"The Late Great Johnny Ace" as written by and Paul Simon....
I was reading a magazine
And thinking of a rock and roll song
The year was 1954
And I hadn't been playing that long

When a man came on the radio
And this is what he said
He said I hate to break it to his fans
But Johnny Ace is dead, yeah, yeah, yeah

Well, I really wasn't
Such a Johnny Ace fan
But I felt bad all the same
So I sent away for his photograph

And I waited till it came
It came all the way from Texas
With a sad and simple face
And they signed it on the bottom
From the Late Great Johnny Ace, yeah, yeah, yeah

It was the year of The Beatles
It was the year of The Stones
It was nineteen 1964
I was living in London
With the girl from the summer before

It was the year of The Beatles
It was the year of The Stones
A year after J.F.K.
We were staying up all night

And giving the days away
And the music was flowing amazing
And blowing my way

On a cold December evening
I was walking through the Christmas tide
When a stranger came up and asked me
If I'd heard John Lennon had died

And the two of us went to this bar
And we stayed to close the place
And every song we played
Was for The Late Great Johnny Ace, yeah, yeah, yeah


Lyrics submitted by Gbness

"The Late Great Johnny Ace" as written by Paul Simon

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Late Great Johnny Ace song meanings
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  • 0
    My InterpretationI was reading a magazine
    And thinking of a rock and roll song
    The year was 1954
    And I hadn't been playing that long
    When a man came on the radio
    And this is what he said
    He said I hate to break it to his fans
    But Johnny Ace is dead, yeah, yeah, yeah

    Are there songs dealing with flashbulb memories? This one does. Look at the amount of detail related in the lyric leading up to Johnny Ace's death: Reading a magazine, thinking about a song, the year, radio broadcast. We all have flashbulb memories, and usually there is great significance attached. As we will see, our hero isn't especially a fan of Johnny Ace - so why does he remember this so well?

    Well, I really wasn't
    Such a Johnny Ace fan
    But I felt bad all the same
    So I sent away for his photograph
    And I waited till it came
    It came all the way from Texas
    With a sad and simple face
    And they signed it on the bottom
    From the Late Great Johnny Ace, yeah, yeah, yeah

    So our hero is not really a fan, but the death hits him enough to send for a memento. I assume our hero is roughly the same age as Paul Simon himself, so in 1954 he would have been 12-13 or so. Hadn't been playing music for long? What our hero is expressing indirectly is Ace's death reminds him that he, too will be dead one day. After all, here's a young, popular musician who died young; our hero is an aspiring musician himself.

    It was the year of The Beatles
    It was the year of The Stones
    It was nineteen 1964
    I was living in London
    With the girl from the summer before

    It was the year of The Beatles
    It was the year of The Stones
    A year after J.F.K.
    We were staying up all night
    And giving the days away
    And the music was flowing amazing
    And blowing my way

    It happens just like this: at a young age, we realize that the end will come one day, we grieve for ourselves for a while, then we move on and live. Our hero cannot describe with much specificity what is going on in his life - even a flashbulb event like the Kennedy assassination gets just a quick nod - because good things are happening and happening fast. 1964 is specified, but he can't get a handle on it beyond just mentioning a few noteworthy and general events.

    On a cold December evening
    I was walking through the Christmas tide
    When a stranger came up and asked me
    If I'd heard John Lennon had died
    And the two of us went to this bar
    And we stayed to close the place
    And every song we played
    Was for The Late Great Johnny Ace, yeah, yeah, yeah

    The stranger was obviously a musician and the bar had an open mike. Because they played for Johnny Ace, I'm guessing that Ace's death had hit the stranger the same way back in 1954, and Lennon's death had had a similar impact on our hero and the stranger. But look at how youth copes in the former case and experience copes in the latter: in an early stage of the journey, our hero brooded upon one musician's death. Present day (in the song, of course), he mourns by bonding with another person.

    A sort of "denial into acceptance" story here, I think.
    dark_nationon July 19, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is strictly autobiographical – this is Paul Simon talking about himself, not a bit of fiction to it.

    Paul Simon explains how three times in his life were linked together, with the first two thematically linked to the third.

    Johnny Ace (a stage name, of course) was someone Simon didn't know that well, but noted with sadness and got to know a bit after his death.

    The Beatles (and Stones) were more Simon's time, and obviously great inspirations to him.

    The third event, in 1980, is what Simon really wanted to comment upon – how he felt when he heard the news about John Lennon's death. The two earlier passages are the setup for it. In this case, unlike the 1954 case, Simon cared very deeply about the deceased, and his death was untimely and shocking. Now, a capable and celebrated musician himself, Simon's response was to go to a bar – obviously anywhere he arrived would welcome him – and play music to console himself and honor Lennon. And he feels that the stage name of the older musician, "Johnny Ace," is appropriate for Lennon, in the sense of an ace, as in cards, being the highest ranking member of a set.

    That's the payoff of the song, to give John Lennon that name, the affectionate "Johnny" instead of his given name, and "Ace" to proclaim his greatness. The first portion of the song warmly remembers the man who had that as his stage name, but at the end of the song, it's Lennon who is remembered by Simon as the late, great Johnny Ace.
    rikdadon August 11, 2017   Link

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