Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
Our nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson.
Jolting Joe has left and gone away.
My memories of the song, Mrs. Robinson, have to do with my older brother and my mother. My brother was taking a class to learn Morse code that was taught at the Naval Reserve Center. The classes were on a Friday night and the center was a good thirty minutes from home so it made sense for us to drop him off and find something to do during the class rather than drive back home. The something we found to do was to go to a little pizza place called Mando’s. There we would order the smallest pizza they had and I would put a quarter in the juke box and we would listen to three songs while we waited for our pizza. One of the songs I always picked was Mrs. Robinson. Of course, I didn’t have a clue what the lyrics meant and I don’t think my mother did either. But I liked the rich rhythms and vocal styling of the song and nearly four decades later it remains indelibly imprinted on my psyche. (Parents, there is a real lesson here about helping our children get exposed to as much of the very best things when they are at their most impressionable stage).
Whatever else it might have been, Mrs. Robinson was a song of the late sixties both in terms of time and theme. Everything in the song reflects the moral turmoil and confusion of the times. Paul Simon, the song’s composer, had originally written snippets of music for the movie, The Graduate (from a novel of the same name). In the movie, Mrs. Robinson is the seductress of her husband’s business partner’s son. His name is Benjamin, and he in turn falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. She is repulsed by him and is in the process of marrying someone else when Benjamin interrupts the wedding and she decides to run off with him. Got all that? (Remember, I said it reflected the confusion of the times!)
Simon was supposed to write three songs for the movie but due to touring only had one finished by the time the movie was completed. After the movie’s release and popularity, he put together some of the pieces from the movie’s soundtrack into the song we know as Mrs. Robinson. Lyrically, the song has a little bit of everything – allusions to Mrs. Robinson’s secret, religious references (Jesus loves you more than you will know), politics, and Joe DiMaggio.
The song ends with the wistful question about what has happened to Joe DiMaggio (i.e., the kind of values associated with Joe’s DiMaggio’s image). In addition to his remarkable feats as a baseball player (he hit in 56 straight games—a record that still stands), DiMaggio’s persona was the strong, silent type who served his country in the war, married a movie star, and avoided the limelight. He typified a simpler, better manner of life than the duplicitous, troubled Mrs. Robinson and the turmoil of the sixties.
However, we’re told in the song that Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away. DiMaggio is no more and neither are we. Something has been lost and it is us. The lonely eyes of the nation looked, but there was nothing there for them. There’s something sad in that, isn’t there? The movie ends on the same sort of note as Benjamin and Elaine, having both fled from her wedding (and their parents’ world), sit on the back of a bus. There is relief in their expressions but there is also a palpable sense of lostness where there could have been joy. They knew what they were running from but had no clue concerning where they were going.
It’s unspeakably sad to be without hope. It’s even worse when you realize you’re without it. It’s like being washed downstream by the rapids with nothing to hold on to. The only future you have are hard rocks. When you’ve lost your way and your lonely eyes search for someone, don’t bother looking for Joe DiMaggio and don’t settle for anything less than Jesus. He is the only One who will not disappear or disappoint.