When I was a kid, my parents, well specifically my dad, used to play Paul Simon’s Graceland when we were in the car together. The song my dad and I listened to the most was "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes": she’s a rich girl she don’t try to hide it diamonds on the soles of her shoes. He’s a poor boy, empty as a pocket, empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.
The song always just sounded really good, and it had a Puff the Magic Dragon kind of lyricism to it, but what I’d always really loved was the way my dad sang it. Not because he sang well, he doesn’t really, but he’s funny and would always sing it as “she’s got bananas on the soles of her shoes,” and when Paul Simon sings ta na na, ta na na na, my dad would pipe out “ba-na-na, ba-na-na-na-na, she’s got bananas on the soles of her shoes.”
The song made so much sense to me that way. Sure it was silly. People say she’s crazy she’s got “banana’s on the soles of her shoes” well that’s one way to lose those walking blues. “Banana’s on the soles of her shoes.” But it was logical too, in its own sort of way. As I got older, I started to comprehend what the song actually meant – it discussed class hierarchies and romance. The inextricable boundaries of monetary divisions.
The boy changes his clothes and puts on aftershave to compensate for his ordinary shoes And she said honey take me dancing But they ended up sleeping in a doorway By the bodegas and the lights on off of broadway. Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes.
I know what the song means, but to me, it’s still bananas on the soles of her shoes. It’s still the sound of a car ride home from grade school with my dad. My dad and I don’t overlap too much in our tastes for music. I joke that he has a thing for “whiny women” because his iPod is full of female country singers who yodel on and on about their broken hearts. That’s what my dad likes – that and The Ramones. I, on the other hand, have fallen into the trap of an alternative music, and I always control the radio when we drive together. Despite our differences in taste, my dad and I share an unofficial playlist, and, as I think back on it now, few things define my dad, myself or the relationship between the two of us better.
Bonzo goes to Bitburg then goes out for a cup of tea As I watched it on TV somehow it really bothered me Drank in all the bars in town for an extended foreign policy Pick up the pieces
It’s a great Ramones song. I’ve always liked it because it was played in the movie School of Rock, and, if it’s good enough for Jack Black, it’s good enough for me. My dad’s been a fan for a long time, but when I first got really into the song, my dad, who’s a history major, of course, had to elaborate on why it was a great song. He couldn’t talk about chords, or poeticism of the lyrics, but he could talk about Ronald Reagan and Nazi Germany.
For those of you who don’t know, “Bonzo” was a role Ronald Reagan played back when he was an actor, and while he was president, he visited a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, which was home to many Nazi members’ graves. Had it not been for my dad and the musings of Joey Ramone, I would never have known the little snippet of history. My father loves to throw history at me from all angles, and normally, I have some vague understanding of what he’s talking about before he goes into an in depth explanation; sometimes, I know the whole narrative and its historical implications. To me it’s a part of the past, but to him, it’s an exciting discovery, a special gem he gets to share with his only child. Generally, I get involved with the lyrics of a song and my father the overall tone, but when history is involved, all bets are off.
A few years back, my parents and I watched Billy Elliot the Musical and quickly became obsessed. For a while, the soundtrack was always going in our car, but eventually, the ballads and the dance numbers would fade back into memory. What remained, however, at the forefront of every road trip, drive to spor’s practice, and errand run was one song: "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher." In the song, a group of British miners on strike celebrate Christmas with a toast of sorts to Maggie Thatcher.
Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher we all celebrate today ‘cause it’s one day closer to your death.
It’s less funny now that she’s actually dead, but for years, my father and I would gleefully shout that line and all the subsequent ones entailing the miner’s gripe with Thatcher and privatization.
Cause they’re privatizing Santa this merry Christmas time.
At some point, I realized that if my dad and I ever fought, the simplest fix was to play the song that Elton John wrote for a musical about a boy who just wanted to dance. Nothing about the story was relatable for us – it was just fun, it was just a way to bond over something funny, weird and really truly singable.
Despite the music I’ve discovered over the years there’s still some music that we always go back to. We always sing the guitar riff in Sultans of Swing and without fail my dad will joke that “that was tasty guitar lick.” He’s grown prone to making fun of my love of The Smiths, a band he deems to be angsty and meant for break ups. He always argues that someone can be human and dancer when The Killers ask if there’s a difference. Since I left home for college my parents and I still share an iCloud account. They see every trashy and angst-ridden song I buy, and I see their surprises too. I like to think that my dad and I are both still listening to Paul Simon as we go about our daily commutes because “everybody here knows what I’m talking about. Oh yes everybody knows exactly what I’m talking about. Bananas. Bananas on the soles of her shoes.”