Sunday, February 23, 2014

Simon and Garfunkel

Image: Alive radio, Australia

Last week, Paul Simon sang in Vancouver with British rocker Sting, formerly of the well-known band The Police. I was not at that concert, but when Paul Simon sang with Art Garfunkel back in the day, I listened to all their music.

Simon and Garfunkel hit the ground running with Sounds of Silence in 1966. The eponymous track of that album was  described by Art Garfunkel as a song about the failure of communication. It's been preserved in the US Library of Congress, one of only 25 to be selected for that honor.

Listening again as the 50th anniversary of this release  approaches, I feel deep admiration for the lyrics of Paul Simon. His lines are courageous, versatile and subtle, and their enduring poeticism can serve, to borrow a phrase, as a Bridge over Troubled Water.

The Boxer tells the story of a "poor boy" whose "story's seldom told." This humble man shares the profound understanding that "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

In the Fourth Avenue apartment I shared with two fellow-students in 1969, this song formed a backdrop to a favour done for a friend. I hand-hemmed a pair of blue and white bell-bottoms with  unconscionably wide stripes. My roommate and I deemed my friend Mike looked groovy wearing his freshly hemmed pants and his new gold-framed granny glasses. In fact, like Simon and Garfunkel in their song, we were all "feeling groovy."

Depending on your interpretation, the lyrics of Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard refer obliquely to prevailing social and legal sanctions against either political activism, interracial friendships, pre-marital sex or homosexuality, all matters of great social disapproval in that era.

Mrs. Robinson is a song about a woman who might be called a cougar today. It gained fame as part of the score for The Graduate, a comic film of the era, starring a young Dustin Hoffman and the older woman, Anne Bancroft. The darkly comedic opening lines are pure genius: "We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files. We'd like to help you learn to help yourself." The paternalism harks back to the dark shadow of McCarthyism and forward to history in the making.

This duo had many hits and their songs were incredibly varied, even including a lovely rendition of the British traditional ballad Scarborough Fair.

In 2010, when Simon and Garfunkel headlined at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Art Garfunkel was having trouble with his voice; now, reports the Rolling Stone, it is "96% back."

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