Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm accustomed to a smooth ride

By ned * Other ned Posts

Certain musicians craft lyrics fitting to comfort the uneasiness of a particular moment. For me, one artist has showcased this talent repeatedly without my searching him out to do so. There is no doubt of Paul Simon’s acclaim as poetic lyricist supreme, but I would like to add one more accolade to his resume – troubadour of serendipitous soothing.

In regards to social relevance, the moments have gone been beyond stumbling on "The Only Living Boy in New York" while jogging through Manhattan to blow off some steam. I first noticed this skill when I saw him perform at Yale’s Tercentenniel celebration in the fall of 2001. The occasion glorified a history of achievement of a grand institution but felt at times surreal and out of touch with the mood of times; the dust had not settled on tragedy 80 miles away in lower Manhattan. The ceremony was out of touch that is until honorary Yale grad, Paul Simon, performed “Bridge over Troubled Water” - a song where the performer reaches out his hand to give his audience strength against adversity.

Fast forwarding a few years, last year America was at the peak of anxiety over an economic recession. Fear about the overall direction of the economy was at its highest fervor in the fall – especially in my home of Manhattan where big banks are king. Personally, my employer had just gone out of business. Out of nowhere Paul Simon pops into my life again to stir up positive emotions.  Promoting a new book, Simon sung “American Tune” on the Colbert Report. By selecting to perform this classic, he broke some of the tension of the times. The song does not shy away from the real hardships in life but is ultimately to me a song of hope.  Its thesis is what you truly need will always be provided, a perspective lacking at the time.

There is one personal exception to this association of Paul Simon and unexpected comfort and joy: whenever I pack to head back to my native land of Columbus, Ohio, I always reach for the song “Homeward Bound.” As I fold – read crumple – my t-shirts into my bag, images from a Saturday Night Live video, baggage on a carousel as well as a lick to the face by a cruel alarm clock known as the family’s lab run through my mind with the song in the background.

Somehow the act of selecting “Homeward Bound” as the fanfare for my triumphal returns fits the occasions. Just as I select a song, I make a choice to return home. Just as I listen to the song, going home is a deliberate act to surround myself with the comforts of the familiar. The images they both extract on first blush are the stuff Hallmark Cards are made of.

Given the simplicity of that depiction of the emotions of going home, perhaps familiarity alone is not the entirety of what creates the comfort of returning home. Part of it may be more like my "American Tune" experience than I realize as I pack. There are unexpected surprises including delightful conversation, particularly good slicing of the turkey, and new traditions. Although overshadowed by the familiar, these unexpected nuances are what make each return memorable and special.

So in all likelihood your joys and comforts this holiday season will be the result of circumstance and conviction, of surprise and sameness. I certainly hope they are plentiful – even while just listening to music on shuffle with your ticket to your destination.


  1. That's interesting - I have always interpreted 'American Tune' as a deeply sarcastic, even cynical, song wrapped in some feel-good American imagery. Which is why I myself love the song so much.

  2. yeah, i tend to be a glass is half full kind of guy.

    to me the song is structured such that it at first it grapples almost angrily with the hardships of the current reality but then that view point grapples with a more uplifting perspective and in the end comes to some sort of middle ground. I can see though how it could be seen as cynical.