Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Apple #183: Mrs. Robinson

I heard Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" on the radio this morning. It reminded me how much I like that tune. I might even go so far as to say I think it's their best song. Yes, maybe even better than "Cecilia."

Anyway, I was singing along and I realized, the lyrics don't make a whole lot of sense, taken all together. They sort of do, in patches, but I couldn't put the whole picture together. So I decided to find out if anybody had any insight into the overall meaning of the song.

If Mrs. Robinson knows what the song means, she's not telling
(Photo from Dack.com)

  • Turns out, there's a reason for my confusion. Simon and Garfunkel -- some sources say that Paul Simon was the lone songwriter -- were working on a song about Mrs. Roosevelt. As in, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a.k.a. Eleanor. When the songwriters couldn't get it to go anywhere, and they dropped it.
  • But then they were asked to write a song for The Graduate (movie starring Dustin Hoffman in his first role with the steamy Anne Bancroft). They said at first that they didn't have anything they could use, but then they got the idea to use their song about Mrs. Roosevelt and change her name to Mrs. Robinson.
  • As for the bit about Joe DiMaggio, in one interview, Simon said he used DiMaggio's name simply because the rhythm fit the song. But later, he said he truly respected DiMaggio's humility in the face of his popularity, and regarded him as a true hero because of his character.

Joe DiMaggio, baseball star/normal guy
(Photo from Baseball Hound)

  • Okay, now that I know these facts, let's see if the lyrics come together:
And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
whoa whoa whoa
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

  • Even if I mentally substitute "Mrs. Roosevelt" for "Mrs. Robinson", I still can't quite put it together.

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home

  • That line, "We'd like to know a little bit about your for our files." The way Simon sings it, it sounds sort of sneaky, sinister. It makes me think of all that distrust of government business (although Watergate didn't break until five years later). But were the lines supposed to refer to someone talking to Eleanor Roosevelt? Or her talking to someone else?
or ?

(Photo of Nixon from U Wisconsin's American History 102
Photo of Eleanor Roosevelt from Jimpoz.com)

  • And what grounds are we strolling around? I've always taken that to refer to insane asylum grounds, just because I've often heard other references to such places made in similar ways. But is that true for this song? Or are the "grounds" the lawn and environs of the White House?

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
whoa whoa whoa
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair
Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids

  • Just what are we hiding in the pantry with our cupcakes? I mean, it's easy to make some assumptions given the decade, but are those assumptions borne out in the song? Especially if it was supposed to be about Mrs. Roosevelt. Or, if this part of the lyrics was supposed to connect to the movie, I'm not sure how that works either. As far as I can find out, there's no scene involving a pantry or cupcakes in The Graduate.

Maybe not these kinds of cupcakes

Koo koo kachoo, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
whoa whoa whoa
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

  • Is the koo koo kachoo supposed to refer to the goo goo g'joob that appears in "I Am the Walrus"? That song was written in 1967, and so was "Mrs. Robinson." One source thinks that Paul Simon was, in fact, referring to The Beatles, but I couldn't find anybody with any ideas about why the reference is there.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates' debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
woo woo woo
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

You see, many questions. Even so, I still like the song. Maybe it is all as Simon remarked in a 2002 interview:
  • When I wrote, 'Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?' I wondered, 'What does that have to do with "The Graduate"?' Can I say that? I'll just say it. It sounds right.
If anybody has any new bright ideas on the subject, I'd love to hear them.

Songfacts, Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel
Jew Eat Yet? blog by Danny Miller, God Bless You Please, Mrs. Robinson, May 7, 2005
NZGirl, The Meaning of Songs
Wikipedia, Mrs. Robinson
Wikipedia, I Am the Walrus
Art of the Mix, Don't You Think the Joker Laughs at You? note #9
Steve Knopper, "Simon takes new sound, old hits on the road," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's JS Online, June 29, 2006


  1. as wonderful as ever. this might be my fav. if for no other reason than you are left with as many questions as you started with.

  2. DUH the song is about the first black player in the MBA's wife...Jackie Robinson...all about the NY Yankees....thus the reference to Joe DiMaggio

  3. DUH is always a good sign that a well thought-out, well-researched reply is sure to follow.

    Rather than MBA, which generally stands for Master's of Business Administration, did you perhaps mean MLB, which stands for Major League Baseball?

    And are you suggesting that there was some sort of relationship between Jackie Robinson's wife and Joe DiMaggio? If so, I'm sure that baseball historians and fans everywhere would be thrilled to hear about it.

    Or perhaps, anonymous, you overlooked that portion of this entry which includes Paul Simon's explanation of what he was thinking when he wrote the song. Nowhere did he mention Jackie Robinson or Jackie Robinson's wife, but rather Mrs. Robinson of The Graduate. If you've seen the movie, I'm sure you're aware that the Mrs. Robinson in that movie is hardly the wife of Jackie Robinson, the baseball player.

    I hope that the next time you feel yourself compelled to begin a remark with DUH, you take the time to actually read the material to which you are objecting.


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