Sunday, September 24, 2006

LAYING OUT MY WINTER CLOTHES

THE BOXER
(Paul Simon)

Some songs set a mood like few others can. This song always makes me rush to a window checking for snow flurries or at the very least steam rising from a manhole. The opening guitar run feels like a fall breeze turning quickly to a winter chill. The kind where despite what the weatherman says you’re underdressed. The saga of a poor kid on the streets of New York “runnin’ scared” and concerned about the winters there comes through loud and clear. (To my thinking this is probably another chapter in the story of Lincoln Duncan)

The song has haunted me since the first time that I heard it. Not in a Stephen King kind of way, but more like Hemmingway and a snifter of cognac at closing time kind of way. It was such an adult sentiment coming out of my transistor, and later the attached speakers of my first GE Veg-O-Matic stereo with the rusty nail stylus. I was becoming aware of the adult world through the eyes of an unknown, never was, boxer. As an adult it even inspired a photography project where I tried to find the essence of what it must have been like to be “the boxer.”

The most alarming thing about this song is that I don’t think we get a definitive version on the released single or studio album cut. This is a case of a song itself transcending its accepted version. Don’t get me wrong, the studio version of this is quite striking for many reasons including those already cited, and I always reach for the volume knob when it arrives from the satellite. One of those striking reasons isn’t the near over the top production however. It starts out perfect but keeps building when it should have stayed in the ring. By the end when the tale takes its most poignant turn it borders on throwing in the towel. The short piccolo flute coda at the end pretty much redeems it though. I blame the production and the extended ending on “Hey Jude,” and “Atlantis.” There seemed to be a bit of that song structure going around at the end of the sixties for some reason. The difference here is that those songs can’t stand on their lyrics alone, they are merely a dimension of the “record” while “The Boxer” strays into timeless territory by virtue of the lyrics alone.

All that aside, there have been several live versions (legit and boot) that I think take the song to where Simon originally envisioned it. For reasons unknown, to me anyway, there is an extra verse that comes and goes depending on the evening as far as I can tell. I think it works fine in the song and more for the fact that I wish the song would never end, so anything extra is welcome to these ears.

From the outtakes that I have heard of various Simon recordings over the years I would venture a guess that there’s an un-dubbed demo in a vault somewhere that would knock us out.

“Now the years are rollin’ by me, they are rocking evenly,
I’m older than I once was, younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual.
No it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes,
We are more or less the same.”



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