Friday 29 October 2010

Simon and Garfunkel "Bookends" (1968) (Revised Review 2016)

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Simon and Garfunkel “Bookends” (1968)

Bookends Theme/Save The Life Of My Child/America/Overs/Voices Of Old People/Old Friends/Bookends Theme//Fakin' It/Punky's Dilemma/Mrs Robinson/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/At The Zoo

‘Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you…’

Who’d’ve thought, when Simon and Garfunkel sang ‘isn’t it terribly strange to be seventy?’ back in 1968 that one day they’d be fast approaching that age? (Editor's note 2016: both men will turn seventy-five this year!) Actually, who as a music collector of the ‘new guard’ in the 1960s – before this album came out – ever actually thought anyone would  reach the age they'd need to be for Simon and Garfunkel to become seventy? Who else but Simon and Garfunkel would imagine their future as two old friends on a park bench remembering the 1960s through a haze of missed opportunities and the fog of old age? What other act would even have considered spending three minutes of their precious album, released right at the peak of the 'youth' culture and revolution, interviewing OAPs for their reflections on the near-ness of death? On this site we’ve already covered the last great no-no subjects of the 1960s and 70s: racism (Jefferson Starship and Moody Blues among others), gender (specifically The Kinks and ‘Lola’), politics (CSNY among others), social inequality (any number of albums!) and wars (ditto!) But the last great taboo subject of the most musical decade of the 20th century was that the youth of 1960 might one day be the elder statesmen of 2010, making the same mistakes and the same rash judgements about the young of their day that they suffered some fifty years before. The biggest most uncomfortable doubt and fear of the 1960s was that the idea that the hippies might not actually make it, that the youth waiting for their elders to slowly die off might one day end up in that same trap themselves.

Looking round for a ‘theme’ to go with the contrasts of ‘Parsley Sage’ and suffering from a nasty bout of writer’s block, Paul eventually hit on the theme of duality not in songs placed next to each other but in succession, of replicating man’s journey from the cradle to the grave. However what other reviewers have always seen as the progress of any generation I’ve always seen as the struggle of this generation in particular, the 1960s kids who are considered weird by their elders in ‘Save The Life Of My Child’ and cut off from each other in isolation somehow finding hope I an idealised version of ‘America’, wherever it is on the globe they live. However Paul already knows from his difficulties with Kathy (with whom he splits up for good this year after the extra stresses placed on their relationship by the fame of ‘The Graduate’) that things aren’t perfect just because people want them to be and that for all the talk of love and peace it’s another thing to live it. ‘Overs’ is a remarkable song, so un-1960s in its bitterness and disillusionment not with society or Government but with each other, a couple who can’t get it together in the outer world because they can’t even get it together with each other. Time and old age spares no one, not even the youth movement and soon they too are just ‘Voices Of Old People’ nostalgic for a time when they still had a chance to do something with their lives, before meeting up at a park bench to reminisce about the 1960s. Not for the last time, Paul Simon is the lone figure in the wilderness asking these sort of questions (although The Kinks aren’t that far behind with their ‘Village Green Preservation Society album that same year) and the songs on ‘Bookends’ vary wildly between happy abandonment celebrating being young and a gloomy shadow hanging over the proceedings, telling us what we don’t want to imagine – what our life will be like when we are old. Whilst this album isn’t quite as original as it was made out to be at the time (it’s simply a logical extension of The Moody Blues’ 1967 days-of-the-week suite ‘Days Of Future Passed’) and it’s not as cohesive or thought-out as my personal favourite among the Simon and Garfunkel albums ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’), Bookends is still an important album that cuts a shade deeper and darker than most.  

'Bookends' is also an album that defies time, the epitome of timelessness as Simon and Garfunkel try on different ages and periods and life changes on for style to try to write an album that moves away from merely reflecting troubled teenagers all the time and instead tries to reflect the lives of everyone. To this extent Paul Simon succeeds superbly, getting under the skin of not only the star-crossed hopeful lovers of 'America' and the generation gap angst of 'Save The Life Of My Child' (two songs that should really come the other way round on the album thematically, although musically 'Child' was an obvious side opener) but also the middle-aged couple in a rut of 'Overs' and the parkbench-bound OAPs of 'Old Friends'. If the album seems a little too cruel in the way it depicts old age as wracked by doubt and cynicism, meanwhile, you need only switch to side two to hear the youthful 'A Hazy Shade Of Winter', perhaps the most paranoid rock and roll song of the 1960s and as contemporary as any piece Paul wrote. There's a clock ticking down throughout the first side of this record (and parts of the second), where everything that once was special may one day become tarnished if we don't pay attention, with the 'Bookends' theme linking the opening and end of the opening sides together in one continuous stream of reincarnation and dread making it clear that this isn't 'just' a generational thing. Most writers of the 1960s spent the first few years of their career singing about youth before realising that they were being pushed aside for a new group of writers snapping at their heels (the plot of ‘One-Trick Pony’ to come as it happens). In many ways Simon and Garfunkel are a;lready the ‘old guard’, leftovers from the folk boom of the early 1960s that had been swept away by psychedelia with the musical already moving on to a hezavier rock sound by 1968. It didn’t help that Paul felt himself running out of ideas with no joint album in 1967 and all his usable songs from his early days used up already. The 1960s music scene moved so fast that, just two years on from Simon and Garfunkel's first real 'success', the duo are playing for time by writing about time. Though there were other concept albums around by the time this record was released (though actually there weren't many back when Simon and Garfunkel first discussed making it in late 1966, a point that often gets missed), 'Bookends' is the first themed rock and roll record that isn't a parody or a carnival or an Edwardian band tuning up or an album of songs about cars (The Beach Boys being the first rock and roll act to release a concept album way back in 1963 - and yes 'Little Deuce Coupe' counts!) On that level alone ‘Bookends’ is important, even if it’s actually a more inconsistent LP than either of their last two had been.

The main sticking point with fans is that this album could have been so much more. The first side is almost uniformly excellent, dealing with the ‘seven stages of man’ give or take Arty's all too real collection of the voices of 'real' old people, but as happened all too often with Simon and Garfunkel the pair run out of time to tell their story and with Columbia asking nicely and then not so nicely for a fourth album quick ended up filling in a second side full of ‘offcuts’, with various A and B sides and leftovers released as a series of flop singles (‘Mrs Robinson’ apart) to fill in time. Some of these are excellent (the amount of care put into a S+G B-side is probably about equal to the care put into a whole 1960s Stones album, for instance), but you can’t help feeling frustrated that one of the greatest albums of the whole decade ends up being diluted. Most of the album’s second side is born out of frustration and writer’s block. ‘A Hazy Shade Of Winter’ is a re-write of this album’s first side in miniature stolen wholesale from [105] ‘Leaves That Are Green’. [137] ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ was dropped with good reason from ‘The Graduate’, written as a quirky song to lighten the load of everything else here. [140] ‘At The Zoo’ was based on both a book likening humans to other animals and a Tom Paxton song Paul had been performing in the clubs for years, ‘We’re Going To The Zoo’ (knowing the way the Simon and Garfunkel humour works, Arty probably teased Paul it was his most popular song and they ought to do it so Paul ended up re-writing it and singing it deadpan). Most shockingly of all ‘Fakin’ It’ actually admits to this writer’s block and how much trouble Paul is having writing (and therefore he doesn’t *feel* like a real writer but a fake). So much of this album is stalling for time more than it’s Art (or indeed Paul).

Add in a rather dodgy spoken word piece which is exactly the sort of thing to send trendy teenyboppers heading for the hills (snippets of elderly people in an old folks home) and you can see why fans at the time weren’t quite sure what to make of ‘Bookends’ at the time of release and why this album has had such a bumpy ride in the ‘classic album’ stakes since then. While ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ was seen as the duo’s definitive album until the 1990s, ‘Bookends’ had a bumpy ride with fans and critics on release but grew in stature as the hippie movement reached their old age to the point where most reviewers who don’t care about sales figures usually say it is their best. However in truth it’s a mixture: at times as thoughtful and technically perfect as the best of ‘Parsley Sage’ and at others as clumsy and wrongfooted as ‘Bridge’, the two records that bookend it. On the one hand ‘Bookend’ is everything you want your thinking man’s group to be – on the other this is S and G at their most spontaneous and wacky, with some sublime inspired masterpieces on side one and a couple on side two undercut by the haphazardness of the rest.  

That’s not really a surprise when you learn about the background to what in many ways was the most troubled of all the five albyums. Simon and Garfunkel had been under even more pressure than normal to produce this album quickly, with Columbia keen that the band should release at least one album in 1967. However, while Paul had got the 'Bookends' concept ready and even had a song for it ('Overs') progress was slow and he spent six months largely inactive with writer's block, throwing away every song idea he came up with. Columbia's decision, to hire producer John Simon to talk with his namesake, was met with derision (Paul was annoyed as John had never written a song in his life and started taping their meetings surreptitiously so he could play them later to Arty and they could giggle; he only lasted for one song ‘Overs’ before being replaced), though it was through John's pleading that Paul finally agreed to re-write his sketched out song 'Mrs Roosevelt' after 'Mrs Robinson', the protagonist in the 'Graduate' film. That album ended up becoming this LP’s saving grace; instead of padding out an album with folk cover songs or yet more recycled material Simon and Garfunkel just told Columbia they would be getting two albums in 1968 instead, with ‘The Graduate’ released three mo0nths before ‘Bookends’ – perfect timing to create extra interest in the new record. By having an album of pre-recorded (and a couple of re-recorded) tunes all ready to go 'The Graduate' took the pressure off Paul just when he needed it the most (though the record just missed the 1967 deadline, coming out at the start of 1968). Unfortunately, it may also have contributed to his writer's block, as the Simon and Garfunkel obsessed film producer Mike Nichols turned down Paul's newest songs 'Overs' and 'Punky's Dilemma' down flat, which can’t have helped an already anxious songwriter’s confidence. Simon and Garfunkel were also now more in the spotlight than ever following the success of the film, which had turned the duo from cult heroes to global megastars in one go and made them even more nervous as their songwriter came up empty. In actual fact Paul only escaped writer's block long enough to write 'Save The Life Of My Child' 'America' and the 'Bookends Theme' - he never did write a full album around 'the seven ages of man' the way he and Art had planned back in late 1966 and Columbia's insistence on having hit single 'Mrs Robinson' on this record somewhere (though it didn't fit at all) led to the decision to make the concept behind 'Bookends' merely half an album long rather than a full LP as planned. Had Paul kept to his original gamplan for the album (a side spent on youth and a side on old age, with middle-age in the middle) ‘Bookends’ would have been brilliant rather than an ‘almost’ album. In the short term, the effects of 'The Graduate' were terrific. Paul Simon was never the most comfortable of writers/singers and the extra confidence the record sales of the soundtrack album must have fulfilled his earliest wishes in every way, with Simon and Garfunkel having trodden a very convoluted and heartbreak-filled road since becoming teen stars in 1957. But in the long term, the toll that extra recognition took was too high, splitting the already fractious duo beyond repair, causing the monumental success of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water that took both men a long time to recover from and, above all, causing the record company Warner Brothers to heap so much pressure on the band that they ended up releasing ‘Bookends’ half-baked. You can see why, some eighteen months after ‘Parsley, Sage’ Simon and Garfunkel had to put some sort of album out (back at a time when you had an album out every six months, never mind every year) – but if only they’d waited, crafted this album’s first side into gold dust and released a ‘stopgap’ album instead and saved their best time-related songs for a whole new ‘Bookends’ project (while we’re at it, why was this album’s excellent and still unreleased outtake ‘Groundhogs’ not released or the fine rocky B-side [141] ‘You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies?’ added to the album to fill up an extra bit of time?)  

There are two other major factors that impacted this album which don't often get a look in. One is that Paul is no longer with Kathy, the heroine of many of his early songs (especially his love songs) and part-time album cover model. Kathy, shy and retiring, had helped keep Simon and Garfunkel grounded during the key early years of their fame and it's probably not a coincidence that Paul gets writer's block right here when the added spotlight brought by The Graduate shines too bright for her tastes, with the name-check in 'America' a final goodbye song to the muse who'd inspired him like no other up to this point. 'Overs' is an all too uncomfortable glimpse of what might have happened had the unspoken tensions between the pair (neither of whom was particularly open with their emotions) continued into middle age, while 'Fakin' It' sounds like a promise from Paul to remember to keep his feet on the ground when she’s not there (or perhaps his feeling that he could no longer write songs without his muse).

The other big change, unmentioned in most sources, is that Paul has finally splashed out on a new flat. No, don't worry, we're not really that involved with the minutiae of our AAA artist's lives. It's just that this is a highly unusual flat, a high-rise on the unfashionable side of London that was on an 'island' all by itself, just as on [104] ‘I Am A Rock’. For a man who'd spend the last decade either dossing on other people's couches or opening his own flat to other would-be singer-songwriter pals, this removal from the 'big wide world' seems in retrospect both deliberate and a major impact in the songs Paul is writing. Most of his narrators on this album are lost and alone, confused and angry, as 'trapped' in prisons of their own making as the old folks in their care homes (and in sharp contrast to the animals at the 'zoo'). Paul observes them all from on high though, removed from them that bit more, with the places he stays and writes his songs having almost as much effect on Paul as on Ray Davies (whose songwriting changes with his postal codes). This album is less emotional than the three that came before it, complete with reference to being up high and cut off from the world on ‘Save The Life Of My Child’, although the one song that isn’t (‘America’) notably takes place on a train, right in the thick of the action. Maybe, too, post-Kathy, Paul wasn’t prepared to write from the heart about his all-too raw feelings just yet? Arty, too, had recently split with his own first serious girlfriend and admitted later to being rather depressed in this period, taking the opportunity of Paul's move away from town to keep away from his partner for a little bit and stay at home reading. Together with the loss of Kathy, partly because she couldn't stand the limelight and what it was doing to her boyfriend, Simon and Garfunkel are leading the least rock and roll lives ever, 'trapped' by their fame into what they never wanted to become and retreating in private slumber to their own protective ‘wombs’ cut off from everyone including each other. No wonder 'Bookends' sounds such a desperate and troubled album, opening with potential suicide and covering divorce, loneliness, death and worry before we get to the end of its grooves.

Oh and cornflakes. You see, there's also a second side offering comparative light relief which contains no less than four songs that had previously been released as singles ('A Hazy Shade Of Winter' as long ago as October 1966, 'At The Zoo' in February 1967,  'Fakin' It' in July 1967 and 'Mrs Robinson' in April 1968). These songs, described by Paul later as 'representing the dry patch of Simon and Garfunkel', were never intended to be on an album and it's only the looming deadline and writer's block that led to their use here, along with 'Graduate' reject 'Punky's Dilemma' (‘Wish I was a Kellogg’s cornflake, lying in my bowl taking movies’) with only 'Winter' approaching S and G's most inspired work. Mind you, even if these songs don't 'fit' directly with the specific theme of side one, they still kinda fit and are obviously the creations of someone still with the weight of the world on their mind. 'A Hazy Shade Of Winter' counts down time every bit as ominously as the songs on side one, with its chorus cry of 'time time time' sounding like an alarm clock coming to the boil. 'Fakin' It' worries, a bit like 'Overs', that the narrator has lost touch with his emotional honesty and is play-acting (there's even a middle eight when the narrator imagines another life as a 'tailor', using the real surname of fake folkie 'Donavan' Leitch for good measure). 'Mrs Robinson' is a woman approaching the middle-aged 'Overs' time of life as much as anyone, with Paul's hastily re-written song (which still doesn't sound that much like the plot of 'The Graduate' it has to be said) both praising and mocking the loneliness of her long-term marriage and her need to be in control of a younger naive boy. The key line everyone knows though wonders what has happened to baseball player Joe Di Maggio, using his slide from superstar to unknown as a metaphor for how quickly the hot young things of today become the worn out forgotten things of tomorrow (actress Anne Bancroft plays all her scenes in 'The Graduate' as if wistfully remembering that she was Dustin Hoffman's age once - and jealously making him pay for having everything at his feet that she used to have). 'Punky's Dilemma' is a silly song that still manages a sense of unease with the verse that has Roger the draft dodger falling downstairs, suffering from the same generation gap of what he wants to do with his life and what other people expect of him that lead to the suicide of 'Save The Life Of My Child'. 'At The Zoo' meanwhile divides man not into different ages but different types, each one represented by a different beast (and what separates man from the animal kingdom the most? A sense of the progression of time...)

Paul Simon’s catalogue is full of alternate universes and what-ifs based along the lines of what might have happened had ‘Sounds Of Silence’ not become a much belated hit some nine years after Simon and Garfunkel’s first recordings together as ‘Tom and Jerry’ (the film ‘One-Trick Pony’ is one long extended what-if, although Paul Simon has been renamed Jonah and his one big hit is now an anti-Vietnam song entitled [230] ‘Soft Parachutes’). But with time the big theme on the album this is Paul Simon worrying about not what might have been but what he’s become, using Simon and Garfunkel’s breakthrough success as the time to start re-evaluating his career and all that the duo have to offer, coming up with some very worried and troubled results. After all, he’d never had a successful follow-up hit until [104] ‘I Am A Rock’ despite a decade of trying so Paul, moe than anyone, was aware of how fickle the record markets could be. Above allof this sits track five ‘Voices Of Old People’, the stark warning of what we might become if we make the wrong decisions in our youth and forget to react that ticking clock that could leave us lonely and miserable in old age like these people before us, taped by Arty as his ‘contribution’ to the album when Paul struggled to come up with a song to fit old age (before he finally came up with ‘Old Friends’). Time hangs heavy on this record in both a deadline sense and the idea that people are running out of it, each of us trying to escape getting locked in the box of ‘what ifs’ along with Mrs Robinson and the OAPs and the hazy shade of winter that stalks us all, maybe even Paul himself scared already that he’s become a parody of himself and is ‘Fakin’ It’.

Time is also responsible for what’s wrong with this record, which is a good six months away from being done the way it should have been, with side one’s concept extended into side two and the lesser moments struck from the record. Various productions could have been done better too: ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ is very random with its use of sound effects, while ‘Old Friends’ is a nice song ruined by a string arrangement (‘like saccharine’) clearly written in a hurry. It's not Simon and Garfunkel's best work by any means, with too many ill-suited singles and 'voices of lonely old people' to match the heights of 'Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme'. But it is another strong album, bookending Simon and Garfunkel's purple patch and daring to go to places no other record of the day dared to go, while containing a true career highlight in the gorgeous 'America' which makes wistfulness and longing into an art form and an under-rated masterpiece in ‘Save The Life Of My Child’ which tapes into all the fears of a generation, dangling from a rooftop and wondering whether to jump, while the elders tut-tut in despair. That’s not bad for a record that proved to be such a struggle to write and which, even by S and G standards, the duo complained was far too rushed...

The Songs:

The cyclical theme is enforced by the curious opening instrumental, which won’t make much sense on first listen until it returns some twenty minutes later. Is it the thread of life linking our characters between birth and old age? Is it our souls being re-incarnated? Or is it just a pretty tune? Whatever else it is, the [130a] ‘Bookends’ theme is also a pleasant acoustic instrumental version of the closing ‘Old Friends’. You see, there’s not much room for manoeuvre across the ‘Bookends’ album – even given that this song might be representing one ‘journey’ of one ‘lifetime’ it seems that we are doomed to be misunderstood in our youth, naive in our adolescence, bitter in our middle age and doomed to a slow agonising death that only makes sense once we recognise the importance of friends in our lives, whilst waiting to die on a park bench. The fact that this album starts with the same theme with which it ends could either suggest re-incarnation (the idea that we go round and round these different ‘songs’ throughout many lives on Earth), that we stay the same person throughout despite the many pressures on us to make us nasty and cynical (unlikely given the nasty and cynical-sounding ‘Voices Of Old People’) or that I’ve gone round the twist and this is just an album of polished rock songs.

[131] ‘Save The Life Of My Child’ is a bit misleading in terms of the concept of aging. This isn’t a childhood nostalgia song a la The Hollies or The Kinks as expected but a song about Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s entire generation. Now, whenever I hear some elder person moaning about the ‘youth of today’ it makes me giggle, because it’s always been like that – every new generation brings with it a new generation gap, one shaped by social and political trends whether its shifting economic differences, shifting geographical divisions leading to an emphasis of whatever country happens to be economically well off that century or shifty, untrustworthy presidents. The biggest gap in recent memory, though, was between the youth and adults of the 1960s (and we’re talking generalisations here of course – many people from the ‘elderly’ generation were very supportive of the kids as seen in the ‘Woodstock film, offering food and shelter for free, whilst some of the younger generation still think it’s the 1950s today and the 1960s never happened!) Mostly, though, the parental units of World War II just didn’t get it. War was a necessary evil, wasn’t it? The president said Vietnam was worth fighting over and the people elected him, so why should they argue? Music was very ncie for a hobby, son, but you couldn’t make a living at it and nor could it save the world no matter how many hours you spent on your guitar. To the kids, though, this was a whole new way of seeing the world that, in 1968, had come to a head with riots and clashes in the street and enough of ‘us’ to start ‘them’ really worrying about what sort of a world they were going to make. The key line in this song is not the title line but ‘What’s becoming of the children?’, a cry heard even more back in 1968 than now, alarmingly (in a time when anybody under the age of, say, twenty is viewed with suspicion and concern on sight). Here a ‘child’, a representative of this entire generation, is up on a building about to plunge himself to the ground below, as desperate as Dustin Hoffman ever was in ‘The Graduate’, wracked with guilt about the sell-out they might become one day and the sheer un-bendingness of society’s machine. Unusually, this entire song is told from the point of view of the elder generations (a trick only the wiser-than-his-years Paul Simon would even try), even though it’s clear from the often tongue-in-cheek delivery where Paul Simon’s sentiments lie (its certainly not with the hysterical crowd there for the entertainment or the policemen who ends his pedantic confused speech about kids having no respect for the law with ‘and blah blah blah’; why would jumping from a building show disrespect to anyone except the jumper?) The younger generation is poised on a precipice and, like all good parents, the expectant crowd watching them with bemusement expect them to fall – only to watch them fly instead.  Whether this flight is doomed to end in death as well as they expect or into a new way of living as the hippies long for remains (in 1968 at least) to be seen. No wonder this song ends with the curious coda ‘oh my grace, I got no hiding place’ – the eyes of the world are on the 1960s generation now as it turns into the 1970s and there really is no ‘hiding place’ if their instincts are wrong and peace and love really isn’t the way to go (although thankfully, of course, as every reader of this website surely know, it is).

A strange song then and the production makes it even weirder as well as more vulnerable. This intriguing little multi-layered song is sonically a game of smokescreens and mirrors, with some curious electronic sound effects and spoken word parts ad libbed by Simon and Garfunkel making it hard to tell what’s going on and mimicking the clear concern felt by the elder generation at what is happening to their offspring, as well as the noises from below swelling up to our own ears above it all. The only things uniting the many sections of this hard-to-follow song together are a thrilling pulsating bass that keeps leaping out of its boundaries and swooping between keys (nicely mirroring what will happen if ‘the boy’ ever does fall off the ledge) and a great punchy acoustic guitar part from Paul himself that chops and changes, as turbulent as any Who song. The addition of a ‘smothered choir’ hidden in the backjground adds a nice touch (a real choir treated with so many electric effects and overdubs it sounds as if it’s singing either underwater or very very far away, perhaps with the angels). However, it’s the middle section that adds yet another concept into this song – as the electronic effects accelerate off into the distance we hear a snatch of [98] ‘Sound Of Silence’. On the one hand this is Paul recycling his song about mis-communication and generations being able to talk to one another about important matters and on the other this is Paul setting his own song up as a ‘representative’ of what the kids in the 1960s stood for and the reason why they want to jump off the precipice of established society and do things their way. If only people talked, on both sides, then no one would need to go up on that ledge and the world would be better for all of us – only of course that nice idea is a pipedream that’s never going to happen. Brilliantly scary, exhilaratingly exciting, ‘Save’ is a tremendous song that deserves to be much better known, sympathising with the confused elder generation whilst patiently trying to explain just why so many youngsters were out to change the world around them in the 1960s. A production powerhouse like few other Paul Simon songs, this track has the lyrics and instrumentation to match (although the melody is the weakest part of the song, letting it down slightly).

Fading out of the darkness, the hopeful [132] ‘America’ offers the most perfect transition as the turbulent teenage years of learning new rules turns into a chance to follow tried paths of falling in love and starting a family. This song is on the one hand just the story of Paul showing his first wife, the English Kathy round his home state of New York, hoping she’ll fall in love with it like him, saving their pennies to ‘hitch-hike from Saginaw’ and live out their dreams in a new life together. On the other it’s every young couple (or even old couple) who ever met and wanted to start a family from scratch, full of hope and nervousness about what might happen. Like many a Paul Simon song this could be any generation immigrating to New York (maybe even his parents’ tale) but it is, again, a very 1960s tale making fun of the middle-aged fashions on the train, reading magazines and smoking cigarettes (plus the first line ‘let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together’ could never have been sung by a previous generation when courtship and one gender only having an income was rife). On the one hand this is a gloriously blissful, innocent song about two people falling in love and all the non-things the couple share that don’t mean anything to anyone else but whose in-joked are ingrained into their memories as the day they tries to start a new life together that they wanted to last forever. On the other, it’s their worries about what might happen in this fragile world where love doesn’t last and countries change, their lives in the Vietnam days altered forever with a flick of the President’s wrist as he signs conscription papers. In the last verse ‘Kathy’ falls asleep and Paul no longer has to act, admitting his hope is partly an act, that he’s ‘empty and aching and I don’t know why!’ However the audience at home does because of how well the rest of the track has been written: what if the America they’ve come so far to look for doesn’t exist? What if it’s all a mirage? ‘Paul’then turns to the window to see other couples in the same boat, with a hesitant but huge generation of baby boomers growing old together as they all try to find their way in this big scary world built on different ideals to their own. By the end we still don’t know if the couple will make it; the song swells to a righteous full stop but we don’t get as the final note, just that nervous organ swell playing on full of their doubts.

Magnificently written as it is, ‘America’ is even more perfect as a recording. The song has the most beautifully thought out shifting harmonics throughout; every time we think we know where we are going with this song it shifts again, taking a detour on its quest for America’s true values and the melody that spins on top of it is staggering too, with a real yearning quality thanks to its long arcs and pauses. The song builds slowly verse by verse, using its bag of tricks sparingly. Even Arty, central on so many songs (and so perfect for this tale of innocence and hope) sounds in the distance, as if he and his girlfriend are in the next carriage experiencing the same. There are three guitars running through this tune: a ‘normal’ acoustic one that rises and falls, an opening troubled electric part that asks questions across the song and an excitied acoustic part that treats everything as a game. The ‘trick’ to a happy life in this new land, it seems, is to get the three in synchronisation with each other and the song is in many ways an attempt to do just that as they all start playing different parts, come together in the middle and separate again during the fade. Paul’s vocal, too, is sublime, fearing and yet fearless all at the same time. He really believes in this dream and means every word he sings – but he’s also been knocked enough to know that believing in a dream isn’t enough to make it a reality. Still, though, he has one last try. The lyrics are perfect too, telling us nothing and yet making it speak for everything the couple stands for (there’s a sly lyrical reference to tour bus shenanigans to ‘playing games with the [Small] faces’ too if I’ve got my timings right). Even that opening line about ‘marrying our fortunes together’ is one of the best summaries of a partnership born out of love ever written. There’s something about this song that makes me cry nearly every time I hear it even though it isn’t actually sad (in fact the last verse, with several S and Gs united in triumph on the line ‘they’ve all come to look for America!’ is one of the most joyous sections of any paul Simon song). Perhaps its because I’m a self-proclaimed honorary member of this generation that this song ‘gets’ to me so much (I may be a child of the 1980s by birth but I share nothing with that generation except age and a liking for weird American cartoons on the Disney channel) or perhaps its because Paul Simon is simply such a good writer he tugs at my heart strings without me knowing. Every drum rattle obstacle, every solemn hymnal-like ‘hmmmm’ vocal part, every single piece of this monumental jigsaw puzzle is perfectly placed and leaves me wanting more. I so want to know what happens to this couple who yes, OK, are based on reality but are clearly a fictional representation of something bigger (is the narrator the same as the one with the ‘child of my first marriage’ travelling to find redemption to [264] Graceland to ome wonders? Is it all part of the same trip to find salvation in an idealised image of America?) Truly beautiful. I may not be the right age and I may not live in the right country to enjoy this song, but oh boy I so get the song’s messages of hope, innocence and optimism and that is why I think ‘America’ might just be the single best song Simon and Garfunkel ever recorded, together or apart.

[133] ‘Overs’ isn’t as likeable, but then it’s not meant to be. It begins with what seems to be a post-coital cigarette being struck, as if the ‘person’ in this song’s first side has got over the joyous innocence of the first two songs and is finding the reality of life beginning to bite, needing an addiction to get him through life (and it’s clearly needed, not something to be ‘tossed’ lightly for fun as it was on the last track). This is Paul Simon’s ‘middle age’ song, the first he wrote for the album, although interestingly its bitterness and bored lyrics are nothing like the apologetic and hopeful songs he really will be writing in middle age. It’s clearly a young person’s idea of middle age too, with lines about missed opportunities and regret as if it is already too late to accomplish anything, although Paul again shows great sensitivity for the plight of other people quite different to him (he was only twenty-six when he wrote this song after all!) The one clever hook of this song is the idea that from the beginning this song is ‘Overs’ because the relationship in the song is over – the couple have nothing in common any more, spending most of their time apart – but the narrator is too scared to make the final break and ends the song ‘thinking things over’. The idea that the young couple in the last song could have ‘no more laughs left because we’ve laughed them all, and all in a very short time’ is a pretty forward kind of view for a songwriter to have, seemingly inspired by what happened ‘after’ that American trip with Kathy when she decided this scary new world really wasn’t for her. Now the couple have run out of time to make their perfect home together and ‘there’s no time left – just the New York Times’. Alas, the tune is not as memorable as the concept, with a blurry feel to it as it repeats itself seemingly at random, wondering around some curious and unpredictable harmonic changes as if drunk. I’d like, too, to have heard Arty’s interesting middle eight developed, as its themes of age hovering around the couple ‘tapping at my forehead’ to give the narrator age lines and even ‘rattling the tea cups’ as the pair grow older staring into their afternoon tea rituals arguably make for an even better song than three verses based around that sodding pun. On most other albums ‘Overs’ would be a highlight, but after the one-two attack of the last two pieces its a bit of an anti-climax and its bareness is off-putting, so different to Simon and Garfunkel’s usual warmth.

[134] ‘Voices Of Old People’ is legendary among fans – no other artists in the history of the 1960s ever released a track as weird as this on an album marketed at intellectual but nevertheless still young teenagers. Art Garfunkel, bored with the many sessions for the backing tracks on this album with which he was not involved, in the same week the duo taped ‘Mrs Robinson’ took a newfangled invention called a tape recorder into two old folks’ homes to fill out a track on this album: ‘The United Home For Aged Hebrews’ and later ‘The California Home For Aged Residents’. What the people there told ‘that nice young man’ with the curly hair about their lives makes for depressing listening even after the austerity of ‘Overs’, with Paul and Kathy’s hopes and beliefs of ‘America’ with the wide-open skies of the country above them narrowed down to a smaller world of a single room where colds and aches and pains in the present and slights and mistakes from forty years before are the only things left to think about. There is no future any more as all the residents have run out of time and they bitterly regret most of what they’ve done (except the happy bits, which didn’t last). They long for the times when they had their own rooms, when they didn’t have colds that lasted forever and turned into something scary, when they had money and an income, when someone was interested in them. The ‘ohhhhh’ ten seconds in from the old lady, despairing of her life and what it has become, is enough to give you chills. Some commentators at the time called ‘America’ naive, as if it was a bad or an unplanned thing – this ‘song’ is the downside of all that youth and energy, with Simon and Garfunkel half-condemning their generation to the same fate as the generations before and half leaving it as a warning to us not to become the same guilt-ridden and pain-ridden old folks as on this track. Quite what the residents thought about their personal views and hurts being kept onto tape for all to hear and selling enough copies to make the rest home a Gold Record is, sadly, unrecorded to posterity.

[135] ‘Old Friends’ is a song I used to hate. The fact that I quite admire it now has nothing to do with growing older but the fact that I’ve managed to hear this song in many formats over the years (its best heard in the rare S and G reunion on the truly off-the-wall ‘Paul Simon TV Special’ of 1977, available sadly only on YouTube at the time of writing and still unscreened in Britain). I simply hate the cloying orchestration on this song which seems to confuse the idea of getting old with ‘getting old as they did in the Edwardian era’. The cloying strings are just not right for this lovely simple song at all, overpowering it so much they pretty much sink the song by the end when they go all out of tune (I’m sure its meant to mimick getting older and possibly dying, but I’ve never yet met anybody whose ears go that badly out of tune in old age – perhaps The Spice Girls will prove me wrong in fifty years or so). Yet beneath it all is a sweet little track, with Simon and Garfunkel as two old friends ‘sat on a park bench like bookends’, looking back over their lives and their many mistakes and Paul Simon’s writer’s eye working overtime as he leaves so much unspoken between the two in favour of random images he sees, such as a ‘newspaper blown through the grass’. This image is though imagined by the same youngsters of the album’s opening, in a neat trick on what we expect. ‘Can you imagine us years from today?...’ this album invites us, a warning that we would rather end up as ‘winter companions lost in theoir overcoats’ having lived their lives well than the lost figures of the last track’s care home. That bit’s nice – I just wish they didn’t have to invite a whole orchestra onto the park bench with them.

The song then takes us back to the place of our birth with the second [130b]  Bookends theme, this time with lyrics about time moving ever onward and memories. It’s a neat mirror to ‘Save The Live Of My Child’ with its ideas of innocence and changing fortunes, although it’s frustratingly short and undeveloped. It’s strange too to think of the singers, trying to predict a future I’m sure they never properly thought about seeing (I bet they never guessed they’d still be performing come the big age of seventy as heard in the song came along – after all, rock music was a young man’s medium in the 1960s and you were old at the age of twenty-five). I wonder if the ‘photograph’ the narrator mentions in this song is the ‘Bookends’ front cover which mirrors this first side well: Arty has his finger in his ear and yet is still successfully pulling a face somewhere between laughter and sophistication; Paul looks as if he’s caught somewhere between apprehensive and trying not to laugh at his partner putting his finger in his ear just at the time they are trying to take a serious album cover.

Over on side two Simon and Garfunkel are suddenly young again. [136] ‘Fakin’ It’ is the third of the four singles on’Bookends’, a #23 US hit in July 1967.Born directly from Paul’s songwriting block that year it is, as we’ve seen, a curiously nasty and bitter song. Typically Paul, though, it seems to be himself he’s kicking throughout this song, wondering out loud to himself whether he really is as good as people think he is and resenting all the pressures and constraints on his time. What’s odd about this song – and why it sounds so right heard live and stripped bare on the S and G ‘Old Friends’ tour in 2005 – is that it’s given the biggest powerhouse production on the whole album, making this naturally timid and unsure song sound pompous and huge. Many fans dislike this song because it’s such a big jump compared to the others, but I really like it for its unusualness and, despite the mock-horror of the narrator at his timidity, it’s bravery. ‘Fakin’ It’ starts with the unusually early feminist line about a girl ‘doing what she wants to do’ (again tying back to the generational movements and changes of the 1960s), finds the narrator hanging his head because he’s a ‘dubious soul’, finds himself ‘tiring’ from a walk in the garden’ (a possible reference to Simon and Garfunkel’s sudden unexpected success) and berates himself for feeling sorry for himself and scared (‘Is there any danger? No, not really’). I wonder if that opening verse is about Kathy leaving for England and back to surburban anonymity (‘If she’s goes she’s gone, if she stays she stays here’). Paul has nothing to offer her except being away from home as the girlfriend of a famous rock-star and he feels a fraud, that her arguments for going home are better than his. The most ear-catching moment is at the end when Paul imagines a simpler life that didn’t come with so much pressure, returning to the days of his Hungarian grandparents who genuinely were tailors. This interlude briefly takes time out from the rock and roll clatter of the rest of the song for a sweet preamble of an accordion, a doorbell and a visitor played by Paul’s ‘discovery’ and Monterey Pop Festival appointee Beverley (who, in a nod to friend Donovan’s real-life surname, asks ‘good morming Mr Leitch, have you had a busy day?’ The fact that the most plagiaristic and big-headed twonk of the 1960s is really called ‘Leech’ always makes me smile). ‘I am the tailor’s face and hands!’ screams Paul and Arty, clearly thinking beneath it all that ‘I should be doing that, not being a rock star!’ Whether this song ‘works’ depends on what you expect from Simon and Garfunkel – without the words this is one of the band’s better production numbers with an especially catchy chorus mixing ‘fakin’ it’ with ‘makin’ it’ and ‘shakin’ it; with the words this is one of their more unusual tracks that really tries to shake up their old formula and prove their talents for real once and for all. Certainly the music is too good and too ‘real’ to deserve the charge of fakery that Paul gives this very authentic piece of self-doubt. The track certainly works better as an album track than it ever did as a single, despite the ear-catching noisy drumming and high pitched synthesised whining.

[137] ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ is a far more popular track, which I can kind of see given its catchy acoustic tune and it’s lack of anger or resentment, but in practice this song of light relief is whimsy-by-numbers, of a piece with [121] ‘59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ and [153] ‘Baby Driver’ as the ‘joker’ in Bookends’ pack of songs without being as naturally funny as either. It starts off well, with a surreal verse mixing the words ‘cornflakes’ and ‘takin’ movies’ and ‘talking to a raisin who occasionally plays LA’, which confusing as it is is clearly a reference to the equally surreal movie business, where – to confuse a few culinary metaphors of my own - cornflake commercials are the bread and butter of the movie world and all too often the reality for wannabe stars who need to sing for their supper. The other verses just sound like repetition to me, with their admittedly witty references to English muffins ‘about to make the most out of a toaster’ and Paul’s love of Boysenberry Jam (a real fruit, but once so obscure I’ve just had to look it up and I like jam, me! I’m a citizens for Blackcurrant Jam Fan, you could say). What lets this song down most, though, is the sudden switch to seriousness with the last verse or rather the fact that we don’t switch to seriousness. Instead poor ‘Roger the Draft Dodger’ is left to fall downstairs and nearly break his neck falling downstairs in his haste to flee the policeman after him, while in another line the first lieutenant wannabe asking his missus to put his photo on her piano so she can think of him many miles apart. Presumably this song is showing us how surreal real life is with its war, absences and premature death alongside commercials and cornflakes (true then of the Vietnam war but just as relevant now with Iraq and Afghanistan, neither war of which was any of our business), but the switch is so subtle, with not a hint of a change in the way Simon sings the lines, that it’s easy to miss and just ends up confusing us even more. Also, why is there hardly any Art Garfunkel on this track – he doesn’t get to do much on this album as it is and this song is far better suited to his voice than yet another Paul Simon solo showcase. And finally, who the heck is ‘punky’? The word punk, long associated with the musical genre of the late 1970s is, by the way, a word first written down in the 16th century (where it means prostitute, oddly). Goodness only knows where Paul Simon got it from in 1968. The result is a surreal song that juggles one oddity too many to quite pull off.

Ah, [138] ‘Mrs Robinson’, single number four. The starting point for many fans in 1968 and in the years since is actually pretty unremarkable when taken in the context of the S and G canon. It’s another of Paul’s story songs that doesn’t actually reveal that much about any of the characters but does so with such a hypnotic hook and such a terrific vocal and instrumental performance that you don’t mind so much. As we’ve seen, this song was ‘Mrs Roosevelt’ until pretty late in the day, with Paul looking back to a near-contemporary of Mrs Robinson with the wife of the late (and candidate for best) American President Franklin D Roosevelt. The director of ‘The Graduate’ heard an early version, however, and realised the millions they’d be able to make from a catchy single bearing the names of one of their characters and urged him to change it. Alas, having agreed to re-title the song, Paul doesn’t actually do much to change the rest of the words, with a cynical and world-weary tone quite the opposite to Dustin Hoffman in the film and only lines about ‘sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon’ at all applicable to the stifling generational conformity of the movie script (a shame, given the similar direction of passing time and lost oppourtunities most of the ‘Bookends’ songs seem to be going in. Plus Anne Bancroft doesn’t seem the type of person to eat cupcakes). It’s easy to hear this song as Mrs Roosevelt still, however, the American equivalent of Princess Diana from a much lower social background than her husband and far less at home amongst the splendour of what can only be The White House. The unlikelihood of such a low-cast figure ever entering such a ‘hallowed’ place might well be the inspiration for the curious ‘Jesus loves you more than you will know’ line, because – and this applied to the 40s and the 60s much more than it does today – it’s impossible to become rich unless it’s been bestowed on you by your family or friends. It’s another line that people remember most though. Poor Joe Di Maggio, a retired baseball star quite enjoying his time out of the limelight, was not at all happy that Paul seized on him to be the scapegoat for a generation, asking ‘where did you go? – a nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you’, the star now enjoying a quiet retirement having had a full career and clueless as to why Paul should pick on him. The reason, of course, was that baseball fan Paul wanted a sportsman’s name with five syllables that people would remember and this was the best fit he could find.  In fact, this line – spoken in the third person and added to by Mrs Robinson – has no bearing on the rest of the  song at all, although this part at least does fit the film with its feel of time passing by too quick and robbing people of their chances to make their mark. Overall, then, ‘Mrs Robinson’ is a curious song and not at all what she seems on first hearing under all that glamour where she is dressed up in all her finery, but if any single can get away with murder by being pretty then it’s this one. The unfinished verse-and-a-bit heard on ‘The Graduate’ with just Paul, Art and a guitar still wins it for me over this album/single cut through its simple charmingness however.     

First single [139] ‘A Hazy Shade Of Winter’ carries on the ‘aging’ theme by sounding like nothing less than an alarm clock counting down to destruction. Many people who you really wouldn’t have expected to be Simon and Garfunkel fans have covered this obscure song down the years (The Bangles being the most successful), perhaps because it really doesn’t sound like the usual sort of S and G song at all. Urgency isn’t something that usually comes to mind with Paul Simon and yet this song is positively punkish in its desire to get a move on and experience everything there is to experience (‘my possibilities’) before time runs out. Paul had been writing about age and becoming old one day ever since composing [105] ‘The Leaves That Are Green’ at the age of 21 but this is the first (of many) songs on which he seems to be telling us that he is old and that, if we look around, the leaves are already brown – even though Paul was all of twenty-six! (For an update on that listen to Paul Simon’s song [329] ‘Old’ from 2001’s ‘You’re The One’ on which by contrast  – now that he really is in old age – Paul realises that compared to nature and God he’s not old at all). Paul is surely the poet narrator with this song again inspired by his writer’s block as he nags himself into writing. ‘Why can’t you get a move on?’ he asks himself, ‘You’re running out of time!’ as he casts his ear over all the songs that aren’t working out, full of ‘unpublished rhyme’ and ideas that got away, lost while he ignores his work and ‘sips my vodka and lime’. Again Paul feels like a fake, trying to conjure up new music for more millions as he’s interrupted by a salvation armyband playing outside raising money for charity, leaving Paul to snarl that he’s doing the same for selfish reasons, ‘carry the cup in your hand!’ The line that doesn’t fit is ‘hang on to your hopes my friend’,a sentiment which Paul immediately retracts and which makes me wonder if this is the only line left over from a draft that wasn’t working. The best thing about this song is the opening – an exhilarating acoustic guitar part, whacking great drums from the ever-reliable Hal Blaine and the opening lines ‘Time! Time! Time! – See what’s become of me!’ which already says everything we need to know about this song. The rest of the lines can’t match this great opening but again, it’s the middle eight that catches the ear, with the line about ‘seasons change with the scenery, weaving time in a tapestry’ more or less the theme tune for Bookends as a whole sung in a quieter, more reflective tone. Alas, this ticking time bomb of a song doesn’t end with the powerhouse the song has been building too, ending on a simple ‘hah!’ instead. A curious mishmash, but a severe and angry performance nearly rescues it.

The segue into closing track [140] ‘At The Zoo’ is one of Bookends’ unhappier ideas, at a stroke undoing all the good work of the last track and replacing it with yet more whimsy. Having said that, I have a lot more time for second album single ‘At The Zoo’ than I do ‘Punky’s Dilemma’, as its tale of giving animals very human characteristics (and very 1960s ones at that!) makes for a fine and subtle way of pointing out that humans are all animals really (as a sidenote, the two may have started off as the same song – an early recording of ‘At The Zoo’ exists which starts off with the line ‘A bowl of Rice Krispies ain’t what it used to be!’, mimicking the opening line of the ‘Dilemma’ song). Surely inspired by his idol Tom Paxton, Paul alternates from being straight and funny in his lines, delighting in such statements as ‘The elephants are kindly but they’re dumb’ ‘Orang-utans are very sceptical of changes in their cages’ ‘Hamsters tur4n on frequently’ (did he mispronounce hipsters?!?) and that last great stab at human instinct as the intelligent animal that’s far unhappier than the supposedly dumb ones with the lines ‘the zookeeper is very fond of rum!’ You can have fun dividing your friends and family into the six animals on offer (I’m an elephant!) but there aren’t enough of them to make this song as expressive as it could be and there’s no real resolution on offer in this track. Rejected from The Graduate at the eleventh hour (where it would have accompanied – hold on to your mollusc hats here – the scene in San Francisco Zoo) the song was partly inspired by a trip to Central Park Zoo back when Paul was told to take a break and think up ways round his writer’s block. However the song is most associated with The Bronx Zoo after the ‘what a gas’ ending was used in many of their TV advertisements across the 1970s. The result is a charming song that should have been a B-side, a relative flop as a single at #16 and a most curious ending to an album that’s generally been deep and serious.

So, all in all, Bookends isn’t what it could have been, it’s badly missing the Art Garfunel showcase that sits on every other duo album, side two is made without the care or attention of side one and it doesn’t quite match up to the thematic brilliance of ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’. However, even when diluted the ‘time passing’ concept is a fascinating one universal to everybody who owns this album and many of the tracks – such as ‘Safe The Life Of My Child’ ‘America’ and ‘Fakin’ It’ - are among the best and most fascinating the duo ever did. What’s really clever about this album, too, is that you can get something out of it whatever point of life you are at, whether you are the rebellious teenager of ‘My Child, the innocent lovers of ‘America’ the middle-aged madness of ‘Overs’ or whether you really a 70-year-oldon a park bench with an i-pod and a dongle, reading this review whilst looking back over your life (or of course if you are a zebra, orang-u-tang or hamster). Paul Simon is such a clever crafty writer that all songs work equally well reflecting your present or your memories of the past and are sympathetic to the concerns of every age and circumstance. That’s what comes of good writing and that’s what makes fan favourites like ‘Bookends’ that you play ‘over’ and ‘over’ again. However it only makes for half a great LP, one interrupted by too much desperate filler and one with odd packaging all round (take your finger out your ear Arty!) This album is not the classic we’ve been told it is for the past generation or so, but then neither can an album with ‘Save The Life’ and ‘America’ be a poor one. The end result is a record more tethered to its times than ‘Parsley Sage’ or ‘Bridge’ oddly, despite the many generation gaps at the heart of the record, with one piece in ‘Voices Of Lonely Old People’; guaranteed to drive you mad if you listen to this album a lot. However, Paul’s worries that he’s ‘fakin’ it’ and doesn’t deserve his fame are equally unfounded as this is an album to look back on with pride, either seven days after release or seventy. Preserve your records because, like memories, they’re all that’s left you and deep thoughtful moving works like this one are your biggest and greatest link to your past, present and future.


'The Paul Simon Songbook' (PS, 1965)

'Sounds Of Silence' (SG, 1966)

'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (SG, 1970)

'Paul Simon' (PS, 1972)

'There Goes Rhymin' Simon' (PS, 1973)

'Angel Clare' (AG, 1973)

'Watermark' (AG, 1977)

‘Scissors Cut’ (AG, 1981)

'The Animals' Christmas' (AG, 1986)

'Songs From The Capeman' (PS, 1997)

'Stranger To Stranger' (PS, 2016)

Every Pre-Fame Recording 1957-1963 (Tom and Jerry, Jerry Landis, Artie Garr, True Taylor, The Mystics, Tico and The Triumphs, Paul Kane)

Live/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part One: 1968-1988

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions

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