guilty pleasure monday: american tune (paul simon)

in honor of the US’s big birthday bash later this week, i’m sharing:

guilty pleasure monday: the patriot version.

(no, we’re not listening to god bless the usa; i think that song and lee greenwood should just be launched into iraq, where the people there will surely think of something suitable to do with them both.)

american tune, a song paul simon produced sometime just after he split with partner art garfunkel, is a very simple, but moving song. i often listen to it; i imagine if woody allen had been a folky, this would have been the song he would have sung. the narrator (who allegedly wrote this, depressed after Nixon won re-election in 1972) is world-weary, wondering what’s gone wrong, a thought sadly still relevant.

what some don’t realize is that the song is an old, old tune, a re-working of a J. S. Bach chorale from St. Matthew Passion (which J. S. ripped off from Hans Leo Haßler, who wrote it as Mein Gmüth ist mir verwirret, which of course translated means my ferret is on fire. kidding on the translation, though the ripoff is true. shame on you, johann.)

this, in turn, has been reworked throughout the ages for other purposes. one of my favorite reworkings, originally sung by the weavers and unfortunately only available as a 30 second sample, is peter, paul and mary’s because all men are brothers. despite the somewhat dated lyrics (yellow, white or brown? not sure where that would put me in the color lineup. someone hadn’t heard of estee lauder’s palette then, apparently), the lyrics still grip me and ring true:

My brothers and my sisters forever hand in hand
Where chimes the bell of freedom there is my native land
My brother’s fears are my fears yellow white or brown
My sister’s tears are my tears the whole wide world around.

(see, i like me some folks tunes about brotherhood.)

which brings us to rhymin’ paul simon, who apparently followed the tradition and ripped the tune off for himself, calling it now an american tune (because apparently early folk incarnations, citing brotherhood, wouldn’t do for america: brotherhood, apparently, is not american. ripping things off and calling them american? now, that’s as american as the original colonists themselves, isn’t it?)

and his tune is personal. it’s not about the greater community of humankind, like those early, dare i say it, socialistically-minded folkies sang. it’s about how he is sad. and tired. and introspective. it fits in nicely with the me generational thinking of the 1970s, which blossomed in the 1980s and which hasn’t quite progressed in much of our populace in modern days.

ah well. happy birthday, america; rest up. we’re not always on the side of right, but we’ve done okay historically, and there’s always time to change the road we’re travelling on today. we have a lot more fight ahead of us to make the world a better place. and we have a lot more fight in us to do the right thing and make it so.

let’s roll.

We come on a ship we call the Mayflower,
We come on a ship that sailed the moon
We come at the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing the American tune
But it’s all right, its all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest,
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.

AMERICAN TUNE
(words by Paul Simon music by JS Bach/Haßler)
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken,
and many times confused
And I’ve often felt forsaken,
and certainly misused.
But it’s all right, it’s all right,
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
bright and Bon Vivant
So far away from home,
so far away from home.

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
Don’t have a friend who feels at ease
Don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees.
But it’s all right, all right,
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on,
I wonder what went wrong,
I can’t help it
I wonder what went wrong.

And I dreamed I was flying.
I dreamed my soul rose unexpectedly,
and looking back down on me,
smiled reassuringly,
and I dreamed I was dying.
And far above, my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty,
drifting away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying.

We come on a ship we call the Mayflower,
We come on a ship that sailed the moon
We come at the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing the American tune
But it’s all right, its all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest,
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.

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5 Responses to “guilty pleasure monday: american tune (paul simon)”

  1. Thanks! Perhaps my favorite Paul Simon tune. Art Garfunkel has stated that this is one Paul Simon tune that he wished they stayed together for.

  2. Hah! I’ll help you launch Lee Greenwood 😉

    Love the Paul Simon tune. Perfect.

  3. hey-
    i haven’t seen your blog before – just found it doing a search for american tune… p.s. did it on the colbert report tonight… i have to tell you that what you wrote was informative and (at the risk of sounding all cheesy) quite moving. i was already in a mood after hearing the song and seeing the older (present day) simon, but you found a way to tell the story of the tune in a very personal way which was touching. i guess that’s why you write; cause you know what you’re doing. thanks for that. notably, the world is different by a large leap, since you wrote that. so i say, onward! -mike r. los angeles

  4. thanks for the sweet comments 🙂

  5. Cathy Pollack Says:

    I love how you periodically remind me of old favorite songs I haven’t thought of in ages. (And sometimes I hate how you remind me of songs I have gratefully forgotten!) I love this song. I was only about 11 when it came out but somehow I identified with the sadness. Thanks for reminding me!

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