Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stranger to Stranger

The title track to this album is a love song, and a lovely one, at that. Simon married singer-songwriter Edie Brickell in 1992, so this song comes nearly 25 years into their marriage.

He asks if they would fall in love again if they met now: "If we met for the first time/ Could you imagine us falling in love again?" The language echoes his song "Old Friends": "Can you imagine us, years from today/ Sharing a park bench?"

(Side note: in that song, he muses, "How terribly strange to be 70." The year this album was released, Simon was 74.)

This song continues: "Words and melody... fall from the summer trees," he says, "So the old story goes." I have never heard the story of songs falling from trees... if any of my readers have, I hope they share that story with me.

Why is this here? Perhaps he means to say that he and his wife pair as well as words and melody, and as naturally as leaves falling from trees.

In any case, how wonderful and amazing that, after two decades and more, he still awaits her very "walk[ing] across his doorway." He is "jittery" with "joy," even. She is like a drug to him: "I cannot be held accountable for the things I do or say," when she is near.

He finds their relationship an "easy harmony," and it must be something when two such great singers actually do harmonize. And when there is a problem, the "old-time remedies" still work.

And oh, problems do happen. Some can be compared to repetitive-stress injuries: "Most of the time/ It's just hard working/ The same piece of clay / Day after day." The "clay" represents the banality of life... or, seeing as how Adam was made of clay, the banality of people.

Other problems lie not within the relationship, but its individual members: "Certain melodies tear your heart apart/ Reconstruction is a lonesome art." Some losses, like the death of a parent or a career downturn, affect one of them more than the other.

What else? "All the carnage." Again, this could refer to death or illness, but also fighting and saying hurtful things, separations and silences-- psychological damage. But these things are discreet and definable.

Others are more effusive and evasive: "All the useless detours." A couple could spend five years in a house neither likes, because each thinks the other one likes it. A couple could take years to decide to get married, or divorced, and just be living in a limbo of inertia.

But despite all these thing, he still believes: "Love endures." The song ends with Simon repeating "I love you" over and over in waltz time, then: "Words and melody/ Easy harmony." When they are in tune, what a beautiful song.

"I love to watch you walk across my doorway," he tells her-- still crazy about her, after all these years.

Musical Note:
This is one of the four songs Simon spiced with flamenco on this album; the others are "The Riverbank," "The Werewolf" and "Wristband." In this, some of the rhythms are actually recordings of the dancer's steps.

Some of the guitar was done by Cameroons native Vincent Nguini, who has been with Simon since Rhythm of the Saints.

Next Song: In a Parade


  1. As always thanks Paul for the great insights :) Two other points came to my mind…
    About 2 years ago Paul and Edie released a duet called “like to get to know you”, which described a couple which have grown apart (in other words became strangers) or perhaps were not as close as they used to be. But they both sang in a jolly harmony “I like to get to know you again”. I feel this song is the continuation of the same train of thought and the fear which arises from that idea of getting to know someone. If somebody wants to get to know you there is always the chance that they may not like what they find! Thus he asks: “Stranger to stranger, if we met for the first time, this time could you imagine us falling in love again?”
    Also the line “I’m just jittery. It’s just a way of dealing with my joy” reminds me of an interview about the Capeman wherein Paul talking about beauty in music said: “there is something about beauty which makes one… nerves” Maybe same can be said about love. Although I don’t know if I understand why should beauty make one feel nerves! Maybe it is the fear of losing it.

  2. Yasin-- Thanks for he compliment. While I am aware of the couple's unfortunate public embarrassment, I was (to my own embarrassment) unaware that the couple had released a single afterward. I found it online and will write it up next week, so thanks for the info! I assume they wrote it; it seems very personal in nature.
    I agree that it's somewhat nervous-making both to wonder about someone still loving you after a long relationship, and to stand in the presence of great beauty. But Simon writes that being "jittery" is his response to happiness-- in this case, that this beauty still does love him.
    Thanks again for reading-- I learn as much from my readers as from the interviews, reviews and biographies done by professionals.

  3. No worries :) Good job I mentioned that song then. It is a sweet one. I agree, pretty sure they wrote it.

  4. The core of the song is the questioning of the presence of real love, or at least depth of that feeling, and how the circumstances of his marriage stand up against the ideal. Similar to but less conceptual than “Proof of Love.” The story of words and melodies "falling from summer trees" I suppose could be idiomatic for the way constructing music is idealized or is generally believed to best happen. The frustrating amount of thought and work that goes into a song doesn't seem like the natural way things should work as the perfect metaphor for a relationship with two people that aren't connecting spontaneously In other words, "falling in love again if we met today" as unlikely as music falling to the ground in a breeze. Of course in adjectival form stranger to stranger can also be read comparatively as a situation going from weird to weirder. So even here there is the sense to me of telling one story while there’s subconsciously another story going on.

  5. Elizabeth-- I always wondered if a site like e-Harmony ever tested their questionnaires by giving them to couples who had been happily married for 10 years or more. In other words, these people are right for each other in practice, but would the questions be good enough to say that yes, they should also be together in theory?

  6. I don't know but it is interesting that the track listing puts it sequential relative to two songs on the condition of undiagnosed mental illness and being forcibly taken away, possibly to a psychiatric facility. My reading would be that is meant as some kind of statement on being blindsided by love just as so called Street Angels can be derailed by a mental disorder that seems to come out of the blue. In both cases you don’t know where you are going to land and how long it could take to get back if you land in the bad place. It may be fun for a while until you go completely off the tracks. I kept thinking of this. Both the crazy in love and literally delusional person feels they are privy to secret knowledge, and that they are a special person who understands things about the world that others are blind to.
    From the point of view of the depressed, chronically lonely and understimulated person living on the street, having proof of their unique status could lift them out of hopelessness, insignificance and worthlessness. I'm not saying it is the same dynamic to falling in love but he could be playing around a bit with the insanity of having your life so suddenly upended.

  7. Elizabeth-- I have to admit that I don't give a lot of thought to how the songs are sequenced on a given album. Other than if one quotes another one directly, or otherwise clearly hearkens back to an earlier song, I suppose. I think there is merit to such explorations, and I really thought about having a post on each album as well as each song, but perhaps I will leave that to another blogger.
    Still, if what you are saying is the case, this is hardly the first time anyone compared love and madness! Simon even has a song called "Crazy Love."

  8. I agree analyzing his track lists is normally an exercise in frustration. In this case only because the unusual decision to take a character from one song and put it back into another actually allows Stranger to Stranger to make sense, on multiple levels, as a bridge between them. The unity both of sound elements and themes (river coming up, angels, wolves/sheep, sirens of an ambulance etc) through the entire album is all very satisfying...even if I am almost certainly reading way too much into it.

  9. Elizabeth-- Sometimes patterns emerge from the subconscious and it take someone else to notice them.