Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Folk-Rock Poetry of Simon and Garfunkel

"April come she will
When streams are ripe
And swelled with rain
May she will stay
Resting in my arms again

"June she'll change her tune
In restless walks
She'll prowl the night
July she will fly
And give no warning
To her flight

"August die she must
The autumn winds blow
Chilly and cold
September I remember
A love once new
Has now grown old"

Paul Simon

As I have said many times — and, no doubt, will say many more times — I think of my mother when I hear a Simon and Garfunkel song. Any Simon and Garfunkel song, really, but definitely some more than others.

I first heard Simon and Garfunkel music through her. First she bought those old 45s, you know? In hindsight, they looked like big, black CDs — except CD technology wasn't around then, and the 45s only had one song on each side (that's right, CD generation, you could listen to both sides of the disc — but only for a few minutes). I guess she bought them because albums really came along later in her life. When she was a teenager and listened to records with her girlfriends, Mom listened to 45s. That is really all there was then.

So I'm sure much of that was habit.

There may also have been some economics involved. Mom was raised to be frugal — a byproduct of the Depression. Buying a whole album was wasteful if you didn't know whether you liked all the songs on the album. Don't get me wrong here. Mom had faith in most things unseen — or unheard — just not recordings.

However, she reached a point in her life when she embraced the album concept without reservation, and her record collection was an honest reflection of her life and times.

Simon and Garfunkel only made five studio albums together. I think Mom probably owned most of them at one time or another, but I don't think she owned the first one. Maybe I just don't remember.

But I definitely remember her having the album that was released on this day in 1966 — "Sounds of Silence." Mom had a fondness for poetry. Now, all of Paul Simon's albums, whether they were made with Art Garfunkel or as a solo act, were poetic, but few albums by any artist can match the poetry of "Sounds of Silence."

By the way, it is interesting — well, I think it is — that the album title was a plural ("Sounds of Silence") but the song title was a singular ("The Sound of Silence") even though it was written as a plural on the original album cover.

I guess the implication was that each song on the album was an individual sound of silence. Collectively, they formed the sounds of silence.

The title song, by the way, is a song that always makes me think of Mom. She had a single of that song first, then she bought the whole album. She wore them both out.

If I close my eyes when I listen to that song, I can see — and hear — Mom singing along with the record. I always thought Mom had a beautiful voice, and it just sounded right singing "The Sound of Silence."

Simon and Garfunkel was on the cusp of what came to be known as folk rock, a merging of the folk and rock styles, and that was a style Mom really liked. I can hear a song today being performed by someone I never heard of before, and if it is in the folk rock style, I think of Mom.

But the "Sounds of Silence" album really isn't the album that I most connect to memories of Mom. That would be the duo's next album — "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," which was released in October 1966.

I think of Mom when I hear either album, really, but more the latter and less the former.

Probably my favorite song on the album, "April Come She Will," doesn't make me think of Mom at all. Instead, I think of cold nights during my college days. I listened to it a lot then, just as I did Simon and Garfunkel's rendition at their reunion concert in Central Park, which you can see at the top of this post.

I also think of Mom when I hear the song "I Am a Rock." She had that single, too. It wasn't the B side of "The Sound of Silence." "I Am a Rock" was a single on its own.

And it was a good one, too. Listen for yourself. In addition to being good, it marked a shift in Simon and Garfunkel's sound.

Barely a year had passed since Simon and Garfunkel's debut album, but the sounds from the albums were light years apart. The first album had delicate harmonies supported by acoustic instrumentation. "Sounds of Silence" reflected an edge brought by the emergence of folk rock with the electric guitars and amplification of that genre.

In fact, I have long thought many of the lesser known tracks on "Sounds of Silence" wouldn't have worked on that first album. A good example is "Anji," a kind of bluesy instrumental by Paul Simon. And the thing I always remember about "Richard Cory" is that I had an English teacher who tried, as most probably have and a few at least still do, to galvanize students with the Edward Arlington Robinson poem upon which it was based. She even played the Simon and Garfunkel song from "Sounds of Silence" in class because she thought the song captured the spirit of the poem.

What do you think?

"Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored and imperially slim.

"And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

"And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

"So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head."

Edward Arlington Robinson

I guess my English teacher would be pleased that I am quoting Robinson in one of my posts.

That would reassure her that it was not in vain.