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Si Fulano…

Listening to Paul Simon’s album You’re The One — specifically the title track, and only the title track, which has caught my attention in the sick I-will-listen-to-nothing-else-for-a-week, then-I-won’t-be-able-to-stand-it-for-a-year way.

So, when did Paul Simon and David Byrne switch personalities without my noticing? Yeah, they’re both middle-aged white ex-rocksters with a tendency to “borrow” (I’ll let you hash that judgement out) music from Africa and South America, so I suppose it was inevitable they cross each other’s paths. But “You’re The One” is a little less wistful than most Paul Simon songs. It’s a little sharper at the edges.

The song opens with a benediction, “May twelve angels guard you while you sleep,” and then admits uncharacteristic self-doubt — “maybe that’s a waste of angels, I dunno.” No “days of miracles and wonder;” this is Paul Simon after taking a drubbing for the Capeman incident, maybe, a little less confident of his prophecies.

As a certain ex-boyfriend pointed out in a long embittered letter, my ear is for sh!t (and if you wished to imbibe the rest of that poison, you’d learn it’s not my worst feature). I think, though, that I hear Simon exploring scales more here — top of his range, bottom of his range — and using minor chords more for irony than melancholy. The guitar is tic-y, obsessive, an echo of the Talking Heads circa I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That. Vocals range from ethereal to percussive. You half expect Simon to leap out of his melted-by-the-Central-Park-summer-heat murmur and deliver a screed against the parking lots of the Bible Belt.

The song plays with big symbols, which has traditionally been more Byrne’s preserve than Simon’s. Here there are no Fullbrights, wandering Jews, marital contracts, boys in bubbles or babies with baboon hearts; no Graceland. Just love and anti-love, regarded from all sides for symmetry’s sake:

You’re the one who broke my heart,

who made me cry…

but when I hear it from the other side,

it’s a completely different song

and I’m the one that made you cry

and I’m the one who’s wrong.

Tight as nursery rhymes, or a kid’s taunt. This stanza really kicks me in the head:

Nature gives us shapeless shapes,

clouds and wings and flame,

but human expectation,

is that love remains the same;

and when it doesn’t,

we point our fingers

and blame, blame, blame.

You can see the sticks moving the puppets here; not the clothing of daily negotiations and love songs, but the drives beneath. As he ages, Paul Simon makes us mortal.

One Comment

  1. Mommy wrote:

    (Let’s see if this works.) Love what you wrote. Almost 10 y.a. Now to go listen…

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

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