My husband and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts much these days, and it usually boils down to a book each of us has wanted. This year I asked for, and received a CD called “The Best of Simon & Garfunkel.” It may have been prompted by the oldies-but-goodies program that PBS does during its annual fund raising campaign, or, it may be that I am slowly slipping into that la-la land of living in the past!
Hmm. Let’s not ponder that one and move right on to how much fun I’m having with this gift. (And let it be known here that this is not meant to be a formal, literary critique, but rather, a fun romp through well-loved music lyrics.) First of all, I cannot get the tunes out of my head now that it is the first choice that I pop in when I’m in the car. Secondly, I have a new appreciation of Simon’s poetry that I’m quite sure I missed back in the day. American essayist and journalist Russell Baker has been quoted as saying he “hears shades of T. S. Eliot in Simon’s writing.”
My first reaction (after all these years of not zooming in on the words) was one of surprise over the extensive and effective use of internal and ending rhyme, and how smooth and effectively it moves the content along: This from “Homeward Bound”:But all my words come back to me, in shades of mediocrity Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me
Poetry figures heavily in the structure as well as the content of much of Simon’s work: From “Dangling Conversations”:And you read your Emily Dickinson And I my Robert Frost And we note our place with bookmarkers That measure what we’ve lost Like a poem poorly written We are verses out of rhythm, Couplets out of rhyme….
And this from “Homeward Bound”:And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band.
Simon’s lyrics often nailed the sense of futility, frustration and confusion that surrounded a country in conflict in Vietnam as well as within its own borders with Civil Rights issues. Many of us, through pursuing everything from the Peace Corps to drugs to senseless wandering, tried to find answers. “America” captured that theme:“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I know she was sleeping, I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why, Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike They’ve all gone to look for America….”
“Fakin’ It” also carried the theme of being lost and feeling a sense of futility:I’m such a dubious soul And a walk in the garden wears me down, tangled in the fallen vines, pickin’ up the punch lines….. I know I’m fakin’ it I’m not really makin’ it This feeling of fakin’ it I still haven’t shaken it.
Of course, the real test of great poetry is how universal the appeal across time, and geography and cultures. My two favorites have those qualities. The first from “Old Friends, 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.
and the second, from “Sounds of Silence.”And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.
I would love to hear what your Simon and Garfunkel favorites are, or maybe you have another group from the sixties that you would like to mention. Let’s hear it! And thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane!