I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pop Deconstruction: "Cecilia"

1Cecilia, you're breaking my heart
2You're shaking my confidence daily
3Oh, Cecilia, I'm down on my knees
4I'm begging you please to come home
5Cecilia, you're breaking my heart
6You're shaking my confidence daily
7Oh, Cecilia, I'm down on my knees
8I'm begging you please to come home
9Come on home
10Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia
11Up in my bedroom
12I got up to wash my face
13When I come back to bed
14Someone's taken my place
15Cecilia, you're breaking my heart
16You're shaking my confidence daily
17Oh, Cecilia, I'm down on my knees
18I'm begging you please to come home
19Come on home
20Jubilation, she loves me again,
21I fall on the floor and I'm laughing,
22Jubilation, she loves me again,
23I fall on the floor and I'm laughing
The refrain of the Simon & Garfunkel song "Cecilia" (vv. 1-4; with slight variation in vv. 5-9,15-19) is the lamentation, presumably, of a male (but not necessarily so - the song is sung by male singer Paul Simon, but the perspective could be feminine or made feminine through interpretation) regarding a female named Cecilia (while "Cecilia" is traditionally a female name, necessity does not dictate that it must be one a female name - one could imagine a "Cecilia" who is not female) with whom the protagonist was once in an intimate and physical (v.10), loving (vv. 20, 22) relationship, but is no longer. This is followed by the verse section (vv. 10-14) which describes a particular event in the past in which Cecilia betrays the unnamed protagonist with an unnamed and ungendered "someone" (not the avoidance of the gender commitment by the use of a neutered pronoun; see Chasing Amy, 1997). The listener is led to believe that this incident in some way leads to the broken heart, the shaken confidence and the abandonment of the protagonist described in the refrain. Finally, an alternate refrain (vv. 20-23) celebrates with "jubilation" (vv. 20, 22) Cecilia's assumed return (this section does not actually describe such a return, but it can be inferred by the protagonist's ecstatic response).

Verses 10-14 form the first arc, chronologically, of the story of the unnamed protagonist and Cecilia. Of the setting, we know only that it takes place in the protagonist's bedroom (v. 11), but what we don't know is whether or not this is only the protagonist's bedroom. If we skip forward chronologically to the refrain (vv. 4, 8-9, 18-19), we hear the protagonist beg Cecilia to come home. He does not say, "Come to my home" or "Come to your home," and even though he also does not say, "Come to our home," it would not be a great stretch of logic to infer that an "our," a sense of belonging which includes both the protagonist and Cecilia, might be assumed in the supplication to Cecilia to "come home." The problem of whether or not this bedroom was shared by the protagonist and Cecilia gives rise to other questions: If not Cecilia, does the protagonist perhaps share a bedroom (bunk beds, dormatory situation, intimate bed sharing) with another individual? Is this bedroom in a house, apartment, condominium, or dormatory? Is the domicile as a whole shared by multiple individuals, perhaps family members, perhaps roommates? While these questions may seem moot at the moment, each possibility paints a different picture of the betrayal that takes place in this bedroom.

Normally I would follow our discussion of setting with a discussion of characterization, but this is difficult considering the fact that the characters are without description. The only adjective used throughout the song is the possessive pronoun "my," modifying the nouns "heart," "confidence," "knees," "bedroom," "face," and "place." Characters in "Cecilia" are known only according to their actions, according to the verbs of which they are the subject. The protagonist is the one who is down, who gets up, who begs, who makes love, who washes, who falls, who laughs, who comes back, a fairly well-rounded character. Cecilia, the subject of the song, acts much less than the protagonist; all she does is break, shake, make love, and love. (Cecilia is described on Wikipedia as "a capricious lover, causing both anguish and jubilation to the singer.") Interestingly, "someone" is only described as doing one thing; he is only described as taking.

With the information provided, it is difficult to understand the exact nature of the act of betrayal carried out by Cecilia and "someone" against the unsuspecting protagonist. The first event of the narrative is the lovemaking of Cecilia and the protagonist which takes place in the protagonist's bedroom (vv. 10-11; only the protagonist's bedroom? a bedroom as a part of what kind of home? a home shared by others?). The protagonist then proceeds to wash his face (v. 12), very probably in another room, possibly a bathroom that is down a hall or in another portion of the home. I suggest this idea of distance because it makes more sense of the substitution that occurs while the protagonist is away. As the protagonist returns to his bedroom and to his bed, he witnesses Cecilia in the bed with another individual. Since "someone" is described as taking the protagonist's place and the verb used for the action between the protagonist and Cecilia is "making love," it is not ridiculous to believe that Cecilia and "someone" are caught making love in the protagonist's bed.

What we have no access to in the song "Cecilia," mainly because the story is told from the perspective of the protagonist, is the actions of Cecilia and "someone" both after the protagonist leaves the room and prior to he and Cecilia's lovemaking. This is where the question of place and occupation becomes more important. If Cecilia and/or "someone" reside at the same residence as the protagonist, the events that are described seem much more believable. Either way, and assuming that the events of "Cecilia" are not the result of a random series of accidents, there are a few things that would have to take place between Cecilia and "someone" in order to enact such a quick replacement. One presumes that Cecilia and "someone" discussed the details ahead of time and that "someone" was lying in wait for Cecilia to signal him to enter the room. The first presumption casts the betrayal as a pre-meditated action, an act of infidelity that was meant to be witnessed by the one who is being cheated on, and thus all the more cruel. The second presumption paints of a picture of this "someone" as being somewhere close by, perhaps even inside the protagonist's home, close enough to quickly receive and respond to a signal from Cecilia and thus close enough to witness, with some combination of his senses, the sacred act of lovemaking between the protagonist and Cecilia. It is difficult to properly capture just how disturbing the actions of verses 10 through 14, and even more so to an audience that has never felt such a betrayal.

After what could be described as a heinous example of pre-meditated betrayal through adultery, we are lead to believe that Cecilia leaves the protagonist, possibly even with this unnamed "someone." Does the protagonist endure a period of anger at this betrayal? There is no evidence to support such a claim. He merely describes his pains (vv. 1-2, 5-6, 15-16), the foremost of which is that his beloved Cecilia is gone, and proceeds to beg Cecilia, the one who did him such great harm, to come home. If this does not speak to the weakness of the protagonist, then his jubilation at the return of his betrayer certainly ought to. It is Cecilia's shame that she responded to the protagonist's welcome with an act so terrible, but it is the protagonist's shame that he desires above all else to have this individual back in his life. The protagonist drops to the floor and laughs where he ought to pack up his things and get as far away from Cecilia as possible. "Cecilia" presents itself as a simple song of love and loss and, finally, of return, but in fact it is a song of abuse and dependence. It is a very different "Cecilia" from the "Cecilia" of my childhood memories.

Simon & Garfunkel, "Cecilia" from Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970: Columbia)

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