when you hit it right, you produce an emotional response in the listener that can be cathartic.´ Simon also notes a personal benefit from opening himself up in his songs, for in writing emotionally Simon discovers that his songs ´relieve the tensions that I feel when I express them.´
Simon relates an experience which occurred during therapy. In discussing writer´s block with his analyst, he stated: ´My problem is that I really don´t see what difference it makes if I write or don´t write.´ Simon came to realize that he did make a difference to many people through the songs that he wrote´”that he did not need to evaluate the songs but simply to write them. Others would take from the songs what mattered to them, and in writing the songs, Simon would satisfy his won needs as an artist.
Critics observed that Simon has lived through three divorces: from his first wife Peggy Harper, his second wife Carrie Fisher, and (with tongue planted firmly in cheek) before both of them from Art Garfunkel. All three breakups have found their way into Simon´s songs´”both directly and indirectly. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright actually related to Garfunkel. ´Artie had been an architecture student. ´˜I can´t believe your song is gone so soon, I barely learned the tune.... So long. So long.´ It was direct.´
Train in the Distance sketched Simon´s relationship with Peggy Harper´”from their courtship through the ultimate erosion of their marriage. ´And in a while, they just fell apart, it wasn´t hard to do.´ The most emotionally draining of the three breakups, that with Fisher, worked its way into several songs´”most notably Hearts and Bones. The first line, ´One and one-half wandering Jews,´ refers to Simon and to Fisher, the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Simon´s writing about broken relationships significantly antedated the sundering of any of the three ´marriages.´ Red Rubber Ball, a song written by Simon for The Cyrkle to perform, contains lyrics displaying a sort of teenaged fatalistic bitterness about the end of a relationship.
I´ve got my life to live
and I don´t need you at all.
The roller coaster ride we took
is nearly at an end.
bought my ticket with my tears,
that´s all I´m gonna spend.
I Am a Rock, written the same year, echoes the same feelings but in a far more sophisticated manner:
Don´t talk of love;
But I´ve heard the word before;
It´s sleeping in my memory.
I won´t disturb the slumber
of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
As an interesting sidelight of comparing the two songs, note the way the rhythm of the two influences the listeners. The bouncy, upbeat tempo of Red Rubber Ball (marked ´moderately bright´ in the score and written in cut time) suggests not merely the relief and optimism with which the singer greets the end of the affair, but also a hint of the immaturity and insouciance which accompanies teenage relationships which seem intense at the time, but resolve themselves into little more than learning experiences. In contrast, Simon uses the brooding tempo and 4/4 timing of I Am a Rock to suggest a more ominous and mature melancholy which manifests itself in the final line:
´Hiding in my room,
Safe within my womb,
I touch no one and no one touches me.´
Simon later would stress the concept of rhythm itself communicating a deeper message, and his earlier writing also demonstrates his dedication to making a deceptively simple rock and roll song embody a unifi-ed, total package in which each part must complement the others. ´If you take a song that has some rhythm to it...and I don´t get the rhythm right... then the song doesn´t seem real.´ With the right rhythm, though, ´the listener gives up his defense. You´re willing to entertain a number of ideas, you´re having that good a time.´ Rhythm, he said, ´is good for lyrics that express emotion. And in allowing emotion to speak, rhythm connects us in anger or in love, to others.´ Again, Simon stresses that the artist must communicate, and the songwriter´s communication must appeal to a sense well beyond that of the five recognized senses´”a sense of rhythm innately found in songwriter and audience alike. One message prevalent in Simon´s earlier songs dealing with parting rarely surfaces in his more mature, solo work. Only seldom does Simon dwell on the bitterness that breaking up might engender, a bitterness which pervaded the earlier efforts. In Graceland, for example, he introduces the concept of loss by writing:
She comes back to tell me she´s gone
As if I didn´t know that
As if I didn´t know my own bed
As if I´d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead.
But Graceland presents a more complex picture than mere unhappiness. As noted later, Graceland demonstrates that bitterness comes soon after the initial comprehension that a relationship has ended. (Kubler-Ross listed anger as only the second of her five stages of grief.) Ultimately, Graceland shows how for Simon the disintegration of a relationship can lead to deep self-awareness and new beginnings. More elementally, Simon speaks of hurt in the earlier Congratulations.
´I ain´t had such misery
Since I don´t know when.´
´Love will do you in
And love will wash you out
And needless to say
You won´t stand a chance.´
Even the very pointed Congratulations diverges markedly from the earlier works. The text suggests at the end that Simon wants to treat his bitterness as a learning experience:
´I´m hungry for learning
Won´t you answer me please
Can a man and a woman
Live together in peace?´
But the message in Congratulations transcends the text. Remember that for Simon a song is more than its words. ´What the song form has that the short-story form doesn´t is melody. Melodies are inexplicable; they´re magic. Combine certain words with melodies and it all becomes very moving.´ Critics have also noted that Simon masters the interdepen-dency of the various elements of a song. ´The music extends and enriches the language while the lyrics meditate on the music.´ The music and rhythm of Congratulations offer a far more complex message than the simpler, early works. Simon wrote Congratulations in 3/4 time´”waltz tempo´”thus electing to put this plaintive message in a rhythm normally used for soft moments and love songs. The chording also reflects a far greater complexity than the basic progressions of Red Rubber Ball and the only slightly more involved ones of I Am a Rock.
Now, we find the underlying D-G-Em-A rock and roll progression embellished by such arcane intermediate chords as A11 and C#7-5, together with liberal use of alternate bass strings. It does not stretch reason to conclude that Simon has chosen to present themes from his earlier songs in such a way as to demonstrate continuing growth and maturity as a songwriter. Congratulations contains Simon´s only lyrics directly related to the legal profession.
´I notice so many people slipping away
And many more waiting in the lines
In the courtrooms today.´
Unlike many other authors involved in divorce, Simon refuses to affix blame externally, realizing that relationships fade because of the people and not the attorneys who serve them. Few songwriters follow this path. Indeed, most delight in taking the opportunity to lawyer-bash. Don Henley, for example, took dead aim at the legal profession on his End of the Innocence album: ´A man with a briefcase can steal more money than any man can with a gun.´ Although Simon does not ignore the bitterness caused by divorce, he does not often focus on it. Rather, his songs speak of emptiness and disappointment´”yet not for the emotions themselves but with the realization that we must move beyond them. As early in his career as the highly successful Bookends album ´”the penultimate Simon and Garfunkel offering´” Simon in his song Overs explored the concept that the end of relationships saddens rather than embitters.
Why don´t we stop fooling ourselves
The game is over, over, over.
No good times, no bad times
There´s no times at all
Just the New York Times....
We might as well be apart
It hardly matters, we sleep sep´rately
And drop a smile passin´ in the hall....
And I wonder´”how long?´”Can I delay
We´re just a habit like saccharine
And I´m habitually feelin´ kinda blue.
But each time I try on the thought of leavin´ you
I stop! I stop and think it over.
Train in the Distance, written after Simon´s first marriage ended, reflects a similar reaction. The title itself evokes the mournful sound of the distant train whistle, and yet for Simon the train served as a metaphor for new opportunities. ´There´s something about the sound of a train that´s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.´ The song itself echoes this message, in showing a relationship from its beginnings through its slow disintegration to the point where the parties have turned into ´Two disappointed believers, Two people playing the game.´ Even here, Simon refuses to make disappointment his dominant message. He uses the train to stress that the players in his game, even while realizing that the game has ended, still recognize that hope remains.
Simon later noted that Train in the Distance provided a clear example of how he went about writing. Based on the factual framework of his courting Peggy Harper and the end of their marriage, the song then moved beyond the facts. ´I told a story, and then I used the metaphor. And then I thought, I don´t think people are going to understand what I mean [by the train]. And I don´t want to be enigmatic. So I added:
´˜What is the point of this story?
What information pertains?
The thought that life could be better
is woven indelibly into our
hearts and our brains.´
And that was my writer´s point of view. That we´ve survived by believing our life is going to get better.´
Simon´s marriage to Harper broke up because: ´I wasn´t ready. I didn´t understand what marriage meant, really. I didn´t understand that if things were uncomfortable or you were unhappy, you could work it out.´ The divorce pushed Simon into a bout of depression, and caused him to write Still Crazy After All These Years. ´I was staying in a Manhattan hotel.... I was pretty depressed, just sitting and looking out the window. That´s all I used to do.... ´˜Now I sit by my window and I watch the cars....´´ But here again, the message of the song differs markedly from the facially similar I Am a Rock. In the earlier song, Simon depicted a withdrawal from the world so total that he commented: ´I get all the news I need from the weather report.´ The Simon of Still Crazy can get out, interact with his ´old lover,´ and speak of his condition in words overlaid with a wry, humorous outlook.
Simon´s life also reflects the positive side of Still Crazy. He continues his interaction with Harper on a cordial basis, as reflected in Train in the Distance.
´But now the man and the woman remain in contact
Let us say it´s for the child...
From time to time he just makes her laugh
She cooks a meal or two.´
He also maintains an ongoing relationship with Fisher, although some commentators suggest her novel Surrender the Pink has strained it due to a character said to represent Simon. Simon, however, has said that even though he has remarried his relationship with Fisher ´was a powerful love. And it still is.´ And, despite deep mutual wounds and artistic differences, Simon and Garfunkel do sporadically appear together.
On the Still Crazy album, Simon sings the nostalgic I Do It For Your Love, in which he reminisces about the early days of a relationship. Despite overcast skies, musty rooms, and trading colds, the love which the two shared kept their outlook positive. With the ultimate passage of love, the negative experiences surfaced from memory with a bittersweet overtone. Here again, Simon stresses the positive aspects´”the hope of Train in the Distance´”even against the backdrop of
´The sting of reason
The splash of tears
The northern and the southern Hemispheres
Love emerges and it disappears
I do it for your love.´
Simon´s divorce from Carrie Fisher would prove far more traumatic. After having lived together for a period of years, the two married at least in part ´to save the relationship,´ according to Fisher. Simon also suggests that their marriage came about as an effort to remain together. ´My style is to procrastinate. It just made me real nervous. I had been married and divorced and found it really painful. But Carrie got frustrated, and she was preparing to leave again.´ They spoke of their feelings for each other in similar terms, Simon saying: ´That was an intense love affair,´ and Fisher echoing: ´That was a powerful love.´ Despite the depth of their love for each other, as Simon´s brother commented, ´They were so similar, it was almost like there wasn´t room for the two of them to exist in the same room.´ The marriage ended, and Simon went into an emotional tailspin.
Yet Simon´s willingness to speak through his songs of his own emotions proved the factor which saw him through the crisis. In the six months it took Simon to write Graceland, he had used the song to transform his personal inertia into a deeper realization of the interrelation between individual and music, between truth and emotion. In the retrospective works on the later Rhythm of the Saints album, Simon expressed the problem which initially confronted him: ´Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.´ Simon found in the South African quest which led to Graceland that for him music did not represent a substitute for tears, but rather that he found the truth he constantly sought in his music and the tears could not eradicate the truth. In Under African Skies Simon wrote of the inevitable process which led to his inner healing.
After the dream of falling
and calling your name out,
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain.
Simon´s return to what truly mattered ´” the foundations of music and of his reality ´” permitted him to overcome paralyzing grief. Graceland for Simon represented the rejection of his unsuccessful personal relationships in favor of the music which had been so real to him since childhood.Graceland begins with one of Simon´s truths:
´The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar.´
The simile Simon uses presages the message of the song´”reality is known by way of music. Simon, together with ´Poorboys and Pilgrims with families...are going to Graceland.´ Graceland´”the home of Elvis Presley and at the same time a metaphor for what Simon viewed as ´a state of grace, a state of acceptance.´ Elvis represented two things for Simon. First, ´my main influences in early music were Fifties R&B, fifties doo-wop groups, Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers.´ But Elvis´ influence on Simon had a much darker meaning as well. ´For, as much as I idolized him, the lesson of his life ´”what happens to people with tremendous gifts in their youth´” was terrible. His lesson was that you go to Las Vegas and stop thinking and live in an insulated world where you can get as many drugs as you want. That´s very destructive.´ Elvis represented to Simon the danger of letting his talent stagnate, of losing the meaning in his music as he lost the meaning in his personal relationships.Yet Elvis´ influence on Simon´s music served as merely a surface rationale for looking toward Graceland. An episode early in his relationship with Art Garfunkel also involved Elvis, at least in an oblique way, and has affected their friendship to the present day.
"During this time we were singing together, I made a solo record. And it made Artie very unhappy. He looked upon it as something of a betrayal. That sense of betrayal has remained with him. That solo record that I made at the age of 15 permanently colored our relationship. We were talking about it recently and I said, ´Artie, for Christ´s sake, I was 15 years old! How can you carry that betrayal for 25 years? Even if I was wrong, I was just a 15-year-old kid who wanted to be Elvis Presley for one moment instead of being the Everly Brothers with you. Even if you were hurt, let´s drop it.´ But he won´t.... He said, ´You´re still the same guy.´ And I think he thinks I am."
The song was most likely Teen Age Fool, on which Simon´s voice adopts a mock Presley tremolo sound underneath a heavy rock-´n´-roll beat and a honking saxophone solo.
When Simon began to write Graceland, he had ´no intentions of writing about Elvis Presley, but the word ´˜Graceland´ came very early.´ Yet later he understood that: ´When I went to Graceland, I realized that I could feel relaxed in the fact that the song had nothing to do with Elvis Presley or Graceland. It had to do with finding a metaphorical Graceland.´ Simon recounts how Fisher said
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you´re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow.´
Fisher echoed these words in her second novel, Surrender the Pink, when her protagonist learns that her ex-husband intends to remarry. ´This knocked the wind out of Dinah.
Something at her center dropped away, leaving an ache howling through her, a moaning somewhere inside her.´
As Graceland progresses, Simon realizes that his ´traveling companions are ghosts and empty sockets.´ This understanding leads him to see that indeed, ´Losing love Is like a window in your heart.´ And ultimately, he finds his grace in Graceland, in his ´roots and rhythms.´ Music, the essential rhythm and beat which underlies and gives meaning to the song, also underlay and gave meaning to Simon´s life. Many of the other Graceland songs also contribute to the picture of a sensitive man recovering from a deep personal loss. I Know What I Know shows the vapidity of the singles scene and the disenchantment and lack of commitment lurking in its bars and parties.
´She looked me over
And I guess she thought I was all right.´
Gumboots follows much the same theme. ´You don´t feel you could love me but I feel you could.´ Simon even approaches divorce from a humorous perspective through the character of Fat Charlie the Archangel in Crazy Love, Volume II.
´Fat Charlie the Archangel
Files for divorce.
well this will eat up
a year of my life
And then there´s all that
weight to be lost.´
For attorneys these songs present a sensitive man suddenly cut loose from a meaningful relationship. Suddenly, he wanders aimlessly, looking for new meaning in interpersonal relations with the opposite sex, but finding only emptiness and triviality. Troubled by a sense of loss coupled with initial bitterness and ´all that weight to be lost,´ the sensitive man lacks a rudder and experiences an unfamiliar need for guidance. Not surprisingly, divorce clients present the same picture to their attorneys, at least to those attorneys acute enough to take the needs of their clients into account.
Simon´s last word on his relationships comes with She Moves On, a song from Rhythm of the Saints which Simon acknowledges ´has some Carrie in it.´
´We take a walk
Down in the maroon light.
She says ´˜Maybe these emotions are
As near to love as love will ever be
So I agree.´
Carrie Fisher moves on, as does Paul Simon.
Simon is now married to Edie Brickell, and has produced a full retrospective CD collection of his songs with the cooperation of Art Garfunkel. The one-time law student who ´essentially...flunked out´ has put his ´ghosts and empty sockets´ behind him. He continues to reject the message of rock that began in the early 80´s and continues to this day: ´Rock renews itself by spitting on anything sophisticated, on anything with more than a few chord changes or a complex arrangement.... The general illiteracy in our culture is also being seen in our music, which can be seen a real and brutal but totally unable to express mature or sophisticated thinking in a rhythmic way.´ Paul Simon continues to demand truth in his music, for music demands roots in truth in order to speak to its listeners.