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Mother And Child Reunion

by

Paul Simon



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song "Vietnam;" a song about a mother receiving a letter about her son's death on the battlefield. Simon recorded this song in Jamaica using Cliff's musicians, hence the very authentic sound. Simon said of the song that it "became the first Reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica." (thanks, Cudjoe - Princeton, NJ)
Simon came up with the title after seeing a chicken and egg dish called "Mother and Child Reunion" on the menu at 456 Restaurant in Chinatown, New York. (thanks, Simon - Sydney, Australia)
This was Simon's first single as a solo artist.
We can't confirm that Simon wrote the song based on this story, but there are some interesting coincidences. Thanks to Graham from Dorset, England for sending it:
In The early 1970s a foster story hit the world Headlines from Dorset England. It was the first time ever that the phrase "Tug Of Love" was used. It was known as the Bridport Foster case, which is where my sister "Jeanette" lived with her foster mother since the age of six months old. When the case went to the High Court in London, my sister was 9 years old. I was 13 years old. I have 4 Sisters and Three brothers. We were all fostered out to different foster homes. I was in care for over 3 years. Jeanette was the last to come home. Understandably her foster mother didn't want to give her up after such a long period of time. The case ended in 1972, the same year Paul Simon recorded this massive hit. The whole of my family had to leave Dorchester for our own safety because of the feelings of the general public locally and world wide. my mother would receive sacks full of mail from around the world every day. In the end she had them delivered to Social Services Department at County Hall In Dorchester because a lot of it was hate mail and she found it too distressing to read. We (myself my 3 Brothers and 3 of my 4 sisters and my Mother and Step Father) were wisked away in cars driven by social services, hotly pursued by the world press, to a secret location in the North of the county where we lived for 12 months.
Paul Simon
Paul Simon Artistfacts
More Paul Simon songs
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Comments (45):

My beloved father died in 1993. I was present when he passed and in my mind I could see him passing from my arms into the arms of his mother for whom I am named. She died in Italy in 1935. I was named for her. "Mother and Child Reunion" reminds me of that moment. The 'motion' in my mind was his last breath.
- angelosdaughter, Reno, NV
I am one of those people who gets annoyed when people interpret songs with various meanings that are not evident in the lyrics. There is a difference between how a song makes you feel, what it reminds you of, and what it is actually about from the songwriter's perspective.

However, this is one of those rare songs that is ambiguous in a good way. We know from the songwriter's admission that this song is about the death of his dog (presumably a female dog due to "little darling of mine)." Therefore, it is about the loss of a parent/child because, for a lot of us, our pets are our children. He lost a beloved pet but did not want it trivialized so he wrote it from the viewpoint of parent/child.

However, in this case, I can see where everyone else is getting their interpretations (well, maybe
not the incest version). It actually says "mother and child reunion" so that is pretty clear. However, we do not know if the song is from a dead son's perspective "I've never been laid so low" (in the ground). So, essentially, he was not brought home alive but it is still a reunion of mother/child. We do not know if the song is from the viewpoint of someone who just lost his mother. We do not know if the song is about losing custody of child. We do not know if it is about the Beatles. It could be a combination of all of these things, and although Paul wrote it about his dog, he was smart; he knew many of the interpretations that would arise. And the lyrics support all of these interpretations.

Paul did not tell us too much thus making us responsible for how we interpret the lyrics. That is why this song is brilliant. Other songwriters have tried to do this (unsuccessfully), and when they try to tell us what a song means, it makes no sense because there is nothing lyrically to back it up.

Brilliant song from Paul Simon.
- Kathy Cobb, Bradenton, FL
It interesting how many interpretations there can be of the same lyrics! I know this song isn't written about this incident (the year alone cancels that out) but I think the lyrics fit perfectly to the Baby Jessica story that happened in 1993. Robbie Debor had to give Jessica back to her mother after the long custody fight. I can't help but think it reflects her situation perfectly.

I'm so sorry for all of you posting your loss of a child and how this song must affect you :(
- Sandy, Ayer, MA
I think it is about a son coming home from the war and the sadness felt by the mother greeting him for mothers whose children did not make it back.
- lynn, Katy, TX
I was on my way home tonite after visiting my 24 year old son's grave and Mother and Child Reunion came on the radio. Blake committed suicide 2/14/09. I think the song can be interpreted in many ways but for me it is about the agonizing loss of a child and the hope that you will be reunited someday. Also, as a mom I have contemplated suicide many times since then myself even tho I have three other sons, a husband and nine grandkids. The song really speaks to me and I have heard it for years but never got the meaning personally until now. God is all that is getting me through and songs like this that give me comfort and hope.
- deb, Elkhart, IN
Actually, Simon nailed it: when you write, it sometimes drifts in. He knew there was something there, but not necessarily what it was. It's evocative, magical, moving, open ended. That's all it needs to be. Effective. Then we can feel how we like about it.
- Matt, byron bay, Australia
The fact so many people have posted comments about this song is a testament to what a great song it is (from one the world's greatest songwriters, living or dead). Before reading the interview exerpt where Simon explains that the song itself was inspired by the death of his dog (and the title inspired by that Chinese dish), I had grown up thinking it was about soldiers coming home in coffins from Viet Nam. But after reading the interview and reviewing the lyrics again, his explanation makes perfect sense. Paul Simon is one our national treasures, isn't he.
- CJ, long beach, CA
I really hate to say this, because there are so many interesting and very plausable meanings posted here, but I heard on a radio station not long after the song was released that it is really about incest.... incest of the worst kind!
But, for Paul Simon's sake, and ours, I hope not.
- Jay, UTICA, NY
Most people do not recognize what "motion" means in this song. It is a legal motion, in a family court proceeding. A father will have to give up custody of his beloved little child, and the sad and mournful change in custody is only a motion away. The mother and child reunion. A father and child separation. A sad song.
- Daniel, Stamford, CT
In 1972 when Paul sang this song, I had a baby boy that I would ultimately give up for adoption. Every time I heard that song, (and it was on the radio A LOT) I would think about him and dream about being reunited with him. Now it is 38 years later and that "DREAM" was just realized! It has gone from a "strange and mournful day" to Euphoria. What a long strange trip its been!
- Kelly, Yuma, AZ
I interpret the song as Paul's explanation to his child that the death of her mother is imminent and she will be reunited with Jesus, the child of god, in heaven. But what makes this song so great, is that it is interpreted in many ways and on many levels. On the surface it is very sad. Subconsciously, the music has an optimistic feeling, especially with the chorus.
- Daniel, Stamford, CT
It may be about a Mother who may have died some way , leaving a child & father behind.
Now..
either in the childs teen yrs the child commited suicide
OR
that he is an older man now watching everything thats happened and now that the child has passed of natural way they are reunited

its a very touching song though.
but people perceive it differently i still have other stories behind this song.
Nice music though :D
- Amy, Auckland, New Zealand
This is song is interpreted differently by everyone. However, it can be that the reunion will be due to the mother's death..."never been laid down so low..."
- alma, laredo, TX
Ok. Here is my take. I just read Mariah Fenton Gladis' book, Tales of a Wounded Healer. She is a Gestalt therapist who uses music to help others heal. She herself was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease in 1981 so she knows something about the experience of healing. She quotes this song briefly. I think it is ambiguous and thus means different things depending on what we project onto it. For me, its about the phsyicality of healing (the MOTION) that is so close if we choose it. Ultimately, our most deep and meanignful wound that needs healing is our break from that warm nurturing place in our mother. But the song could be helpful in understanding how important honesty (I would not give you false hope) and being open minded (to the strangeness and mystery of life )are for healing and for helping others to heal. This is most important for parents to understand about teaching healing to their "little darlings". It doesn't always work out the way THEY say it should but we need to follow our own path and feelings even if they include extreme incomparable sadness. LIfe gives us countless opportunities to heal, so over the course of a lifetime, it seems like its runnin over and over again. But I'm a therapist and it could just be me! I really don't think Paul Simon would believe that I read all this into the song.
- David, Chicago, IL
To me it seems pretty obvious what the meaning of the song is, and I really don't understand all these pessimistic and political interpretations as well as the references to the beatles, only because in one line he says "let it be".
I think it's about the loss of a mother, and it's from the point of view of someone who's trying to relieve the pain of her son. He's saying that even if he doesn't want to give him false hope, on that "strange and mournful day" (I think he refers to the funeral) one day he will meet his mother again, maybe in heaven...or in some kind of other world. I think it's a really optimistic and sweet way to deal with someone's loss, and this is why I love it so much and I consider it as one of the most poignant songs ever.
- Nicola, Sardinia, Italy
It's about a young mother being urged to give up her child at birth. She trusted those more wiser than she that giving the child up was the proper and appropriate thing to do. She tells the child that while, she can't be sure, she feels as though they will be reunited in a short time. Through life, she ponders her decision made that day. While people "in the know" said it will work out and not to worry about it, the mother never let it go and spent the idle hours of her life in regret and in searching for the child.
- Norm, LB, CA
This song has a great ska and reggae feel. One of the first white artists to venture into those genres along with The Beatles' "Obladi-Oblada". An awesome Paul Simon effort. Cheers.
- Dane, Vancouver, BC
The song is about a mother who is going to have an abortion, and the father has absolutely no say in the matter.
- Sandy, Adams, MA
I read an article in Reader's Digest some years ago. I long since forgot the content but remember a reference to this song. The author had travelled to Africa and had witnessed a group of prisoners on death row waiting to be hanged. As they sat chained beside the gallows they sang together Mother and Child Reunion...
Steve C., Grand Blanc, Michigan
- Steve, St. Louis, MO
This song spoke to me after a family friend, Adam- who was just 35, killed himself. He cared for his mother while she was dying from cancer. He was a good guy who ran out of hope. After his death, I couldn't help but think of Adam and his mom. He was very close to her and she to him. I guess all that matters when we hear a song is how it speaks to us.
- Lisa, Chicago, IL
This song was used in the FOX Sit-com "The Simpsons" in the episode where Homer's Mother dies.
- Alex, Fort Collins, CO
Prhaps I am taking a simplistic view of this song, but I remember it from when it came out, and to me I just took it at face value.
I see it as a guy, recently divorced, who has or is just about to (a motion away) lose custody of his child (little darling of mine) to his ex, the childs mother (mother and child reunion).
Obviously he is very unhappy, and I suspect the child would rather be with him (I would not give you false hope) but he knows that is not going to happen. The "strange and mournful day" - well strange because this is the kind of thing that happens very rarely (though perhaps more now than when this was written) and it is causing him much heartache.
Well that was my simple understanding way back then, and I have always accepted it up to now. To me at least it sounds as plausable as anythign written so far.
Sometimes you can look too deep for teh answers :)
- Andy, Halesowen, West Midlands, United Kingdom
I am quite sure I read an interview where Paul said he wrote this song after the death of his dog. He was very sad and desperate but at the same time He felt guilty and ashamed beacause "it" was "only" a pet and he "should not" have been that sad. But it was not a rational feeling and he was shattered : "I never been laid so low". I'll see if I can find out and post the reference of that story.
About the mother and child reunion (the egg and the chicken, that's true) there seems to be a clear reference (maybe in a humorous way) to the jewish religion and kosher, the jewish dietary laws that forbid the consumption of "the mother and child" in the same course. In that song, it is maybe a metaphor on the jewish roots of Paul Simon ; we can find that theme in other songs : "Prior to this lifetime, I surely was a tailor in "Fakin it" and "one and one half wandering Jews" in hearts and bones".
This song is great and Paul is a genius.
- michel, toulouse, France
I would just like to say to Tom from Huntingtoin,in1972 I was at college in England and I was dragged from a history lesson by best friend saying there was a phone call for me so that I could listen to this record. In the summer the band playing at our college was America . So like you the 2 records that stuck in my mind were mother and child and horse with no name.!Like you when I hear these I go back to a momentous time in my life
- julie, Yeovil, United Kingdom
I think he probably found the phrase Mother and Child Reunion and liked it, then wrote a pretty ambiguous song about hope during extreme sadness. He just used the Mother and Child Reunion angle to portray any sort of comfort, or feeling of going home, etc. Think about it, "No I would not give you false hope, on a strange and mournful day, but the mother and child reunion is only a motion away," meaning that he wouldn't lie to someone on a day like this and comfort is on its way. That's just my opinion anyways.
- Paul, Kansas City, KS
I think it's about The Beatles(always have) - in particular the song Let it Be(also about the Beatles)

Several lines point to the Beatles - cant remember a sadder day - the line mother & child reunion refers to Let it Be song as Let it Be refers to both the band and Paul's mother -

only a motion away..is a legal motion
- michael, seymour, CT
Paul Simon was very nervous about putting out his first single without Art Garfunkel. He was concerned that people would be taken aback by hearing his own voice solo. So he overdubbed his vocals several times to make it sound more like S&G harmonies and had a choir back him up for the chorus.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
I lost a child when she was 7 months old. It was very unexpected, we found out almost a year later (it took that long for the autopsy results) that it was congenital. The lyrics say to me that the mother is contemplating suicide. She wants to be with her child, and the "motion" is the choice of how to attempt suicide. False hope is the reality that the mother may not go through with it.
- DD, Indianapolis, IN
How about this one, The mother pasted away for some "strange" reason and leaving the father and child behind. So in essence, its the father who is telling the story to the child. Its a different look at it?
- Rob, Philly, PA
The line,"I know they say'let it be'but it just don't work out that way",was Simon taking the side of the political "Movement"people who favored militant action over the mellow hippie types who wanted to go with the flow.
- Doug, Oakland, CA
Unlike many songs by various artists with abstract lyrics which have been interpreted in some rather fanciful ways, Paul Simon explained this one in a Rolling Stone interview. The "Chicken and Egg" story is actually true. In Paul's own words . . .

"Know where the words came from on that? You would never have guessed. I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called "Mother and Child Reunion." It's chicken and eggs. And I said, "Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one."

There you have it.
- Jeff, Meriden, CT
I have heard this song probably a hundred times over the years, but I heard it today with "new ears" and this is my interpretation of the song. I believe the song was written from a mother's perspective who lost her baby...perhaps a stillborn baby. "I don't want to give you false hope" is referring to the actual reunion...if the child will actually be waiting on the "other side". Every word seems applicable to this scenerio. I know it has for me. "A strange and mournful day" is certainly the way to describe delivering your dead child. It is sad to think that the mother has lost an entire lifetime without her baby, but has the hope for a reunion someday.
- Joy, Dallas, TX
I believe that Simon has confirmed that that name came from a chicken/egg entre at a chinese restaurant. However, he is vague on the rest of it.

I've always believed that it is about a mother contemplating suicide after the death of her child. It fits. "I can't for the life of me, remember a sadder day." "I would not give you false hope" "Strange and mournful day" "Mother and child reunion is only a motion away"

Yeah, I think its about suicide.
- Julia, Allentown, PA
I love this song. This should have been a number 1 hit. But oh well, that's life.
- Farrah, Elon, NC
I always thought this was about the Beatles breaking up and Paul Simon urging them to get back together. Look at the first verse:

Oh little darling of mine (Little darling from "Here comes the sun")
I can't for the life of me remember a sadder day (The day they broke up)
I know they said let it be (obviously a reference to let it be)
but it just don't work out that way. ...etc

Clearly to me a reference to the beatles breaking up, but I could be wrong.
- Gabe Downey, Huntington Woods, MI
I also heared this song on the radio a few days ago and thought "Wow, his voice hasnt changed one bit."
- Peter, Tacoma, WA
To me, this song is an obvious response to "Let It Be" by the Beatles. The Mother and Child Reunion representing Mother Mary and the child Paul McCartney. Where Let it Be is more optimistic, Simon is saying "no reason for optimism".
- Steve, Fenton, MO
I spent the winter of 1972 in basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. There were two songs that were played on a local Philadelphia rock station that well forever be imprinted in my mind. Mother and Child reunion was one of them. The other one was A Horse With No Name by America. Any time I hear those two songs I am taken back to that tumultuous time in my life.

Tom, Huntington, WV
- Tom, Huntingtoin, WV
Simon recorded this song at Dynamic Studios in JA. This is a legendary studio which recorded many famous reggae acts including the Wailers and Toots. Another American artist who incorporated this reggae style was Stevie Wonder.
- Andy, Portland, OR
It looks like the Skatalites guitarist played lead on this track. The Skatalites are the First Ska band ever, outta Kingston, Jamaica of course. Reggae came from Ska.
- Bubba, Los Angeles, CA
I heard this song for the first time on the radio yesterday. I was listening to the Music. Dude, this song is straight up Early/Skinhead Reggae. I was like, wholly CRAP! I mean, it sounded really "american-platic" ized, but none the less, it was cool. Does Anyone know any other american artists who tried out the early reggae style?
- Bubba, Los Angeles, CA
When Paul Simon wrote 'Mother & Child Re-union', he was inspired by the chicken omelette he was having that day. But when I was having eggs for breakfast one day, I had the following thought.

The chicken lays two types of eggs. It lays one type with the embryo inside and we don't eat those ones. Then it would stop and start to lay the other type without the embryo inside and we all eat those ones ' mmm, good. But then it would stop again and start to lay the type with the embryo inside. So on and so on ' in a CYCLE! Yikes! In human terms we are eating the Chicken's Period!

Perhaps Paul Simon didn't tell us the whole story about his lunch. Please don't get mad at me everyone. It's just one of those chicken and egg thoughts from a different perspective.

For more music and info, you are invited to visit my website at >>>>http://www.singwithwing.com. >>>>Wing: singer/songwriter and guitarist.
- Wing, Montreal, Canada
Please contact me if you are old enough to remember this story. It would give me some comfort and sanity. Graham_a_thomas@hotmail.com
- Graham, Dorset, England
I really like this song, many because of the apparent contrast between the lyrics and music. The lyrics talk about a "mournful" mother and child reunion; which I always assume comes about because the family members have had a dissagreement and fallen out, only to be re-united by the death of one of them (with feelings of regret). The music,on the other hand, is upbeat. However, the contrast fades because of the idea of the reunioin "is only a motion away", saying that you can meand it up before one of you die. This is only my view: I don't think Paul Simon every really says what they mean.
- Paul, Edinburgh, Scotland
Simon first wrote this with a Jamacian feel to it.
- Shelli, Madison, WI
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