Today marks the end of the 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel) and, although I've complained about the prompts several times this month, I think this prompt for the final day is an especially good one. I also realized over the past week that it's going to be difficult to drop many of the habits I've developed during this Challenge, like immediately trying to figure out a category or prompt for every song I hear. All in all, though, I'm glad I did this again and I hope someone comes up with a new(er) version of the 30 Day Song Challenge before next June!
My pick for today is not only a song that I never tire of hearing, but it's also from an album that I never tire of hearing. The album is Paul Simon's compilation Negotiations and Love Songs: 1971-1986. I would count Paul Simon among the greatest songwriters of all time, including and especially the stuff he did after he left his former duo partner Art Garfunkel. He's a master story-teller, he has a genius ear for melody, harmony and rhythm, and he somehow manages the content of human affairs, both epic and the quotidian, with equal sensitivity.
I've only seen Paul Simon in concert once in my life, several years ago when he was touring with Bob Dylan. I wish I could say I had the "good" fortune to see him perform live, but the truth is I found him insufferable on stage. He's such a prima donna, and all his on-stage posturing gets very old very quickly. (His on-stage posturing was only magnified by standing next to Bob Dylan, the performance equivalent of an oak.) Still, the great benefit of seeing Paul Simon live was being able to see the incredible intricacy of his songs, which require at least two dozen musicians, more than half of which are percussionists. It's quite a spectacle. There's never a crack or a break in Simon's voice-- he's a consummate professional-- but I still may have preferred that they strap him into a chair or hide him behind a curtain.
Anyway, here's my pick for today, a song that I could listen to over and over again without ever getting tired of it. It's "Train in the Distance":
That line-- "negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same"-- registers on my top-10 list of greatest lyrics of all time. In fact, there are a dozen or so lines like that one in this song: lines that serve as building blocks for this particular story, but at the same time serve as universal (or universalizable) observations about the things we love and the things we think are true. "Train in the Distance" is also a perfect example of Simon's attention to the more minute details of human drama ("from time to time, he makes her laugh, she cooks a meal or two"), details that are not themselves "dramatic" at all but rather which serve as the mise-en-scène for the countless other dramas that make our lives human lives.
If you've ever lived close to a train track, which I have for many of the years of my adult life, you know exactly what it means to love and to believe in the sound of a train in the distance. There's something seductive and promissory about that sound, something that assures you that there are other places, places where things might be different, where people might be happier, where you might even be able to go someday. The sound of a train in the distance represents something more than what it is and, in this song, Simon articulates that something more exactly right.
The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.
Nostalgic? Check out my entry for Day 30 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge