This is what I heard, when I was but a Wee Thing:
I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know
Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me
Bleeding me, going home
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains
There were folks who went moony-eyed over “The Sound of Silence”, which is a lovely song; don’t get me wrong. But this one…this one hits me in the solar plexus. When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy …in the quiet of the railway station, running scared.
I love the percussion…the train, rolling through the rhythm and blowing its whistle…it’s not the first time this rhythm has been used like this, and it won’t be the last. But it’s good. It’s really good. I love how the instrumentation builds as the story unravels…first it’s just guitar, and when the narrator in the story ‘leaves his home and family’, you hear the hint of a train whistle. When he arrives at the train station, you hear the percussion start up…the train, rumbling rhythmically along, taking the narrator far from comfort.
This song gives me pictures in my head; sad and lonely pictures. The story it tells is one of a certain kind of hopelessness, even in the futile escape of the narrator…trying to get out before his spirit is broken and he has to admit that his dream is just that; before he is lost in the wash of unknown faces that seeks to swallow him up, just as it has done time and time again with the other dreamers. It’s bitter and cold and utterly lonely.
The vocals are gentle, melancholy, until he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him til he cried out…this is where his voice becomes stronger.
Sometimes I see an older man, choosing to walk from a dark, smoke-filled pub rather than to be carried out on a stretcher. I see his broken face, his cauliflower ears. I see him draw his suspenders up over his shoulders and shrug off onlookers as he creaks from the clearing they have made around him and the bartender who won’t serve him anymore because he’s pissed himself again. I hear his voice, thick with drink, hollering “I am leaving! I am leaving!” He’d come to this country to find a better life, and what he found was more of the same shite he’d left home for.
Or perhaps the boxer is a young man, and the clearing is the living room or front porch of the girl he’s fallen in love with. He’s squaring off against her father, who doesn’t want him marrying his daughter, because he’s poor, and has no family, and he’s a troublemaker. He’s a boxer, after all; he bares his knuckles for back-room bets laid down in parking lots out behind the greasy spoon diners and in the basements of bakery kitchens in the ‘ethnic quarter’.
I see him as a man of colour – any colour but pink. He’s a boxer because he has to be. His *parents* speak no English. He worked in their laundry, or diner, or newsstand, until he could no longer stand coming home to his father taking out feelings of inferiority by beating his wife and son with a belt until they could no longer stand. His mother used to tell him he would go far, that when they made some money, she would send him to school. She would send him to the big city where he could grow up to be somebody, not a nobody like his father. She would send him anywhere; just far away from here.
Or maybe it’s a middle-class kid; a kid who wanted to be somebody. Some kid from upstate New York, come to the big city to make his mark. Maybe he was a hot-shot in high school. Maybe he thought he could play in the big-leagues. He lowers himself to ask for ‘only workmans’ wages’. Maybe he thought it would be easy. Maybe he thought his charm would get him all the way. Maybe he did what he could, and got tired of the booze and the pills and the fights that got him from hotel room to hotel room. Maybe he just wants to go home and settle in to that nine-to-five desk job at the used car dealership his father always promised him. Maybe he has to admit defeat, because discretion is the better part of valor.
What do you hear?