Gloomy Tunes: Paul Simon, “Armistice Day”

It seems odd for me to use a Paul Simon song to kick off Obit’s “Gloomy Tunes” feature; I’m not much of a Paul Simon fan. I might have been taught by his mother, who worked as a substitute at PS90, Queens, but I’m also a Los Lobos fan, and he still needs to answer for what he did to them. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Paul Simon/Los Lobos contretemps, check out Chris Morris’ very fine Lobos biography, Dream In Blue, which covers the story in all of Simon’s larcenous, snotty privilege.)

But today is (or was once called) Armistice Day, and that’s the title of the song. From his first, self-titled solo album, it’s not much of a song, really; it’s a mere wisp of a tune, if we’re honest. If I were to hazard a guess, it ended up on the album to showcase that little Bert Jansch-styled lick that ends each verse. And even he knew it was a thin branch to hang a song on, so mid-way through the tune switches gears.

But we’re willing to hang our choice on an equally slim excuse: the song’s title.  The holiday was initially intended to celebrate the end of what was then known as the Great War on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. After World War II, to make the holiday more inclusive by changing the name. But something was lost, the reason why we choose to honor our veterans on this day has been effaced. Instead of celebrating peace, we now honor warriors, which is more than a little sad.

Simon catches that in the early going; using a name no longer in use to ruminate on change, even as the songs that we sing remain sad. That idea runs out of steam by the second verse; the latter half of the song, where he makes a lame attempt to sound contemporary, anti-war notes, sounds forced.

Have a listen, let us know what you think, and  hope everyone reading this has a peaceful day.


Steven Mirkin

Steven Mirkin’s diverse career has taken him from politics to pop culture to high art, offering him a front row seat to some of the most fascinating events and personalities of our time: writing speeches, fundraising appeals and campaign materials for Ed Koch, John Heinz and independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson; chronicling the punk/new wave scenes in New York and London; interviewing musicians such as Elton John, John Lydon and Buck Owens; profiling modern masters Julian Schnabel, Paul Schrader and Jonathan Safran Foer; and writing for TV shows including 21, The Chamber, Let's Make A Deal, and Rock Star: INXS.

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