Music Mystery: Paul Simon's Kid-Friendly Song ... Is About Abuse?
If you're a fan of Wes Anderson, Gilmore Girls, or The Muppets, you've heard the better half of Simon and Garfunkel's jaunty little tune, about a radical priest and the queen of Corona, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."
But what is it about? The mama pajama rolls out of bed and witnesses you and Julio doing ... something illegal down by the schoolyard, and all we know is it's egregious enough to send her running to the police station and outrage her entire family for some time. That could be anything from graffiti to murder.
The most anyone's been able to pin down without Simon's input is the inspiration for the priest in question, Daniel Berrigan, if only because there weren't that many priests on the covers of national news magazines at the time. But Berrigan's troubles with the law were political. Were you and Julio burning draft cards? Is the mama pajama just a devout patriot? What did you do?!
It turns out that Paul Simon answered that question the year the song was released, and it was so weird that nobody seems to have pressed the issue ever again. In 1972, when Jon Landau asked Simon, "What is it that the mama saw?" in an interview for Rolling Stone, he said, "I have no idea what it is." He then proceeded to whip out some bullshit anyway: "Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say 'something,' I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn't make any difference to me."
We're gonna go back in time and stop you right there, Paul, because it makes a huge difference. Most illegal sexual acts are nonconsensual, which completely reframes the heroes and villains of this story. Not to speak for the dead, but it's safe to assume Berrigan wouldn't want anything to do with that mess. Even if it wasn't -- after all, homosexuality wasn't decriminalized in New York until 1980 -- the location of events is pretty sketch either way. There's a time and a place for banging, and it's not the schoolyard.
Or the Sesame Street.
As Simon goes on to explain the songwriting process, though, it becomes clear he didn't put much more thought into it than a toddler into their selection of that afternoon's toys, except with a dash more implicit racism. "First of all, I think it's funny to sing -- 'Me and Julio.' It's very funny to me. And when I started to sing 'Me and Julio,' I started to laugh, and that's when I decided to make the song called 'Me and Julio,' otherwise, I wouldn't have made it that. I like the line about the radical priest. I think that's funny to have in a song." There you have it: Paul Simon, folk-rock edgelord, doin' it for the lulz since 1957.
Top image: Matthew Straubmuller/Wikimedia Commons