Dear Mr. Simon,
Let me begin by saying that I am generally a fan of your work. My mother used to sing me “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme” as a lullaby as a child, and your song “You Can Call Me Al” is funny and upbeat, and Chevy Chase is great in the video. I’m a guitar player and songwriter myself, and I’ve even committed to learning a few of your songs on guitar, primarily “The Boxer.”
So I was more than a little disappointed to recently come across your song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Make no mistake, musically I think it’s quite pleasant. And though the story in the song is more than a little provocative, I generally find it well-rendered. Also, I know that non-monogamy is now a big thing, and that’s fine—to each their own (though I’m sure the subject matter turned a few heads in 1975 when it came out).
My issue is that the song promises fifty ways to leave your lover, and by my count there are only five. That’s no small discrepancy! It’s a great pet peeve of mine to be promised something (whether it’s in a song, a movie trailer, a commercial, or otherwise) and be given something totally different or insufficient. For instance, the movie Trainspotting; they’re not looking for trains, they’re trying to get drugs! Or when I got that Ginsu knife because I saw it could cut through shoes, and then it didn’t make it halfway through mine.
I may not be as celebrated a songwriter as you, but I can tell you this: My songs make good on their titles. “Rufus the Dog” is not some misleading title to get you to listen to a song about a cat or a llama or something ridiculous like that. It’s about a dog. What he eats, where he sleeps, all kinds of things. Or my song “Three Little Words.” Guess what; those words are “I” and “Love” and “You.” I don’t stop with just two of them and I don’t barrel on to four or five. It’s just those three, exactly what I promised.
But you say fifty right in the title—not to mention in the song itself (six times by my count)—and then proceed to only give us five. Now just to be fair, because maybe I miscounted or something, let’s go through the five I see.
1. Slip out the back, Jack
2. Make a new plan, Stan
3. Don’t need to be coy, Roy
And then there’s the “listen to me” part, which isn’t a way to leave your lover. (Honestly, “Don’t need to be coy, Roy” isn’t really a way to leave your lover, but I’ll accept it. Poetic license and all that.) Then there’s:
4. Hop on the bus, Gus (“don’t need to discuss much” is, I assume, still directed at Gus)
5. Drop off the key, Lee
And “get yourself free” is for Lee, I’m assuming.
Well, that’s five, am I wrong? And to me, that’s just lazy songwriting. If you didn’t want to do all fifty, that’s fine, just don’t put it in the title. Call it “Five Ways to Leave Your Lover” and leave it at that. Now to make a point—and because I think that new songwriters need to know that this stuff really matters for close-listening fans—I’ve decided to go ahead and do the other forty-five for you, just to show you that it really wouldn’t have been all that hard. Here, I’ll just throw a few out off the top of my head:
6. Get on a bike, Ike
7. Get in the car, Mar (short for Marlon)
8. Look for a train, Rainn
9. Climb in the chopper, Hopper
10. Hop on a ferry, Barry
Boom! Five more. That took me maybe three minutes. And perhaps you’re thinking, “some of those are weird names,” but to that, I’d say Hopper is the main guy on that Stranger Things show, and Rainn Wilson was an actor on The Office, both big hits. Or maybe you’re saying, “people won’t know that Mar is short for Marlon.” Fine. I don’t agree, but it’s a fair point, so I’ll replace it with “Jump in the Benz, Hans.” It’s not a perfect rhyme but I think it works.
Here, I’ll do five more.
11. Get on a ship, Rip (like Rip Torn)
12. Hop on your cycle, Michael
13. Jump in a cab, Ahab
14. Go parasail, Dale
15. Mount up a steed, Reed
Boom! That’s fifteen! Now I admit those five took me longer, mostly because I was trying to stick with the transportation thing, which maybe I’ll move away from for the next five. And maybe you think the Ahab one doesn’t hit the ear right, but I think it’s good to have some names that aren’t “white guy” names, don’t you think? In fact, I think that’s a good prompt for my next five. Here.
16. Just say goodbye, Dai
17. Sing a new tune, Shun
18. Start up a-bikin’, Eiken
19. Don’t let her see you, Ryu
20. Don’t say where you flew to, Takutu
Those are Japanese. You’re welcome to look them up on Wikipedia. They’ll be there. That makes twenty. Easy. And it’s only been three hours or so of working on this (those last ones took longer than the first two). But maybe you had somewhere to go that day? If it were me, I would have stayed home and finished the job. Okay, no theme for this one. Let’s just make a dent in these fifty here because it’s getting dark out.
21. Pop off to Spain, Rainn
22. Give her some dough, Mo
23. Leave her in the can, Dan
24. Explain that you don’t love her, Glover
25. File for divorce, Horse
Okay, I know what you’re going to say, but I knew a guy growing up who went by “Horse.” It probably wasn’t his real name, but that’s what everyone called him. Everyone. And anyways no one said that nicknames were out of bounds. Even some of yours are probably nicknames, like Gus, which is usually short for “Augustus” or “Gustav” or something like that. So you could have made it work with nicknames for sure. Actually, nicknames might speed things along here, so let’s do some more.
26. Pop off to the beach, Teach
27. Leave while she’s nappin’, Cap’n
28. Make off like a thief, Chief
29. You don’t need to kvetch, Stretch
30. Run away when she stumbles, Mumbles
31. Tell her you don’t choose her, Bruiser
32. Leave her at the new mall, Too Tall
Boom! Seven more! That took a while but I was sure I could get more than five. Now obviously, if you do all fifty ways, you’d also probably have to write some new verses, and I’m not going to do that for you. Still, I might suggest having your protagonist meet other people around the party that can tell him more ways to leave his lover, just so it doesn’t have to be the one lady the whole time. That might get kind of boring.
I should also mention that my girlfriend says, “Pop off to the beach, Teach,” is a little weird because it makes it sound like the guy is the teacher of the lover he’s leaving, which is obviously not okay. But I told her the guy’s nickname is just Teach and everyone calls him that, but she says that’s not how it sounds. So I told her it’s not her song and she should butt out. But then she said it’s not my song either, which annoyed me, so I moved to a different room. We’ve been fighting a lot lately. My friend Jim says we should break up. He’s the one who played me your “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” song. Oh, wait—!
33. Leave her at the gym, Jim
I know that it’s a little weird to rhyme “gym” with “Jim,” but technically, it’s a rhyme, so I think it’s fair. Actually, there’s a bunch like that.
34. Get in a van, Van
35. Leave her near a cliff, Cliff
36. Leave her something you drew, Drew
37. Jump in a scooter, Scooter
38. Sneak off in the rain, Rainn
I looked it up and those are called “rich rhymes,” so they should count. And yeah, I know I’ve used “Rainn” a few times now, but it’s a real name (Rainn Wilson) and I think we connect with characters more deeply when they make a few appearances in a song. Like in “Rufus the Dog,” there’s an owner that feeds him in the beginning, but then later he also lets Rufus jump up on his bed to sleep at night. He’s not the main character, so that’s why he’s not in the title. But actually, just to be clear I think I’ll change the title to “Rufus the Dog (With Two Appearances by His Owner, Mark).”
39. Head to the park, Mark
Boom! Mark! Sometimes ideas just come to you. That’s why I love songwriting—there’s something very mystical and intuitive about it. Actually…
40. Leave her at the office, Rufus
Boom! Rufus! Come on, that works. Slant rhymes are okay. You can’t expect me to get fifty name rhymes without doing some slant rhymes. In fact, there were a couple I didn’t put in earlier because they were slant rhymes, but I’m going to throw them in now because I’ve been doing this for a couple days now.
41. Leave her in the bath, Wyeth
42. Don’t tell your friends, Hans
43. Get out of town, John
44. Write her a letter, Eddie
45. Hop in a boat, Noah
Keep in mind that great singers can make slant rhymes sound like perfect rhymes, so these shouldn’t be a problem. For instance, you just soften the “t” on the word boat and add a little bit of a “t” on Noah, so it sounds like “hop in a boat, Noat.” It works, I’m telling you.
Okay, five more. I didn’t do these three earlier because they were slant rhymes and I know rideshares didn’t exist in the seventies but that’s fine, I think.
46. Hop in a Lyft, Jeff
47. Call up an Uber, Ruben
48. Contact a rideshare, Moishe
Look, there were probably types of transportation in the seventies that you could have referenced that I don’t even know about, because I wasn’t around, so I think I should be able to talk about Lyft and Uber.
Okay… two more. Christ. My boss is going to kill me. Oh!
49. Fake your own death, Seth
And it’s a perfect rhyme! Hmm…one more, one more. I did modes of transportation… Japanese names… nicknames… slant rhymes… well, I guess you could just talk to her.
50. Express your concerns, listen to hers, see whether they can be resolved, and if they can’t, then work to come to a mutual separation agreement, Brent
Fifty! Boom! That’s how you finish a song! Phew, that last leg was brutal. But it was worth it, because I can already feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from doing a thorough and honorable job. And you know what, I said I wasn’t going to do it, but I’ve decided I am going to take a stab at filling out those extra verses. I figure you’ll need about twenty. I’m going to save those for a second letter, but I hope that this first one has given you a little something to think about, Mr. Simon. Because “poetic license” doesn’t mean we can just lie about stuff.