Friday, 23 July 2010

Simon & Garfunkel

Today has been a trip down memory lane, choosing twelve pieces of music for a live radio programme tomorrow morning. It's actually been a lot of fun, as music brings so much flooding back, but then of course one thing leads to another - often, to another piece of music and the inevitable, sometimes uncomfortable business of prioritising. I found myself saying things like, 'That one says so much about who I am, or who I think I am; but that one I associate with Lynn, or my mother, or my father.' Which to include?

The final selection of artists will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me: The Jayhawks (Smile), Neil Young (Harvest Moon), Elbow (One Day Like This), Simon & Garfunkel (The Only Living Boy In New York), The Mavericks (I Should Have Been True), Claudio Villa (La Strada Del Bosco), Willie Nelson (My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys), Iris DeMent (Mama's Opry), Michael Buble (Haven't Met You Yet), Melani Safka (Save The Night), Professor Longhair (Tipitina), Tish Hinojosa (El Camino A Mi Corazon), and if time allows, Richard Strauss (September, from Four Last Songs).

I chose The Only Living Boy In New York because a) it is my favourite Simon & Garfunkel melody and b) it may provide a clue as to the nature of the pair's famously volatile relationship. The song was written by Paul Simon in the autumn of 1969 for the album Bridge Over Troubled Water, while Art Garfunkel was in Mexico for his acting part in the film version of Catch 22. Simon obviously felt somewhat abandoned - the opening lines are:

"Tom, get your plane right on time.
I know that your part will be fine.
Fly down to Mexico -
Here I am, the only living boy in New York.."

In their early performing career they were known as Tom and Jerry, so clearly the lyrics are addressed to Art Garfunkel. There is no suggestion that Simon was bitter or angry, but it does show a divergence of career paths, and if they ever had a truth session later on (something good friends and family should never have), it's easy to imagine that an unguarded comment about one doing all the work on the songs and the other turning up to sing them, might be enough to drive a wedge between them. It's speculation and probably none of our business, but as something of a fan at the time, it has always perplexed and fascinated me. Simon & Garfunkel split (for the first time) shortly after the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970.

Troubled Water was the first LP I ever bought, and I played it continuously for some months as a fourteen year-old, on a plastic, battery-run record player which was so small you couldn't see it unless you were playing singles - the only thing you saw from above was the arm and the plastic elbow on which it pivoted. Sound-wise, it was like listening to music on the phone, with static on the line.

Playing the CD today for the first time in ages, I was so transported in time and place that I almost wanted to superimpose the tinniness and scratches that for some time, all those years ago, prevented me from making any sense of the lyrics at all.

Note: Simon & Garfunkel announced the latest of several reunion tours earlier this year, and would have been playing various venues in Canada this month if Art Garfunkel had not contracted vocal chord paresis, which is apparently a treatable but vocally debilitating condition.
It  may show my age, but if they ever make Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow or Edinburgh, I'm there.
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