Monday, January 19, 2015


This one was mentioned by Marc Eliot in his biography of Simon, so thanks go to him for finding it.

In 1976, smooth jazz sax virtuoso David Sanborn-- who performed backup for Simon on record and in concert-- came out with his second album. It was called simply Sanborn, and the second track was titled "Smile." So this has nothing to do with the long-gestating Beach Boys album of the same name.

There are only six lines-- two verses of six lines each. The first line of each verse is the same. And the last line of each verse is the same, too, with the exception of one word. So, not much songwriting going on; it's more of a epigram.

The lyrics, in their entirety, are:

"And it was all in your smile
And it threw me off stride for a while
But when I looked up you were gone

It was all in your smile
Something I hadn't felt for a while
But when I woke up you were gone."

The first verse concerns someone who is gob-smacked by someone's stunning smile, to such a degree that he or she (it sounds like mostly women singing on the Sanborn track) is discombobulated and so cannot respond coherently. By the time she collects herself, the smiler has departed, consarn the luck.

The second verse starts as the first. The rhyme is even the same in the second line, but this time, there is less of an infatuation and more of a deep affection, so the two did find each other again. This is borne out by the word "woke," implying that the two had slept together, but now the other has gone... and taken his smile with him.

With saxophone solos and repeats of the lyrics, this number takes up nearly four minutes in its first recording. There are versions, however, that stretch past six and even ten minutes. Which may be typical for jazz. (The satirical newspaper The Onion mocked the tendency of improvisation-based groups to elongate songs thus: "Grateful Dead play 'Happy Birthday' to Jerry Garcia for four hours.")

There is not much more to say about "Smile," other than that Sanborn seems to still be performing it, so it must have become a fan favorite.

Someone posted the lyrics as "threw me off sky" which is poetic, but completely nonsensical, and clearly not what the singers are singing. Also, "threw me off stride" is a very common, even cliche, expression, and not one that can be mistaken for something else. Sadly, whoever wrote "sky" had their version copied and pasted to such a degree that it is all over the Internet.

The word "stride," while somewhat old hat, is still being used-- it is the name of a brand of chewing gum, for one thing, and shoe (Stride Rite)... and a form of New Orleans jazz about which a movie is being made. In the 1980s, Matthew Wilder became a one-hit wonder with "Break My Stride." So people should still know the word, even if the expression "threw me off stride" is old-fashioned enough to, well, throw someone off stride.

Next Song: Wristband

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Mission

(Well, I said if I found more Paul Simon songs, I would post them, and I did... so here they are. Two more. One more this week, and another next week.)

This song is from The Capeman. More pointedly, it is not from that musical, as it did not make it into the final version or into the Lyrics book. It was posted by a very good fansite,, so thanks go to them for this find.

It is clearly intended for the musical, as it mentions Puerto Rico, but aside from that, not much is clear about it. It seems to take place during Salvador's parole-violating journey to see his pen-pal girlfriend in Arizona, since Tucson is mentioned.

Frustratingly, the site does not explain which character gets which bit of dialogue; it is unclear who is speaking (or singing) several of the lines. All we can know is that Sanchez introduces himself, and extrapolate from there. It may be that they simply take turns... or as in normal conversations, there may be a pause, after which the same speaker re-initiates the dialogue.

The song seems to have been left out due to the its introduction of a new character, who hesitantly calls himself Sanchez, who is not heard from otherwise, and the lack of their interaction advancing the plot at all or even revealing much about Salvador's character. Other than he is nervous, being on the lam and all. Which we knew.

The interaction, such as it is, takes place somewhere with a dirt floor. Perhaps in Arizona itself, on the way to his girlfriend's reservation (she's Native American). One of them does observe that "the desert gets cold at night."

The only other hint is the song's title, "The Mission," which seems to serve double duty. It means the mission  of love that Salvador is on... but also the building he finds himself in, one of the missions, like The Alamo, that dot the American southwest. An abandoned one may provide a roof and walls, but perhaps no more than a dirt floor for sleeping.

Sanchez, as we discover he calls himself, says he comes from "Canada" and works out of Tuscon. Salvador responds, falsely, that he is a "traveling salesman/ Pick-up and deliveries/ I'm waiting for someone/ He looks just like you." Which may be his explanation for being willing to converse.

Sanchez, picking up on Salvador's reluctance to talk, assures him: "No need to advertise ourselves to the local population." Sanchez does rightly guess that Salvador is from Puerto Rico, asking if he is headed there.

He also offers Salvador part of his food, possibly as a gesture of trust, since Salvador admits: "I've seen you watching me/ Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm paranoid/ But I've got my reasons/ My fears..."

The song closes with the following exchange as they say their good-nights and bed down:

A: The desert gets cold at night...

B: Still, Heaven is in your sight.

A: Isn't it strange that we came the same distance/ Just a coincidence?

B: Maybe so. Maybe it's fate that tied us together.

A: I ain't tied to anything.

B: I'll see you tomorrow.

A: Amen to that, my friend. Amen.

Speaker B is quite religious, speaking of "Heaven" and "fate." If it is Salvador, this is a bit out of character. Even if he is excited to be out of jail and to see his girlfriend, why is he using religious language to express that? He could simply speak of being happy and eager.

More likely, Salvador is the guarded, cynical Speaker A, who speaks of the desert being cold, coincidences, and not "being tied to anything." He may throw B the bone of an "Amen" at the end to make up for his aloofness and to signal that, while not religious himself, he does not dismiss the other's faith, thus ending the exchange on a warmer note.

Again, it is not hard to see why this was left out of the production. Aside from the sad rhyme of "snack" and "back," the whole piece is unnecessary. Sanchez is superfluous as a character, and we already know Salvador's place in the plot and his state of mind.

Next Song: Smile