Aug 3, 2012

Me and Julio

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I listened to teen idol music -- Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, The Monkees -- but not adult pop, with its confusing beats and crazy lyrics.  So I heard the duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel only from a distance, from my friend Bill's big brother, from my babysitter, from talent shows at school.   But I knew that their songs, refreshingly, weren't always about girls.  They were about trying to find emotional connection ("The Sound of Silence," "I Am a Rock"), friends ("Bridge Over Troubled Waters," "El Condo Pasa"), true loves without gender ("Scarborough Fair), and trying to keep a secret:

It's a little secret, just a Robinson affair
Most of all, you got to hide it from the kids.

Just like the boys Don Grady described "holding hands among the candles."

And I knew that they were photographed close together, hugging or with their arms around each other.

I naturally assumed that they were boyfriends, and I was sad when I heard that they broke up.

Then one day in the summer of 1972 Bill and I saw his big brother Mike reading a copy of Rolling Stone with Paul on the cover: a thin, sad smile, a tight black t-shirt, and enormous biceps.  We quickly got a ride downtown to the Record Barn and pooled our money to buy Paul's first solo album, showing him partially hidden behind the furry hood of a parka.  It was something of a disappointment, with many tracks about boys "becoming a man" with a girl and men betrayed by women.  

The only song that I could identify with was “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” 

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, parents become aware that something has happened between the singer and Julio, a Caribbean boy.  It happened “down by the school yard.”  

“The Mama Pajama” rushes to the police station, screaming “it’s against the law!”, and the father exclaims “Oy, If I catch that boy, I’m gonna put him in a house of detention.” The Yiddishism makes it clear that they are Paul’s Brooklyn Jewish parents, but oddly it is Paul,  not Julio, who is arrested and sent to prison.  Eventually the story is leaked to the press, and a “radical priest” gets him released.  The story is published in Newsweek. Now he is leaving town in disgrace.

In an interview, Paul states that he was mainly interested in the fun of rhyming “me and Julio”; he expected that “something sexual” had occurred, but he hadn’t devoted much thought to the details.   Perhaps he was hesitant about saying more to erase the existence of gay people, or perhaps he literally could not conceive of same-sex desire except in the vaguest of terms.  

Certainly he overestimates what would really happen to two boys caught “down by the school yard."  They wouldn't go to prison, even during Paul’s childhood in the 1950s, and if by chance they ended up in juvenile hall, the act certainly wasn't unusual enough to rate a Newsweek story.  Paul is merely creating a metaphor for his anxiety about an act which, although natural and even inevitable, seems to bring the height of disapprobation.

I did not realize, in 1972, that the song suggested same-sex behavior; indeed, I had no idea that such behavior even existed.  What the song meant to me was: Paul and Julio had an important relationship, and now it was over because parents, peers, and the entire complex hierarchy of civil government had expended enormous amount of energy on trying to split them up.  To attempt to preserve the love between men was futile.