Paul Simon remembers walking into a restaurant, where
Joe DiMaggio, and "we immediately fell into conversation about the
subject we had in common."
"What I don't understand," DiMaggio said, "is why you ask where I've
gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial, I'm a spokesman for the Bowery
Savings Bank and I haven't gone anywhere!"
I've always wondered about that. But it turns out Paul Simon finally
explained his lyrics about Joe DiMaggio from the song
"Mrs. Robinson" - in
a 1999 article he wrote the day Joe DiMaggio died.
I said that I didn't mean the lines literally, that I thought of him as
an American hero and that genuine heroes were in short supply. He
accepted the explanation and thanked me. We shook hands and said good
Now, in the shadow of his passing, I find myself wondering about that
explanation. Yes, he was a cultural icon, a hero if you will, but not of
my generation. He belonged to my father's youth: he was a World War II
guy whose career began in the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and ended
with the arrival of the youthful Mickey Mantle...
Today Reason.com reports
that there's more to DiMaggio's
Smoking Gun dug up DiMaggio's World
War II medical
criticized for disliking military service. To be fair, DiMaggio had
played in the Major Leagues for the previous six years, and
Reason counters that "He'd been in the Army Air Corps for nearly three
years, by his own description used only for useless exhibition baseball
games and nebulously defined physical training tasks." (Plus, during
this time, DiMaggio's Italian parents "were tagged as enemy aliens and
prevented from traveling or pursuing a livelihood...")
DiMaggio eventually took on a symbolic significance. As Paul Simon
notes, "In the 50's and 60's, it was fashionable to refer to baseball as
a metaphor for America, and DiMaggio represented the values of that
America: excellence and fulfillment of duty (he often played in pain),
combined with a grace that implied a purity of spirit, an off-the-field
dignity and a jealously guarded private life." Though DiMaggio married
Marilyn Monroe -- and was the one who claimed her body -- "he had a
half-dozen red roses delivered three times a week to her crypt for 20
years," Wikipedia notes,
and "refused to talk about her
otherwise exploit their relationship. He never married again."
When "The Graduate" was filmed, the director was begging Simon and
Garfunkel for songs, but they'd only written one. According to
Simon played a few notes of another new song,
not for the movie... It's a song about times past - about Mrs. Roosevelt
and Joe DiMaggio and stuff."
Nichols advised Simon, "It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs.
So did Paul Simon see the same grace of Eleanor Roosevelt in DiMaggio?
The songwriter's favorite Yankee was actually Mickey Mantle, and
according to Wikipedia, when Dick Cavett asked why Mantle's name wasn't
used instead of DiMaggio, Simon replied "It's about syllables, Dick.
It's about how many beats there are."
Ironically, DiMaggio has already been the subject of a hit record 25
years earlier, in 1941 --
Les Brown's Joltin'
Joe DiMaggio. And more than 50 years
later, on an
episode of Seinfeld,
the characters still stared
in awe as they saw Joe DiMaggio
coffee shop. (Kramer claimed to
have seen him earlier at Dinky Doughnuts, where he'd banged on the table
to test DiMaggio's
On the day DiMaggio died, Simon wrote that we "mourn the loss of his
grace and dignity...and the power of his silence."
BONUS LINK: The
meaning of "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard"