Floor Above the Ceiling

The Phish says, ‘Paul Simon is right’er’ than anyone else.’

I would agree. Having grown on a staple diet of S&G and then Paul Simon, I couldn’t agree more. And he couldn’t have answered my question at a more appropriate time. The only album I don’t have from him is “The Songs from The Capeman”, which will soon be corrected.

I just finished reading “The Definitive Biography: Paul Simon“, by Laura Jackson. The book has been lying with me for sometime. I think my theoretical quandary of separating the artist from the art kept me away from the book, all this while. But then, perhaps, to buttress my heretic theory, I had to read the book. And while it was touching to know the life of this man, my theory perhaps just became stronger, at least, more convincing for my own consumption.

Potential spoilers about the background of his songs follow.

I call them potential, because it all depends on how you look at (his) art. If the artist’s context is important, then they aren’t spoilers – they are perhaps conventional ways of looking at his art, if the artist’s personal context is not important, then they are blinders – they lead all of us towards a single meaning; also known as spoilers – of a different genre.

As an example from the book,

On older terrain, ‘One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’, which ends side one, was a reminder of how insular society has had to become. Simon illustrates this via a depiction of everyday apartment life and the philosophy of keep your door closed and your nose out regardless of what may be going down outside. Sad, but practical. Another interpretation altogether has also been put on the song.

Singer-songwriter Ralph McTell says, ‘One of my favourite Paul Simon songs is ‘One Man’s Ceiling, Is Another Man’s Floor’. I really loved that one. I’d never heard the expression before. And I thought it was just perfect about aspiration – and where some people’s aspirations begin, someone else’s is ending. It was typical of Paul. He is brilliant at coming up these short incisive comments, which he expands into songs. And he gave it that lovely jazzy feel.’

See what I mean? Now, it is possible for you to make your own meaning, even if you know the artist’s context, just that it becomes that much more difficult to look beyond the artist’s meaning. Then again, I don’t know that Paul Simon ever said that he was talking about apartment life. It is the critic who said that, perhaps based on certain events in Simon’s life when he wrote that song.

The reason I quote this from the book, is that, ‘One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’, happens to be one of my favourite Simon songs of all times. And there are multiple layers to this song, than just an observation of apartment life. But the many apartment related references possibly obscure those layers. But then, that’s Paul Simon’s song-writing genius, isn’t it?

That, I think is what the Phish meant when he said, ‘Paul Simon is right’er’ than anyone else.’ I know that but then,

Some people gonna call you up
Tell you something that you already know
Sane people go crazy on you
Say ”No man, that was not
The deal we made
I got to go, I got to go”
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone

~Proof, The Rhythm Of The Saints, Paul Simon, Record Label: Warner Bros., Originally released: 1990


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