And in remembering a road signMy mother had told me she'd heard in an interview that Paul Simon just liked the sound of that line. It didn't mean anything. I googled around to see if this was true, found nothing to either confirm or deny, and figured she had her facts straight. Then over the weekend, nearly three years later, an anonymous commenter contributed this quote, with a link to the original Time interview:
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said These songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free
The cross is in the ballpark
The cross is in the ballpark
"It got me thinking when that first popped out," Paul Simon says " ... 'The cross is in the ball park.' "The first thing I thought of was Billy Graham, or the Pope, or evangelical gatherings. But I came to feel what that's really about is the cross that we bear. The burdens that we carry are doable, they're in the ball park."So it does have a meaning Yay! But my mom wasn't entirely wrong. Simon didn't come up with those words to express an idea. The words came first, followed by thoughts about what the words might mean. In fact, he rejected his own first interpretation in favor of one he liked better.
Kind of like a line in "Hey Jude." Before Paul McCartney brought John Lennon in on that song, he'd written "The movement you need is on your shoulders." It didn't mean anything to McCartney—it was just a placeholder to be discarded as soon as he or Lennon thought of something better. But Lennon was having none of that. "Leave it in," he said. "I know what it means."
I wonder how often this happens to songwriters. I wonder if it happens more to certain kinds of songwriters than others.
For me, not much. My typical process involves stumbling upon an evocative way to express some idea I've been playing with. The idea comes first. But once or twice, I've been struck by phrases that stuck in my head because they sounded cool, even if I didn't know what they meant.
Back when Ron the Drummer and I were trying to figure out what to call the band, one possibility that leapt to mind was "Half Moon Halo." I don't remember how or why I thought of that. Most likely I was free associating alliterative words. Anyway, I loved the name, but couldn't bring myself to seriously consider it because it didn't mean anything. I couldn't even make up something plausible sounding, as I eventually did for "Cinder Bridge."
Four years later, I started writing a song that reflected my growing discomfort with the kind of person I was. I didn't think I was evil, but I didn't feel like I was very good either, and I wasn't sure where that left me:
There's a hell for all the sinnersA good start, but what next? Somehow "half moon halo" snuck back into my consciousness, and I found a home for it at last.
There's a heaven for the saints
But there ain't no place for the people in between
I am walking down an unpaved roadNot quite an exact metaphor for anything, but the imagery pleased me.
In the middle of a lonely night
Half moon halo shines down on the scene
Have you ever invented a phrase, then reverse-engineered the meaning? If so, what was the phrase, and how did the meaning evolve?