1001 Albums: Bookends

#125

Album_125_Original.jpg

Artist: Simon and Garfunkel

Album: Bookends

Year: 1968

Length: 29:51

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

-Bosco

 

Advertisements

1001 Albums: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

#71

Album_71_Original

Artist: Simon and Garfunkel

Album: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Year: 1966

Length: 29:14

Genre: Folk Rock

“In the early evening gloom
Impaled on my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me”

Isn’t it great when you discover something you didn’t think you’d enjoy but found yourself loving it very much? I find myself doing that a lot these days. I think it’s great. It’s not only giving me the opportunity to find and enjoy new things but also allowing me to expand my knowledge on things I love (Mainly movies and music). In the past week I got to watch the Italian Neo-realist film, Bicycle Thieves and despite the lackluster response from the class, it really grabbed my attention. So much that I watched it a second time to see it again. I never knew much about the neo-realist movement in Italy but that film alone made me want to explore the movement and in the span of the next month I will probably be checking out more films.

This album did the same thing. I was never really crazy about Simon and Garfunkel. I kind of entered this album indifferently, no high or low expectations, just another album on the list to listen to. Little did I know I would be surprised by the fact that I would actually love it. I’ve said it before and probably won’t be the last time I’ll say it, but I’ve never really been crazy about folk music. I’m happy to say since I’ve started this list my opinions on folk has changed and I find myself slowly starting to enjoy it more than I used to. I guess I always misjudged it and this album is a perfect example of that.

I wish I hadn’t made some preconceived notions of what I felt Simon and Garfunkel to be. The little I heard of them I honestly found them boring, but as my musical tastes have been expanding and I’ve had more of an open-mind towards all genre, I now realise this duo were much more than I thought they were. What I used to brush off as slow and uninteresting acoustic music was actually emotional and kinda beautiful. These two have managed to create music that connects with you, with underlying themes of alienation, loneliness and melancholia with songs that ask questions about life and meaning. When they’re not taking a more straight-forward approach, singing with haunting vocals and sorrowful guitar accompaniment, they’re taking a page from Bob Dylan and adding that bitter-sweet flavour, upbeat music with sad themes. There’s no denying the duo has considerable talent and this album is a great showcase of what they can do.

Right from the beginning, the listener is met with the incredibly haunting “Scarborough Fair/ Canticle”. The duo sings in the most eerie sounding harmonies, that overlap and come together to make a chilling and beautiful song. From there, the first half of this album did something I really liked, created an amazing progression of musical styles. From “Scarborough Fair/ Canticle” to “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine”, it slowly grows more and more upbeat instrumentally. It’s a nice steady progression as it builds up becoming more and more exciting as every song goes by. The build-up is done so masterfully and cleverly that it makes the first half one of the most cohesive side a’s I’ve ever heard.

When side B comes along, it’s a little more all over the place, taking elements from all the songs in side A but mixing them up in a different order so it doesn’t flow as well, but still provides some really strong material. One song in particular, “A Simple Desultory Philippic” stands out a bit for being different than the rest. Here, Paul Simon does his best to sound like Bob Dylan and openly satirises pop culture phenomenon that has been happening at the time. Whether he’s openly mocking Dylan or praising him is hard to tell and while the ranting can be humorous at times, you don’t know if he’s against it or just poking fun at it. The side eventually ends with “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” which mirrors the eeriness of the opening, but this time through collage and juxtaposition rather than haunting harmonies. Mixed in with their pretty vocals of “Silent Night” is news coverage from big events that were occurring at the time (Like the Vietnam War). The contrast of happy Christmas sentiments with the sad news makes for a chilling song, especially as the news reports slowly get louder and the vocals get quieter as the song progresses.

This marked an interesting time for the duo. Their last album was incredibly underwhelming causing the duo to take full control of their music for this one. Unsure of where to go with their music, they decided to take a step back into what they felt was familiar territory and took some of Paul Simon’s old arrangements from a solo project he had years back. Honestly, that was a smart move on their part because the end result was an album that widely connected with the youth, having themes that they could easily relate to and they managed to create an album that is timeless. Although some songs do date them, with references of being super groovy and as a piece of the 60s flower power movement, their few and far between and don’t take away from the rest of the album.

This has been a happy discovery and like Dylan before them, I’m actually excited to see what they’ll have next in store for me (They appear a few more times on this list).

Song of Choice: The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine

-Bosco