50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon. I distinctly remember when this song first came out in December, 1975. I was barely out of college, working at a newspaper, not yet married, and just about to recover from my total dedication to the Beatles. I was starting to listen more often to folk music, although my obsession with Paul McCartney appeared to still be somewhat overbearing. Folk music was quiet, thought-provoking, and sometimes non-explainable. It fit me.
I was mesmerized by the idea of singer/songwriters sitting around with a strange group of friends who were playing guitars…writing lyrics and coming up with melodies. I never thought about what state of mind they might have been in…maybe I was a closet hippie who did not wear faded jeans, headbands, and flowered shirts. I was just all about music…then and now.
When I first heard the eerie sound of 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, I didn’t think so much of the words. However I was crazy about the repeating chorus:
You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free.
What I did not even consider about the lyrics then… jumps out at me now. Was Paul Simon serious? Why would he say that discussion was not really necessary? Just drop off the key? I think that would not be particularly positive. Whoa…I am thinking way too literally. I need to get back in the groove and calm down. Come on now…how many songwriters were totally with the program in the early seventies? I guess that I don’t know the answer and I guess that I don’t want to know the answer. I just like the songs from that era (well…and this era too) and I particularly like 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.
I’ve read that Paul Simon has never really said who the song was about or if it was about anyone that he could even recall. In a 1975 interview with Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Paul Simon said that he woke up one morning in his NYC apartment and the opening words to the song just popped into his head. He started building the song from that one line. It is also said that he wrote part of the song while trying to teach his young son how to rhyme.
Although the chorus does rhyme, the rest of the song is a random story of a relationship going downhill. 5o Ways to Leave Your Lover. Since Paul Simon really only lets us know five ways to leave, we are left to figure out the rest on our own. It doesn’t matter to me since I don’t intend to leave after such a long marriage. I am just so very ridiculously curious…what is Gus going to do after he hops on that bus? All we can hope is that Gus, Jack, Stan, Roy, and Lee somehow found each other. They just need to be together to figure out their lives.