There is an index of other articles from this series at the end of the article.
By Tony Attwood
I started this series with the Sam Stone song (“Death of an Unpopular Poet“) and if you want it, there is a little about Sam Stone in that article. Now I come to the second Sam Stone song on the list of Dylan’s favourite songs.
The accompaniment is simple and delicate, the melody is beautiful, the lyrics evocative in every line and the story is heart-breaking. I might wish for a different between-verses accompaniment on 1 minute 30 seconds, but then I’ve never been a fan of slide guitars, and besides I have no idea at all how I could possibly have introduced the following verse. For at that point the entire song takes a course that you know it must take, if you know the work of Jimmy Buffett.
Like all Buffet songs, this one speaks for itself and his delivery is so clear and calm it is of course easy to follow it line by line. But I’ll put the whole set of lyrics at the end just in case that is helpful…
My problem with this song is a totally personal one. I can recognise brilliant writing and a wonderful musical performance when I hear it, but I don’t like songs of tragedy, and I’m unhappy with the notion (obviously true, but that doesn’t stop me being unhappy about it) that a lot of our lives are controlled by pure chance. The good guys can be hurt; the bad guys can often come out on top; shit happens.
I only know of one cover of the song, and in a way that is not surprising, for the problem with doing a cover of a song like this is that the lyrics have such a clear meaning that nothing can be re-interpreted by developing a new accompaniment, changing the speed or otherwise exploring unseen elements within the song.
Thus in a very real way the song is the antithesis of Dylan songs; there is no chance of ambiguity. Life is what it is, and there is nothing you can do about it. And I suppose that is the message I don’t like.
But of course, as an artistic expression, the song is magnificent.
He went to Paris Looking for answers To questions that bothered him so He was impressive, Young and aggressive, Saving the world on his own Warm summer breezes And french wines and cheeses Put his ambitions at bay Summers and winters Scattered like splinters And four or five years slipped away He went to England Played the piano And married an actress named Kim They had a fine life She was a good wife And bore him a young son named Jim And all of the answers To all of the questions Locked in his attic one day He liked the quiet Clean country living And twenty more years slipped away Well, the war took his baby Bombs killed his lady And left him with only one eye His body was battered His whole world was shattered And all he could do was just cry While the tears were a' fallin' He was recallin' The answers he never found So he hopped on a freighter Skidded the ocean And left England without a sound Now he lives in the islands Fishes the pylons And drinks his green label each day He's writing his memoirs And losing his hearing But he don't care what most people say "Through eighty six years Of perpetual motion, " If he likes you, he'll smile and he'll say, "Some of it's magic, And some of it's tragic, But I had a good life all the way" He went to Paris Looking for answers To questions that bothered him so