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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Simon’

Diamonds Are Forever

May 22, 2013 | by

Paul-Simon-Graceland-1986

Ever since I made the mistake of moving away from New York a couple of summers ago, I haven’t been able to spend more than a day or maybe two in the city or in Brooklyn without thinking of the dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Of course there isn’t any actual dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”—it’s a plan they abandon, the diamond-soled girl and the poor boy—but who would come back to the city a little bit older and sadder and think of the long nights on rooftops and not of the way that time collapses when you’re young in New York and in love? She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway. Time passes in that line from the start of the night to its aftermath, and the night itself is lost to memory in the way that everyday whimsy and arguments are, especially with wine, especially with pulls as relentless as those of the city’s excitement and of the comforts of new love and home. The doorway is a compromise between the worlds that put them off-balance—the world inside the doorway, and Broadway. She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway / By the bodegas and the lights of Upper Broadway.

Wealth: you couldn’t have a story like this of Upper Broadway and not describe the shames and trappings of wealth, the extravagant ludicrousness of having diamonds on the bottoms of your shoes, the thin pretense of trying to hide anything. She’s like a fable, the rich girl. You can hear her playing and taunting, fun and vain, eager to please and anxious to be reassured of what she knows is hardly true.

She said, “You’ve taken me for granted
Because I please you
Wearing these diamonds.”

If she pleases him, it’s not with the diamonds that he has to compensate for, and because she knows this but wishes that she didn’t, she says please in two syllables and diamonds in seven, as if to say how silly—how crazy—it would be to want her wealth, as at least part of him does.

He gets there in the end, wearing diamonds, but not without denial, resentment, and envy. It’s this self-consciousness, if not self-awareness, that rounds the song out into drama. She makes the sign of a teaspoon / He makes the sign of a wave. She plays at doing something, and he, drawn inward, just plays at reaching out to her, but his self-consciousness makes it just the sign of a wave, shy of what he feels is real communication. (Maybe his version of play is a pun like “sine wave,” which, being a pun, feels too embarrassing to say.)

She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
and puts on aftershave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes.

The rhyme with aftershave feels right, but it’s hard to say why. Our ineffable certainty is like that of the poor boy reacting to his anxiety by fixing himself up—likely because it feels right and not because he thinks the uncomfortable thought that he has to compensate. It’s the narrator who thinks that. His interpolation helps to set the characters off-balance with themselves and each other, excited and anxious, ready for the dancing that never happens.

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After the twenty-fifth-anniversary celebration of Graceland last year, I worried that the album was dead. Read More »

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Second Chances

February 13, 2013 | by

wind chimes

My husband hung up the wind chimes today. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, as my husband is a competent man and gravity is working as it should. It is a big deal, though, because these are big wind chimes, eight feet tall, made of steel tubes that gong when the wind catcher catches. They aren’t beautiful to look at, nor beautiful to hear, unless you really dig church, but they are beautiful to me, and now that they’re up, after two weeks at our new house, I know we are home. Again. This is our third move in five years.

I inherited the wind chimes from my folks. My parents had the sort of love affair that required them to marry each other twice. This would be more romantic if there wasn’t a divorce in the middle of that, say, or if they weren’t in the process of a second divorce when my mother died. Where some couples have trial separations, my parents had trial marriages. The family agrees that if these two were still alive today, they would be going for yet another round.

On the second try, they moved to Washington state, to a house overlooking the Hood Canal, a tiny, perfect part of the Puget Sound. For the nine months they managed to keep their romance together this time, the house was alive with the magic of second chances. Where the first album I ever remember hearing is Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits loud on Pops’s eight-track, the Washington trial marriage, fifteen years later, was perfectly timed with the release of Simon’s Graceland. The house rang with Pops’s voice singing along to you “You Can Call Me Al,” a pointed reference to a past love of Mom’s. This Al had died years before, but death brings no end to competition in marriages such as this, and Pops took more pleasure from it than he should have. Mom loved Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and would insist the song was about me, one of the prettier riddles I inherited. Read More »

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Someone to Watch Over Me

August 14, 2012 | by

When I was twelve and my parents’ marriage was falling apart, my dad explained to me that he never actually wanted to get married and have kids. The only reason he did it, he said, was because it would make him less likely to be drafted into the Vietnam War. It never occurred to him that telling me this might hurt me. He was a successful musician and an esteemed jazz scholar, but he had virtually no ability to sense another person’s feelings. If he were growing up today, his diagnosis would have been obvious: Asperger’s syndrome.

I shrugged this moment off as another instance of my dad’s profound insensitivity, which was so much a part of my foundational world that it didn’t feel shocking. I knew he was clueless about the emotional bonds that connected us, but they were real to me anyway, and reacting would have been pointless. I had watched my mother pour her heart out to him, and he never once heard her. She could never make him understand how the things he did affected her—his charts analyzing how much money she spent on different categories of groceries at the Safeway, his refusal to break his routine when she needed to talk. “Make an appointment,” he told her, and the emotional response that followed didn’t even pass his notice. He didn’t get that channel.

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