utterly nonsensicalPosted: October 6, 2014
The chorus of the song is wordless, consisting of a repeated chant of “lie-la-lie”. Simon stated that this was originally intended only as a placeholder, but became part of the finished song.
“I didn’t have any words! Then people said it was ‘lie’ but I didn’t really mean that. That it was a lie. But, it’s not a failure of songwriting, because people like that and they put enough meaning into it, and the rest of the song has enough power and emotion, I guess, to make it go, so it’s all right. But for me, every time I sing that part… [softly], I’m a little embarrassed.”
It has sometimes been suggested that the words represent a “sustained attack on Bob Dylan”. Under this interpretation, Dylan is identified by his experience as an amateur boxer, and the “lie-la-lie” chorus represents allegations of Dylan lying about his musical intentions. Biographer Marc Eliot wrote in Paul Simon: A Life, “In hindsight, this seems utterly nonsensical.”
Bob Dylan in turn covered the song on his Self Portrait album, replacing the word “glove” with “blow.” Paul Simon himself has suggested that the lyrics are largely autobiographical, written during a time when he felt he was being unfairly criticized:
“I think I was reading the Bible around that time. That’s where I think phrases such as ‘workman’s wages’ came from, and ‘seeking out the poorer quarters’. That was biblical. I think the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop.”
During a New York City concert in October 2010, Paul Simon stopped singing midway through “The Boxer” to tell the story of a woman who stopped him on the street to tell him that she edits the song when singing it to her young child. Simon told the audience that she removed the words “the whores” and altered the song to say, “I get no offers, just a come-on from toy stores on Seventh Avenue.” Simon laughingly commented that he felt that it was “a better line.”