Song of the Day #1,253: ‘The Obvious Child’ – Paul Simon

It’s hard to imagine a tougher act to follow than Paul Simon’s Graceland, but four years after that album’s release, he put out an album that can reasonably be called its equal.

1990’s The Rhythm of the Saints doubled down on the exotic rhythms of its predecessor, with Simon looking to South America rather than Africa for the rich percussion over which he spun his melodies. The album sounds as if it were recorded in the crowded streets of a Brazilian town (and in the case of some songs, it was).

At this point in his career, Simon was laying down the rhythm tracks of his songs first and worrying about lyrics and vocals after the fact. Indeed, though the melodies are sublime, The Rhythm of the Saints is an album that could work quite well as an instrumental work. It’s fascinating to compare this record with Simon’s 60s and 70s output.

When I first bought this album, I was instantly obsessed with opening track ‘The Obvious Child.’ I played it on repeat in my college dorm room, getting lost in its tidal wave of drums, pulled into its story, set aloft by its soaring coda. I remember thinking that if I had to choose one song that would serve as the background music for the rest of my days, this would be the one.

I’m less obsessed with it than I once was but no less in love. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Paul Simon in concert and his moving performance of this song (with three drummers somehow recreating the work of dozens) brought me right back to those blissful moments in 1990 when this song was the soundtrack to my life.

Well, I’m accustomed to a smooth ride
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep through the night
Some people say a lie’s a lie’s a lie
But I say why
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

And in remembering a road sign
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said, “These songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free”
And hey
The cross is in the ballpark
The cross is in the ballpark

We had a lot of fun
We had a lot of money
We had a little son and we thought we’d call him Sonny
Sonny gets married and moves away
Sonny has a baby and bills to pay
Sonny gets sunnier
Day by day by day by day

Well, I’ve been waking up at sunrise
I’ve been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day
Some people say the sky is just the sky
But I say
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

Sonny sits by the window and thinks to himself
How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages
Sonny’s yearbook from high school
Is down on the shelf
And he idly thumbs through the pages
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there
Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls
Runs his hands through his thinning brown hair

Well, I’m accustomed to a smoother ride
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep the night
Some people say a lie is just a lie
But I say
The cross is in the ballpark
Why deny the obvious child?

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,253: ‘The Obvious Child’ – Paul Simon

  1. pegclifton says:

    This is a wonderful album; not sure if I like it better then Graceland but it’s very close. One of our favorites is “Further to Fly”; we used to play that one over and over again. Just couldn’t do with one listen, and while shooting pool it was one of our regulars.

  2. Dana says:

    Loyal blog readers know that I have suggested that this album is equal to or even better than Graceland. I still stand by that statement. There is beauty and elegance to this album and, while the rhythm tracks and instrumentation may have been the focus, Simon hardly slacked off on the lyrics. “Further to Fly,” Ia Clifton family favorite, as it is mine) is a wonderful example of great music and rhythm coupled with great lyrics.

    Perhaps Graceland is considered the stronger album by some because it is a bit more accessible and fun. Rhythm of the Saints feels a bit deeper, requires a bit more attention–but the rewards for that listening are plentiful.

    As for today’s song, I still have never wholly understood the chorus/title or some of the imagery (“the cross is in the ballpark”). As I was listening to the song in concert, I was thinking that the chorus would make more sense if it were “Why deny the obvious, child?” But I don’t think that’s the way Simon intended it. So is the Obvious Child Jesus? The “lie is just a lie” refers to atheists or non-believers? Is the cross in the ballpark the notion that God is everywhere, as symbolized by the cross that would be displayed if you connected the bases with lines (1st base to 3rd, 2nd to home)? And while some believe the “sky is just the sky, ” Simon suggests we should not deny the “obvious” hand of God in creating the sky?That seems to me to be the best interpretation.
    And, that being the case, this non-believer still loves the song (just as I love Tebow) regardless of religious messages….

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