A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Lyndon Johnson’d into Submission) ~ Paul Simon

paul simonPaul Simon is an American singer-songwriter, known for his success beginning in 1965 as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, with musical partner Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote most of the pair’s songs, including “The Sound of Silence”, “The Boxer”, “Mrs. Robinson”, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. In 1970, at the height of their popularity, the duo split and Simon began a successful solo career, highlighted by his 1986 experiment with African music on the album Graceland, which was decisive in the introduction of world music into the mainstream. Simon’s work has been generally praised by critics and the public, and has enjoyed notable commercial success for over four decades of production. In 2006, Time magazine called him one of the 100 “people who shape our world.”

Around 1985, while he was driving his car, Simon listened to a cassette of the Boyoyo Boys’ instrumental “Gumboots”. Inspired by the unusual sound, he wrote lyrics to sing over a re-recording of the song, which became the first song of his next musical project, Graceland, an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Much of the album was recorded in South Africa and featured many South African musicians and groups, particularly Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Warner Bros. Records had serious doubts about releasing an album of this category, but when it did, in August of 1986, Graceland was praised by critics and the public and became Simon’s most successful album. It reached No. 1 in many countries, including Australia and the UK, and peaked at No. 3 in the U.S. It was the second-best-selling album of 1987 there, and eventually reached a 5x Platinum certification, recognizing five million copies sold only in America. Another seven million copies were sold internationally, becoming his best-selling album. The singles “You Can Call Me Al” (a British Top 5 hit), “Graceland”, “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” became standards and were highly praised. Simon, at age 45, back in the forefront of introducing popular music, received the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for Graceland, and embarked on the successful “Graceland Tour”.

A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Lyndon Johnson’d into Submission)

A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)” is a song written by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. Originally recorded for Simon’s 1965 UK-only debut, The Paul Simon Songbook, it was recorded soon after by Simon and his partner, Art Garfunkel, for the duo’s third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. It is generally considered a parody of American musician Bob Dylan’s writing style, especially that of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, a lengthy piece released on Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The original version was subtitled “Or how I was Lyndon Johnson’d into Submission” in a spoken introduction at the beginning, after Simon announced the song’s title. The subtitle does not appear on the sleeve or the disc label.

Simon’s original, solo performance found on The Paul Simon Songbook is lesser known than Simon & Garfunkel’s; the album remained out of print until 2004, when it was re-released by Columbia/Legacy.

In early 1965, Simon was in the midst of a period in which he went back and forth between the United States and Great Britain. Eventually spending most of 1965 in Britain, he recorded The Paul Simon Song Book in London, while making a living singing folk clubs in Britain. During this period he was also writing with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. The album’s liner notes by Judith Piepe, state of the song: “This is, of course, a take-off, a take-on, a private joke, but no joke is all that private or any less serious for being a joke.”

In 1966, together with Art Garfunkel, Simon re-recorded the song for the duo’s album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, with several lyrical changes. The list of names dropped is revised. When Simon complains about a man who is, “…so unhip, when you say Dylan he thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas,” the next line in the London solo version is “It’s all right Ma. It’s just something I learned over in England,” referencing the Dylan songs “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “I Shall Be Free No. 10.” However, the Simon and Garfunkel songs says, “It’s all right Ma. Everybody must get stoned.” the second part referencing the Dylan song “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35″.

At the end of the 1966 recording Simon says, “Folk rock,” and, after an audible noise, “I’ve lost my harmonica, Albert.” This presumably refers to Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. In the 1965 version, however, Simon sings, “When in London, do as I do: find yourself a friendly haiku… Go to sleep for ten or fifteen years.” Which could be a reference to his girlfriend at that time, Kathy Chitty, who people referred to as ‘The Haiku’.

Names dropped in the 1965 version:

  • Lyndon Johnson, President of the United States (1963—1969)
  • Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom
  • Jack Kerouac, an American novelist
  • John Birch, an American Baptist missionary
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Beatles
  • Larry Adler, noted harmonica player
  • Ayn Rand - a novelist
  • Walt Disney, American film producer
  • Diz Disley, British jazz guitarist
  • John Lennon, member of the Beatles
  • Krishna Menon -, Indian politician
  • Walter Brennan - American actor
  • Cassius Clay - American boxer, later known as Muhammad Ali
  • Lenny Bruce - American comedian
  • Dylan Thomas - Welsh poet
  • James Joyce - Writer and poet
  • Rolls-Royce - A British automobile
  • Mick Jagger - British musician
  • Silver Dagger” – a nineteenth century folk song largely associated with Joan Baez
  • Andy Warhol - American visual artist
  • Tom Wilson - record producer who produced several of Bob Dylan’s ’60s LPs, Simon & Garfunkel’s début album, and the electric version of The Sounds of Silence
  • Art Garfunkel - American singer, Paul Simon’s partner in Simon and Garfunkel
  • Barry Kornfeld - second guitarist on Simon and Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. album

I was Union Jacked, Kerouac’d
John Birched, stopped and searched
Rolling Stoned and Beatled till I’m blind
I’ve been Ayn Randed, nearly branded
Communist ‘cos I’m lefthanded:
That’s the hand they use, well, never mind!

I’ve been Walt Disneyed, Dis Disleyed
John Lennoned, Krishna Menoned
Walter Brennan punched out Cassius Clay
I’ve heard the truth from Lenny Bruce
and all my wealth won’t buy me health
So I smoke a pint of tea a day

I knew a man his brain so small,
He couldn’t think of nothin’ at all.
He’s not the same as you and me.
He doesn’t dig poetry. He’s so unhip that
When you say Dylan, he thinks you’re talkin’ about Dylan
Whoever he is.
The man ain’t got no culture,
But its alright, Ma,
It’s just sumpthin’ I learned over in England.

I’ve been James Joyced, Rolls Royced
Mick Jaggered, silver daggered
Andy Warhol won’t you please come home?
I’ve been mother, fathered, aunt and uncled
Tom Wilsoned, Art Garfunkled
Barry Kornfeld’s mother’s on the phone

When in London, do as I do
Find yourself a friendly haiku
Go to sleep for ten or fifteen years

  • Audio from the 1965 Album, The Paul Simon Songbook:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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