Monday, 26 October 2009

50 Ways To Leave Your (B)luffer

In the late 1970s, when I first heard this song by Paul Simon (the lead voice of the famous duo: Simon & Garfunkel), I could not help smiling aloud. A few days ago when I heard it again, I could not help laughing aloud. So what is amazing about the lyrics?

To begin with, Paul is a good lyricist with poetic quality to his work. That both him and Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) are Jewish, does not bother me one bit. What bothers me is Bob’s about-turn on the protest song movement of the 1960s and his recent revelation that he blew in the wind because that was the way things blew back then.

Paul, by contrast, can really sing, unlike Bob who cannot. In short, I like Paul better than I do Bob. Listen to the Lai-La-Lai chorus of “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel to get an idea of the magic the duo together creates, or simply get their ‘Best Of’ album to enjoy getting away from the horrendous wordiness of Rap, the four-to-the-floor pounding of the bass drum in Dance tunes, or the electronic repetitiveness of Trance music.

Now, the great thing about “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” is this. Not only does it humorously touch upon an issue considered more sensitive than one’s sensitive parts, it scales the forbidden wall to overtly suggest what one ought to do when faced with a lover who cannot be shaken off, a ‘mehbooba’ who turns ‘leechar’ (English: lecherous), or a flame who becomes a ‘kumbal’ (blanket) or a ‘chaamchit’ (a bat).

Roy being coy (and not Corduroy!) is a clever rhyme that provides one with a chorus so brilliant one could sing it ad nauseam for ad referendum. But as you do that—and you will do that sooner than later—bear in mind that indulging in hostile drone attacks on an Al-CIAdish lover will be met with stiff resistance. ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, wrote Willy Shakes-Pear centuries ago [actually, the quote comes from a play called the "The Mourning Bride" (1670–1729) by William Congreve. The complete quote is "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned"].

It is believed that Paul wrote the song after the divorce from his first wife Peggy Harper. A mysterious woman then suggests only five not so mysterious ways to leave his wife while singing a chorus:

Slip out the back, Jack / Make a new plan, Stan / You don’t need to be coy, Roy / Hop on the bus, Gus / Just drop off the key, Lee

The verses are interesting in the sense that the beat reminds one of an Army March band’s snare drum. It may inspire one—while neglecting the horrors of an immediate arrest—to march up to the GHQ wearing a formal ‘sue-i-side dinner jacket’. This song also possesses depth great enough to make Chowq’s resident psycho-man resign quietly and live happily ever after up in cold-as-hell Canada.

Incidentally, on May 23rd, 2007, Paul Simon received the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Named in honour of the legendary George and Ira Gershwin, this newly created award recognizes the deep and encouraging effect of popular music on the world’s culture. Annually, composers or performers whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins, will receive it.

The song represents a musically and lyrically vibrant picture of the 1970s post-hippie urban life. Simon, when he won a 1976 Grammy award for his work, jokingly thanked recurrent winner Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album that year (Stevie had won the award the two previous years for “Inner Visions” and “Fulfillingness' First Finale”; he won the award again for “Songs in the Key of Life” in 1977).

Fifteen years later, Simon and producer Phil Ramone’s work would create a new kind of sound known as ‘smooth jazz’. While Bob James arranged strings on several tracks, percussionist Ralph McDonald and drummers Grady Tate and Steve Gadd (who plays drums on “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”) turned in superb work (McDonald later played on “Saturday Night Fever”). David Sanborn and Michael Brecker contributed fine sax solos to the album.

Now I will encourage you to supplant the word ‘lover’ with brother, sister, mother, father, or blubber.

Album: Still Crazy After All These Years
Year: 1975 (Grammy winner in 1976 as ‘Album Of The Year’)
Musicians: Barry Beckett (electric piano), David Hood (bass), Roger Hawkins (drums), Mike Brecker (saxophone solo), Woodwinds and strings (arranged by Bob James)


"The problem is all inside your head", she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover.

She said it's really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won't be lost or misconstrued
But I'll repeat myself, at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover – 2X

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free.

Ooo slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just listen to me
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free.

She said it grieves me so to see you in such pain
I wish there was something I could do to make you smile again
I said I appreciate that, and would you please explain
About the fifty ways.

She said why don't we both just sleep on it tonight
And I believe in the morning you'll begin to see the light
And then she kissed me and I realized she probably was right
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover.



And watch Steve Gadd ending the beat on the right hand tom, on BBC TV’s live version:

For drumheads (bald folks), here is Steve Gadd superb drum pattern for the verses (playing in the LIVE version):

Live version:

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