Today I’m listening to the new Paul Simon album, So Beautiful or So What. This guy amazes me. He’s been creating outstanding music and poetry for since before I was born. His poetry touched a chord with me as younger musician. It spoke to me on a less smug-asshole level than Bob Dylan, and generally had a lyrical sincerity greater than many songs by the Beatles, who were the only ones I could possibly compare them with, back in the 70s and 80s. I wasn’t really a fan of the folk rock scene, although I enjoyed The Byrds, and The Kingston Trio, and The Mamas and the Papas. I liked Peter, Paul, and Mary’s I Dig Rock & Roll Music, although I didn’t get the deep, bitter sarcasm they were applying to the song until years later. None of them, though, broke through my subconsciously-imposed boundary of music-as-distinct-from-lyrics.
I learned to play a couple of his songs to “pick up chicks” the year I lived in France. I never had a guitar to play, but occasionally, I could draw a small crowd of high schoolers by playing a piano, singing lyrics from a shrimpy bald guy (Simon), and his nasal white-boy ‘fro partner (Garfunkel). I was young and skinny, trying my best to grow a mullet, and fancied myself something of a musician. I played “The Sound of Silence,” and was infatuated with “The Boxer” as a symphonic rock anthem. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” was a treasure, like a medieval motet, twining two melodies into a single strand of polyphony. I thought his song “I Am A Rock” was written especially for me. I knew nothing of Simon and Garfunkel myself, to be honest. I asked my host-brother if they were English or American. I had no idea, but the fact they were *poetic*, I assumed, pointed them toward England and not Queens, NY. I was wrong, of course. The 59th Street bridge suggested New York City. “Kathy’s Song” included the line “In England, where my heart lies.” I don’t think I knew their nationality with any certainty until I returned to the States in 1987.
I knew of Paul Simon’s songs years before I knew them. I remember in third grade, singing “The 59th Street Bridge Song” thus perpetuating the notion that groovy was an acceptable word in the English language. Although The Graduate is now one of my favorite films (I used it as an example of extended metaphor in three Critical Thinking classes), I originally watched it in my teens only because of the soundtrack. Judi and I had “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played at our wedding.
I went to a concert when I was in France, to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the South African group who sang backup in “You Can Call Me Al“. By extension, Simon led me to this group, which led me to Harry Belafonte, and to the amazing singer Miriam Makeba, and later, Bob Marley.
I guess I’m just an old-music hippie at heart. I hope you enjoy the links. Any time you see a name of a song or an artist, click. Most of the time, the song I linked to YouTube has some kind of meaning to the context. Have a great day. Just for a moment of poetry, I’ll add the complete text of the Simon/Garfunkel song “Bookends.”
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you