1. “The problem is all inside your head, she said to me. The answer is easy if you take it logically”
The most wonderful thing about Paul Simon’s songwriting is that it’s deeply contextual and yet completely context-less in the sense that it’s culturally weighty enough to exist permanently within its moment and yet semantically ambiguous enough that it can be easily re-appropriated to inform an infinite spectrum of collective and personal situations. But that’s not to say his words are ambivalent—quite the opposite, they are designed so as to belong to anyone and everyone.
In “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” Simon’s ode to reason over emotion, we can all learn a lesson about putting mind over matter, and not just in the context of emotional relationships.
2. “You can run out your rules, but you know you can’t outrun the history train”
While generation Y doesn’t have any particularly definable ‘revolution’ per se, we still have cultural and social wars to wage even if some of us are ambivalent to them; ergo, “Peace Like A River” is still #relevant. Also, the world is wide—change is inevitable and history teaches us that injustice can be fought and repented (bad guys beware).
3. “And I see losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart, everybody feels the wind blow”
Paul, are you a carpenter? Because you nailed it! (joke stolen from Ellen DeGeneres). This is what it feels like to have a broken heart—like your chest is a vacuum and you’re completely vulnerable and exposed.
4. “These are the days of miracle and wonder”
With so many technological advances in the world and yet so much pain and suffering, Paul is putting his tongue right in his cheek to make a point about the modern paradox wherein so much good is surrounded by so much evil. These are the days of miracle and wonder, and yet so much of our world is falling apart in war, famine and disease. It’s something we should consider every day.
5. “Why am I soft in the middle, the rest of my life is so hard”
This is what happens when we get older and we watch our dreams fail to meet their fruition—we get soft in the middle, both literally and figuratively.
6. “These are the roots of rhythm, and the roots of rhythm remain”
The underlying message of “Under African Skies,” or at least what I take from it, is that the one thing you can be sure of in life is where you came from, and the things that have made you who you are. Your history and your heritage never change, which is a beautiful and profound thing that should be unabashedly embraced, even if what you see sprawled out behind you is blemished with hardship. That’s just life, and your frown lines are just as important as all the times you smile.
7. “Well that’s one way to lose these walking blues: diamonds on the soles of your shoes”
Happiness is about perception, and Paul thinks if there’s some metaphorical diamonds (in this case, love) between you and the earth you’re walking, all will be right.
8. “Trust your intuition, it’s just like goin’ fishin’”
I know Paul is right on this one because every time I haven’t trusted my intuition, I’ve failed miserably. Fishing is harder than it looks though (even though it’s really fun to sit around with your friends drinking beers while you do it), which, in turn, makes following your gut more difficult than it sounds. Often trusting your instincts requires a massive leap of faith, but it’s one that will always pay off in the end.
9. “All the crap I learned in high school it’s a wonder I can think at all”
The educational institution isn’t going to teach you what you need to make it—a lot of times it’s going to lead you astray as it defines what your future expectations should be. My high school experience made me compartmentalize and memorize and regurgitate information, which is not necessarily the way the real world works.
10. “Oh , my mama loves, she loves me, she get down on her knees and hug me, she loves me like a rock”
Mamma is the only one—the only person in the world who no matter what devil possesses you will love you unequivocally. When the going gets tough, the mamma gets going.