Nice Bright Colours

Let’s talk about the song, ‘Kodachrome,’ by Paul Simon. Let’s talk about the guitar figure– a bright summer figure, but a summer-ending figure, too, which is even better– and then let’s talk about how that figure becomes a riff; the kind of riff your cousin who used to take guitar lessons still plays in a lawn chair wearing shorts at the family BBQ because it’s easy and fun and it seems like it might go somewhere. Let’s talk about how the chopstick drumming joins the riff, and then the hound-dog-yawning bass, and then bit of electric piano, a Rhodes I think. Let’s talk about the rest on the downbeat– how it hangs there; something punted into the air; a shoe flung off your foot at soccer practice- and let’s talk about the double (triple?) tracked ‘When I look back on all the crap I learned in highschool’ lyric, which opens ‘Kodachrome,’ and how, if you don’t think that songwriters sweat most about the words that begin and end a song, you’re wrong. Let’s talk about how the riff comes in again and then let’s talk about how all of that repeats before there’s a bar snipped at the end leading into the chorus and some piano pushing the rhythm of ‘Koda-Chro-oh-ohm,’ which, whenever it happens, picks you up from behind and carries you over its shoulder. Let’s talk about how you realize the song is about a camera– about a camera’s film, too– and how the piano trills over the keyboard at the beginning of the second half of the chorus– fish splashing out of the water, kids laughing at a cartoon — and see, I told you it was about summer (or summer-ending). Let’s talk about how, at the end of the chorus, the singer sings, ‘Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away,’ and, suddenly, the band launches into double-time as if fleeing with the small, yellow packet of film under their arm, and you think, ‘Oh, where are they racing to?’ ‘Why are we leaving summer?’ and ‘Can this be the end already?’ Let’s talk about the second hanging pause, and the beginning of the next verse, about sex and girls and ‘How everything looks worse in black and white,’ and how some people I know wish Paul Simon didn’t always have to prove how virile he is. Let’s talk about how the same thing happens through the verse and the next chorus, and how we’re double-timing for real now. Let’s talk about the fatalistic joy of the piano– the nephew of ‘Obladi-Oblada’– and the mantra of the repeated lyric; how the singer’s camera and film is being taken away even though he wants his mama– or whomever– not to. Let’s talk about percussion riding with the drums and the bass riding with the guitar: everybody riding, riding, to somewhere. Then let’s talk about the double-time played over the double-time and how everything moves faster still– too fast, maybe– until the song is carried away by freight or motorbike or pedal boat, and suddenly there’s a harmony on the mantra and more fish splashing and the song sounds like it’s going somewhere wonderful and bright where it’s always summer, bbut you can’t go there and neither can the singer. Let’s talk about the ending. Now let’s play it from the beginning again.

One thought on “Nice Bright Colours

  1. Kind of a prequel to “Old Friends/Bookends Theme,” the flip of “Mrs. Robinson.” (“Long ago, it must be / I have a photograph / Preserve your memories / They’re all that’s left you.”)

    What stands out to me is “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.” Kinds of hints at the great feats of prestidigitation a photo can perform. Is the photographer really preserving memories, or manufacturing versions of them? But ultimately, who cares, when they’re such pretty, colourful pictures? Of course he wants to disappear into them. Don’t take his Kodachrome away!

    I wonder if Simon woke up on October 13, 2011, and said to himself, “How terribly strange to be 70.” I wonder if he paused to leaf through an old photo album.


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