(18) The “Twelve-Thirty” Metaphor

LagunaCoastWilderness4-5-08-22

In the late 1960’s, the Mamas and Papas had a mild hit with the song “Twelve-Thirty.”  It was a song with obscure meaning and probably there are many people who have never heard it.  Here are the lyrics:

I used to live in New York City;
Everything there was dark and dirty.
Outside my window was a steeple
With a clock that always said twelve-thirty.
 *
Young girls are coming to the canyon,
And in the mornings I can see them walking.
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn,
And I can’t keep myself from talking.
*
At first so strange to feel so friendly –
To say good morning and really mean it –
To feel these changes happening in me,
But not to notice till I feel it.
*
Young girls are coming to the canyon,
And in the mornings I can see them walking.
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn,
And I can’t keep myself from talking.
 *
Cloudy waters cast no reflection;
Images of beauty lie there stagnant.
Vibrations bounce in no direction,
And lie there shattered into fragments.
*
Young girls are coming to the canyon…
*
The English Major in me decided one day to take on this song.  It had come my way again, and I started wondering just what it meant.  Searches on the internet don’t help very much.  There are usually just explanations that John Phillips had lived in New York City and the steeple is a real image, and that the girls in the canyon part was about Denny living in Laurel Canyon.  Fair enough, but doesn’t really help explain some of the more esoteric lyrics.
*
Then one day I suddenly knew what it was about.  The entire song is a metaphor for coming out of depression.
*
The stanzas about living in New York City and “cloudy waters cast no reflection” are descriptions for the depressive state.  Feeling stuck, not able to enjoy anything, and knowing that life is happening around you but you are simply unable to participate.  The stanzas about “young girls coming to the canyon” are about the awakening out of the depressive state.  Suddenly, things look lighter.  Suddenly you don’t want to stay hidden behind your blinds, and you even want to talk with people. You cannot believe that you are feeling these feelings again, as if for the first time. For anyone who has been through depression and lived through it, this coming out of the darkness is a magnificent experience.  I think here is a man trying to make his best expression of this by comparing it to living in “dark and dirty” New York City to moving to bright and beautiful Laurel Canyon.  New creative ideas are being born, but he isn’t going to forget how it felt to be the clock stuck at 12:30.
*
For me, this song is represented by this quote from Oscar Wilde: “I will never again tell another person how to live; I can only talk to them of their mystery.”  Our mysteries get wrapped in metaphor in order that we may explain them better.  And with “Twelve-Thirty,” I believe John Phillips was doing just that.
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One thought on “(18) The “Twelve-Thirty” Metaphor

  1. I have two masters: in linguistics and English. But more important I was one of those young girls. I left home for NYC in ’67 and became involved with bennies. I’d walk one end of Manhattan island to the other each day and night. So I recall the actual chorus lyrics as, young girls who come into the canyon (mile high skyscrapers), and in the morning I can see them walking. I can no longer keep my eyes closed and I can’t keep myself from talking.

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