MUSIC HISTORY 101: Simon & Garfunkel, Nostalgia & Me
Simon and Garfunkel, you’ve heard of them right? The folk rock duo who brought the world songs like ‘
Sounds of Silence’, ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and countless other hits. The duo broke out within the outburst of counter-culture and zeitgeist of folk music which defined the ‘60’s. But, I don’t want to delve too deeply into the aforementioned songs.
A little back story. I can distinctly remember learning The Beatles’ gem ‘Penny Lane’ in primary school by our music teacher Mrs Fog. But within those lessons, she’d sometimes play songs for us, songs like ‘Sounds of Silence’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’. She played music of her adolescence, whether that would be The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel or John Denver. It was a break from all those catholic songs forced down our vocal cords at that age and those artists she played for us partially informed a lot of my music taste which I’m forever grateful for. What I’m trying to get at, is that a musician/band you get into at a certain time brings baggage. When you play a certain song, nostalgia bursts into your mind like a loud drunk at a party, hogging the conversation, demanding attention and always regurgitating the same old stories. You hear that song, you think of the same memory. It’s a drug you cling on to in order to let you escape life for a blissful moment.
I re-discovered Simon and Garfunkel at the beginning of my first year of Uni when I decided to re-watch The Graduate to take my mind off the initial homesickness. The duo’s music was used in the iconic film of the same decade. Simon and Garfunkel’s music perfectly weaves throughout the film as backing track to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, as it follows his transition into adulthood. Ben is seduced by Mrs Robinson, an older woman and friend of the family, but falls in love with her daughter, Elaine. The music plays on this convoluted naivety perfectly. He’s still got a lot of learning to do. Simon’s twee fingerpicking and Garfunkel's soothing high pitched voice elicit this tone of innocence. It’s beautifully haunting. There is nothing quite like Simon and Garfunkel. Garfunkel’s producing skills to the duo brought a intimacy to their music which I don’t think was re-created in either of their solo careers. The duo’s music is primitive, on the live albums when it is stripped back to it’s core sounds as good as the produced versions of their tracks. They’re similar to Lennon and McCartney in the sense that they depend on one another, in their solo career, they don’t capture the most of what they’re capable of together. As I said before, the blend of Simon’s lyrics sung by Garfunkel’s mesmerising voice are tenderly haunting, it could make a grown man cry.
Simon has always been a good lyricist, but I feel that some of his best writing lines were written in the five Simon and Garfunkel albums. There must have been something in the air during the sixties because the song-writing during that decade was poetic. I was listening to ‘Kathy’s Song’ on YouTube and one of the top comments stuck out to me, it read: ‘This is a song about real love even if the word ‘love’ is never said during the song’. Possibly the truest comment I’ve read in a while, Simon’s song-writing isn’t lazy. He’s showing not telling. Not like currently in which the word ‘love’ in a love song is splattered through every verse. Simon has a cleverness to his simple lyrics, in one of my favourite songs ‘A Most Peculiar Man’. A song about a quiet man who lived in a flat in London and tragically killed himself, Simon wrote: “He was a most peculiar man. He lived all alone within a house, within a room, within himself.”. They’re so simple but stitched together with melody and rhyme, it gives you goosebumps. After that night I listened to more and more of Simon and Garfunkel on my walks to lectures. Picking up the word ‘groovy’ from overplaying ‘59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ and over-using it in everyday life. I can’t say I have a favourite album because I love every album. As much as I shun Greatest Hits albums, their Greatest Hits album is a great gateway into their music. If you haven’t delved deep into them, I really recommend you do. Treat yourself.
This month, Paul Simon announced his retirement. As much as I love his solo albums like Graceland I think his best work lay within those five, special, Simon and Garfunkel records. It would have been great to have seen them live, but I can’t think nostalgically of a time when I was never alive. If I ever have a kid, I’d want to pass down Simon and Garfunkel’s discography among countless other records. Thank you, Simon and Garfunkel.