50 Ways, Dawg!
By: Wayne Brown
The other night I was contemplating my inability to stay on task long enough to write a book. I think I can do it but I need to do it at one fell swoop…you know, all wrapped up in a neat little manuscript ready to go to the publisher after just one long session at the computer. One of the problems that I continue to encounter is that everything I choose to write about in this book’s story line becomes far beyond boring to me before I get past the second chapter. So, I am faced with offering up a book that becomes a teaching example on how to write a really good first chapter. Are you with me here? Okay!
Well, all that got me to really thinking, ‘where do I go next?’ Then, I began to wonder, ‘Is there indeed 50 ways to leave your lover?’ I knew that Paul Simon had hinted at the possibility when he wrote the song about all of that. But then I read somewhere that someone had kept track while listening to the song and could only count five ways of which Paul had related in verse. I think we would all agree this represents a pretty poor showing when you are singing a song about the 50 ways to leave your lover. It’s like Paul is singing, “Slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan, don’t try to be coy, Roy, just listen to me” and then the record producer breaks in and points out that he is already well over two minutes into the song and has barely listed five alternatives. This had to be a monumental problem and I envision it occurring in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is smoking cigarettes, cussing, eatin’ cold turkey sandwiches, and just generally acting the part of real rock star recording artists. I really think that is when they cooked the deal.
It could have been Paul, after all, he did write songs with a guy named Art Garfunkel. And it is a well known fact that they recorded a song called “At the Zoo” with an opening line that goes, “Something tells me it’s all happening at the zoo..”. So, there is some amount of evidence to point to a certain twisted logic in their thought processes. I suspect they might have been under contract to the City of San Diego when they wrote that one but that’s just a guess on my part. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” is another one that gets me going. It is like the best background music for when the Suicide Watch Hot Line is backed up and they are putting people on hold to wait for the next available operator. So, I’m tellin’ ya, dawg, they did some stuff! Anyway, by the time Paul wrote about the 50 Ways, Art was gone. Seems they had a tiff. So, it looks like this one is on Paul’s back.
So there they were obviously not going to be able to cover such a laundry list of ways to leave one’s lover in the space of 2.5 minutes yet totally enthralled by the sound of the song’s title and not willing to give it up. So, I’m thinkin’ that is when the record producer must have said something like, “Hey, Paul, yo, man! Look dawg, you know I’m your biggest fan but I gotta tell ya dawg, this just ain’t doin’ it for me.” That’s when he suggested to Paul that they employ the parentheses methodology. Oh, yeah! They would keep the reference to 50 ways in the title and up front, enclosed in parentheses, they simply add the words “There Must Be”. This was absolute recording studio genius at work, dawg, when you think it through and study it. There’s the implication that there could be 50 ways to leave one’s lover but you don’t sing about all of them. You leave the listener to hum along and make up his own. You just sing about five and they take it from there. That’s the deal; that’s how they cooked it in the wee hours of the morning gnawing on cold turkey sandwiches and calling each other “dawg”.
You now you know the story behind the music so to speak. The reality of the recording business is all about commercial feasibility. Every story needs to be told in the span of 2.5 minutes otherwise you end up under contract to some company that records never-ending elevator music. If you can get through the 2.5 minutes without becoming bored or losing your focus, well, you are on your way to having a potential hit on your hands, dawg! So that leads me to conclude that writing songs must be a bunch easier than writing books because there is no chapter two with which you have to contend in song-writing. Of course there is the places that things need to rhyme and there’s that syncopation thing that gives it musicality. But I think I could learn that!
Anyway, after weighing all of this and getting it out on the table into the bright light, I think I have a much better understanding of the struggles that book writers must endure as they sit at the keyboard trying to maintain their brilliance. On the other hand, it’s no sweat for a book writer to cover all 50 ways to leave one’s lover and at the same time provide some details of each plan. There’s no need for suggestion or tease. You can just go for it, dawg! Given that, I am starting to feel a bit like “Forrest Gump” about this whole thing, you know and that’s all I got to say ‘bout that. Hmm…now I just had a thought, how did Gordon Lightfoot manage to do that song about “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald”…is that one more than 2.5 minutes? Maybe it’s because he’s Canadian…ya think?