"The Cool, Cool River" as written by and Paul Simon....
Moves like a fist through traffic
Anger and no one can heal it
Shoves a little bump into the momentum
It's just a little lump
But you feel it
In the creases and the shadows
With a rattling deep emotion
The cool, cool river
Sweeps the wild, white ocean

Yes boss, the government handshake
Yes boss, the crusher of language
Yes boss, Mr. Stillwater
The face at the edge of the banquet
The cool, the cool river
The cool, the cool river

I believe in the future
I may live in my car
My radio tuned to
The voice of a star
Song dogs barking at the break of dawn
Lightning pushes the edge of a thunderstorm
And these old hopes and fears
Still at my side

Anger and no one can heal it
Slides through the metal detector
Lives like a mole in a motel
A slide in a slide projector
The cool, cool river
Sweeps the wild, white ocean
The rage of love turns inward
To prayers of devotion
And these prayers are
The constant road across the wilderness
These prayers are
These prayers are the memory of God
The memory of God

And I believe in the future
We shall suffer no more
Maybe not in my lifetime
But in yours I feel sure
Song dogs barking at the break of dawn
Lightning pushes the edges of a thunderstorm
And these streets
Quiet as a sleeping army
Send their battered dreams to heaven, to heaven
For the mother's restless son
Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
Who denies his urge to break and run

Who says: Hard times?
I'm used to them
The speeding planet burns
I'm used to that
My life's so common it disappears
And sometimes even music
Cannot substitute for tears

Lyrics submitted by adupont

"The Cool, Cool River" as written by Paul Simon

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Cool, Cool River song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentJmax and drjimmy - I think you both are pointed in the right direction. My sense is that the lyrics juxtapose spirituality turned inward (negative - or helpless) vs spirituality turned outward (a bit out of order to make the point, but "my life's so common it disappears - hard times??? I'm used to them..etc. last stanza)

    For me, I agree with attila, this song breaks my heart, but in a very redeeming way. The dynamics of the music drive this home, similar to "Proof", on the same album.

    The comment about "terrorist" is right on. While we all know harming others is bad, the terrorist who kills himself or others believes he is doing it for god (negative - getting back at other for a perceived wrong) and the end of the song, where the music punches you in the face, essentially says, "the kid who resists the urge to "break and run(away from the hard truth), stands up to the hard truth and says "I can take it...It's going to stop here with me"). Remember he says this kid is "witness to" (he's seen the bad stuff happen to his people and that he's a warrior, but he's going to resist his urge).

    Incredibly powerful. And Jmax, you put it so well when you say "In the song, the river can be seen as the source of prayer, the spiritiual sustenance we need to sweep our angers away, and our hopes and dreams to the future towards heaven."
    WillSpeckon September 13, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is a perfect example of Simon's genius.
    The bump in the momentum -- you can feel it --
    It's the rage of the individual that can't move something as massive as the sea, can't change the ocean, but redirects the stream, the river that leads there and so you CAN feel it.

    Yes Boss -- This section depicts the tyranny of the wealthy nation, the west, as it subjugates and seeks to crush the other -- the government handshake -- refers to the business of nations where the rich nations deal for the soul and resources of the poor nations. The few become powerful, the rest are excluded -- Mr. Stillwater, the face at the edge of the banquet -- one of the most haunting phrases I ever heard. Mr. Stillwater (still waters run deep -- there is something powerful and violent moving underneath the surface) the face at the edge of the banquet -- he's not invited to the banquet but he witnesses the ample extravagance that is not allowed to him.

    The river keeps running -- like a warning.

    I'll write more later.
    chazynon March 05, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is about the typical lower-middle class american and the deep restlessness they experience and usually supress all their lives.
    The first few verses seem to portray this "YES"-man who is angrily coming home from work like "a fist through traffic".
    This character has some underlying hopes to be free even if it means living in his car. However I would never equate him to a terrorist. Indeed, he appears to be the anti-terrorist. The lines "slides throught the metal detector" convey how casually he approaches the mechanical and routinely invasive aspects of modern life. He is a nobody, just another "slide in a slide projector", which I equate to living in an apartment building.
    The theme of fighting for freedom runs through this song, but I don't know if he means Revolution!! or simply taking charge of your life. This person is obviously on the verge of attempting one or both of those tasks, indicated by lines like "song dogs barking on the edge of dawn"...his dawning. And the lines about the thuderstorm hint that the change will be either symbolically or literally violent.
    Either way, Simon apparently believes there are loads of these Stillwater cronies and clones because of the lines "these streets like a sleeping army", where we have all of the potential warriors simply sleeping away while their own personal battles and our collaborative battles are lost.
    The cool river I equate to us each being like currents on the surface of the ocean. Each individual collectively adding to the ocean. And this person presents a calm, yet misleading surface which hides or "sweeps" the white caps
    mycology101on March 03, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti cant believe no-one has commented on this yet!
    this is an absolutely amazing song.
    that last section from 'and i believe in the future we shall suffer no more' to the end just breaks my heart every time
    attila_carnakion April 28, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe line that really catches my ear is

    "And sometimes even music
    Cannot substitute for tears"

    which indicates two things that build upon each other:

    1.) That PS uses his music as therapy and
    2.) sometimes it isn't enough and he just has to cry.

    Very moving stuff.
    ihatemusicon July 14, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentCall me crazy, but not to disrupt your flow of how this song makes you feel...
    Hello? McFly? Terrorist! Martyr! Why is he living like mole in a hotel room? Why is he sliding through the metal detector?
    Send their battered dreams to heaven, to heaven
    My opinion.
    drjimmy61on March 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song might be saying that there is alot of anger and rage in the world, but we, like the courageous "mother's restless son" in the song, must be brave to face all the worlds problems, the stresses, the misunderstandings that arise through the "crusher of language." The cool, cool river, the healing powers of the cool cool river were vital and magically, the river sweeps everything to the ocean. In the song, the river can be seen as the source of prayer, the spiritiual sustenance we need to sweep our angers away, and our hopes and dreams to the future towards heaven.
    jmax1983on May 03, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song seems to be completely mixed up and weird. I won't try to interpret it, and the last lines indicates how personal it is.
    That last part always makes me stop for a second just listening to the honest lyrics and knowing what it's like. Like when the first thing you turn to when you're sad (music) isn't enough to comfort you. When you have to reach out to someone and ask for their help...
    Megairaon January 26, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is about authority and the struggle of an ordinary person against the government/state. The anger of one person is ignored and barely noticed as in the first few lines
    'It’s just a little lump
    But you feel it
    In the creases and the shadows'
    I also think contrary to Jmax and WillSpeck that the river is negative. I think it represents authority and the ocean is the rest, the normal people 'the cool, cool river sweeps the wild, white ocean' The river ignores the ocean pushing it aside.
    'I believe in the future' etc also shows the singer is waiting for a time of freedom. I think drjimmy is possibly right too, this song tries to show the motivation behind a rebel and reminds me perhaps of someone like Che Guevara fighting for freedom.
    Elaeson February 10, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment...and I almost forgot...
    The lines "sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears", in my opinion, means that the more viseral, expressive lifestyle this person desires can no longer be satisfied by alternative outlets. With just a touch of sadness added to his rage he is ready to live his life the way he desires and not just emulate reality.
    mycology101on March 03, 2010   Link

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