Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jonathan Franzen Sings "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" (And Gets Two)

So far this site's dealt with my web-like connections in the back rooms of the CanLit community. Who heard whom say what, and where did they clean the shovel? But I know American authors, too, so why not include stories about them?

I'm remembering the time I watched Jonathan Franzen try to sing Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. We were in D.M. Zwelonke's basement, and Marilynne Robinson was complaining that she hadn't heard a Simon song in years.

"I'll sing one," Franzen said.

"You can sing?" I asked.


"Sing She Loves Me Like a Rock," Robinson begged.

"I don't know that one."

"Well, what do you know?"

"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

"That's good, too."

"Is anyone going to back me up."

We all looked at Marguerite Yourcenar. "No way," she said.

Franzen started drumming his thighs, trying to get the right brushing/rustling sound of Simon's intro. "'The problem is all inside your head,' she said to me." He actually knew the words. "The answer is easy if you take it logically." And his voice wasn't bad. "I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free." He coughed. "There must be fifty ways to leave your lover."

Then he missed the next verse. But that was okay. We were right into the chorus--the best part.

"Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan...No need to be coy, Roy..."

And that was it. He was out of lyrics.

Robinson was shocked. She tried to cue him. "Just get yourself..."

He had no idea. The man had lost his way after seven lines.

"Hop on the bus..." Nothing.

Finally Franzen picked up his wine glass, half-full of pinot grigio, and threw it against the wall. It didn't break; rather it bounced off the Hans Hofmann reproduction and landed in Richard Wright's lap. "I know that song!"

"I'm sure you do," I said.

"I fucking know it!"

No one was laughing.

"Just drop off the key..." Robinson started.

"Shut up! Just shut up!" Franzen shouted. "Everyone, leave me alone. Just leave me alone." And he ran out of the room, smacking his open palm against the door frame.

I'm not going to try to defend the story. It's strange; it doesn't make much if any sense. But it's just something that happened to me one night in New York City. After it was over, I turned to Robinson: "That could never happen in Etobicoke," I said. "Never."

"Etobicoke," Robinson repeated. "That sounds like a nice place."

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