Artist: Simon and Garfunkel
Genre: Folk Rock
“Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America”
You beautiful bastards.
Why have I avoided Simon and Garfunkel all these years? Ok, I didn’t avoid them, it’s not like I was trying my best to make sure I never listened to them, but I never actively sought out their music to listen to. Like most people I knew their biggest hits and thought they were decent but the style was never my thing and I had no interest in digging deeper into their material. Maybe it’s good I didn’t because I just wouldn’t have had the appreciation for it then as I do now. So maybe I was meant to be exposed to them now and this was just the right time for me to truly appreciate the music they were creating and what they did. Maybe, I don’t know, I’m kind of talking out of my ass right now.
Maybe it was the right music at the right time. Last weekend I moved to a new place and everyone knows how fun and joyful moving is. With stress levels high, frustration on the brink of rage, injuries increasing in number and the hot, sweltering heat destroying us all, having some soothing music was exactly the dose of calming I think I needed. I mean, I didn’t listen to it as I was moving, but around the time, so good enough for me to make it count. I’m happy to say I am now moved in to a place I really like. No more basement apartment for me. I have big windows that look out into an amazing backyard, a cabin like aesthetic for my room (with fireplace included, functional? I am not about to try and find out) and my own little living room. Before I was living on my own but am now in a house with 7 other people. I figured it’d be an experience, one that I needed, never lived in a shared environment with others my age before, so will give me a chance to grow as a person I feel.
Bookends is a pretty simple album with a lot of depth to it. Instrumentally I can’t say anything interesting about it, it’s our duo playing away on their acoustic guitars, and for the most part evokes very black and white, yet mostly grey imagery, but that’s kind of the point. The only time I really noticed the instrumentation was at the beginning where a bass line was played by a Moog synthesizer which caught me off guard completely. Did not expect that on a Simon and Garfunkel album. It added a nice colour to the story of a drug abusing mother and her ill-fated child. Oh yeah, Simon and Garfunkel are not the cheeriest of people on this album I should add. There’s a lot of themes of adulthood, disillusionment, loneliness, mortality and growing old, which doesn’t make for the happiest of music. Even when their tunes sound upbeat, lyrically they’re coming from the minds of two cynical young adults who are having difficulty coming to terms with society around them. I guess this is why this album really resonated with the youth of America as it represented the feelings they were going through (almost A La Bob Dylan). Actually, Dylan is a great comparison because the album as a whole feels very Dylanesque, especially “Freewheelin'”. It definitely fits into the same realm of that album and though it never quite hits that high it still hits it’s mark exactly where it aimed to be.
As a concept album it works very well. The Bookends theme fits very nicely, opening and ending Side A as a cycle of life. Side A tells a story from childhood to old age, going through the motions of you’re average life cycle. We see a couple trying to find their own version of America that they feel they’ve lost, disillusioned and wandering. We are even met with a song that is basically just a compilation of old farts having conversations (tedious to sit though but fits in nicely within the themes of the album). However, the concept seems to end on Side A and doesn’t continue on for the entirety of the album, which is kind of odd. Why only make half the album a concept album? So what’s on Side B? Essentially songs they created for the movie The Graduate that didn’t make it into the soundtrack. That’s it. Not to say it isn’t good because they are great tunes, some of my favourite off the album. It’s just a weird choice to end the concept halfway through and make the other half a compilation album of sorts. Did they just give up after creating a handful of tunes and figured that was enough? Or was it planned that the concept only needed that amount of tunes and they figured they’d use the rest of the album to show off other work that hadn’t been released?
Hard to say, but really looking at it, oddly enough the Side B tunes fit rather well with the themes of the album. They wouldn’t have fit into the main concept as none really tell a story within the cycle of life, but Paul Simon’s (he was the main songwriter) cynicism is heavily oozing through every single one of these tunes and it becomes a bleak and sometimes satirical take on what’s happening around him. Fakin’ It almost feels like he’s expressing how he feels about his current relationship with Art and At The Zoo takes an almost Orwellian look at society, comparing humans to different breeds of animals. Whether you like it or not, Paul Simon was a damn good songwriter and what really sells this album above everything is the lyricism and painful emotions that seep through the vocals (Those harmonies will never not be beautiful). Apparently, Paul Simon was in a constant state of being high, which he stated exaggerated those emotions within him as he got way to introspective and that’s how he was able to get that pain across on his music. Whatever works I guess.
This was also the album that made Simon and Garfunkel the biggest rock duo of the time. It blasted them into super stardom and with the hit “Mrs. Robinson” under their belt, there was no way they could fall from this (they would keep their fame until they broke up and moved on to solo careers). Listening to it, I actually found it hard to put myself in the perspective of 1968 when it came out. Don’t get me wrong, It’s a fantastic album, but to the point of impact it made I’m finding it hard to put myself in that time-frame and truly understand how it happened. Usually I could, even with albums I don’t enjoy (cough cough Beatles) but this one doesn’t sound like it would have the impact that it apparently did. Maybe it is just how it resonated with the youth and that was enough to propel them far and beyond the point they ever imagined.
Honestly, I can try to wrap my head around it but it doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day it did have that impact and no sense of questioning or analyses can change that. I’m happy it did because it holds up today and is a solid album all around and I hope that it’s legacy continues on into the future.
Song of Choice: Fakin’ It