Simon and Garfunkel: Old Friends

Simon and Garfunkel: Old Friends

‘Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.”

So goes the opening line from Simon & Garfunkel’s elegiac hymn America.

Death Valley Rd - the road to Death Valley from Baker, Californi

It’s a simple song, young lovers on a road trip across and into the heart of an America that no longer exists, maybe never truly existed.

The playful storytelling lyrics of the lovers on their adventure – the stories they create of fellow travellers, the cities and towns, the buses and trains, the hopefulness of a brighter future together, betrayed by the pervading sadness laced through the music. This is quintessential Simon & Garfunkel – a song of the sixties. A song of its time and yet a song without time – somehow managing to both create a sense of the era whilst regaling themes that live through the ages.

It’s a song that resonates personally with me; lyrics that speak to me and remind me of my own youth, my own adventures and the divided mind that pervaded and lingered. The optimist and the merchant of doom upon my shoulder, fighting a battle for supremacy neither would ever truly win.

For me, Simon & Garfunkel represents a time of life, a time on the road. Young and vibrant, looking for adventure and romance, love and lust. A young Brit on the highways of America and the byways of Australia. As I listen with forty-year-old ears to The Boxer, crystal clear on the iPod, my mind drifting back and away from the rain and the gloom of another South Wales November night, drifting to that other time of life; a bus in Newport, Rhode Island, head resting against the cold glass window as I stared out at a golden sunset, shining across the bay and bathing the autumn reds in its soft light, with the harmony of the singing in my ear

“When I left my home and family, I was no more than a boy.

Lie-la-lie, drum, crash, lie-la-lie-lie-lie-la-lie-la-la-lala-lie

I travelled the states with some friends by car. Friends now lost to time and the changes of life, faces that have slipped from view, lost in the congestion of my mind.

I was one of four young lads from the UK, twenty-one and facing a future as clear and bright as the Wyoming sky at which we marvelled. Driving through long, hot days. Late nights on empty, dark freeways and interstates, watching neon signs and golden arches pass us by. Hello darkness my old friend, they sang, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, through the tinny stereo as our bleary eyes and weary minds searched for a motel, the non-drivers nodding heads and drifting towards unconsciousness and the Sounds of Silence.

Different journeys, different days, different places. New York nights in a bar on Amsterdam Avenue, bowls of chilli and bottles of Heineken, a story on the news about a man stealing women’s shoes in Central Park as the first flurries of winter snow drifted across the window. The night before Thanksgiving. Bleecker Street the obvious choice, the New York cliché. But it’s Wednesday Morning, 3am that brings this back to me – the opening bars, the opening lines:

I can hear the soft breathing of the girl that I love,
As she lies here beside me, asleep with the night.

The song on the walkman as I slipped into drunken sleep in the hostel dorm we’d checked into to save money, the song that blocked out the wails and yells of those more inebriated than me.

El Condor Pasa – a recurring soundtrack to a dream. Men in ponchos on Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, the day we went to Alcatraz. It came back to me repeatedly down the years, these poncho wearing pipers, appearing on planes and street corners, at football matches and weddings. Weird dreams, strange symbolism for the psychoanalysts.

I listen to Simon & Garfunkel still, among other things, other music. For me it’s night-time music, forever attached to driving lonely roads where their harmonies accompany the tired eye staring beyond the glare of the headlights. I catch a tune, a melody or a lyric and I’m transported, travelling through time to those other periods – neither better nor worse than today, but vastly different.

Different times, different versions of me. Each version smiling, nostalgic and Feeling Groovy.

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Last Day of Summer – the new short story by Gareth Hill
On Rhapsody In Blue

On Rhapsody In Blue

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin was playing on the radio as I drove in the car earlier this morning. It’s a piece of music that I rarely listen to but have always loved. A piece of music that provokes the imagination, attaches itself to memories.

Now, for a filmic fool such as I, it immediately brings to my mind Woody Allen’s Manhattan – both his classic movie and indeed the general idea of Manhattan that exists throughout all of his New York based films (the older, funnier ones or otherwise). There’s good for reason for this, of course, namely because it is the music that works as a backing track in Allen’s masterful love letter to the city, in particular the iconic opening scene – the black and white imagery of the skyline, the city, the streets; the music accompanying Allen’s voiceover of the writer, struggling comically to find the right words with which to open his New York themed story.

But Rhapsody’s influence on the mind certainly doesn’t begin and end with Woody Allen. The score itself is a soundtrack to New York – a composition that pays homage to the era and city in which it was born. Written and first performed in New York in 1924 Rhapsody In Blue is the anthem of New York’s golden age. This is the Manhattan of Wharton, of Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby; of high society and seedy speakeasies. From its warbling woodwind opening, the distinctive clarinet solo and brass accompaniment, Gershwin blends classic orchestral composition with a rattling jazz sound that’s emblematic of the ‘Jazz Era Roaring Twenties,’ of the grandiose and the opulence that heralded pre-Wall St Crash Manhattan and the rise of the great melting pot metropolis as a global city.

It’s a grand, sweeping score of rousing orchestral highs and gentle, seductive piano lows, the slow pace of a cold and hung-over morning, the sudden bursting to life of a bustling avenue. Music that rises and falls like the skyline, again to reflect this burgeoning age of the towering skyscrapers. Over more than fifteen minutes the score ebbs and flows, meanders and accelerates, every note, every change of pace or instrument reflecting the growing diversities of the city, the changing moods and varying sounds – from the rattle of the subway, the tumult of Times Square or the tiptoe through the quiet streets at night, moving between the shadows and rising steam of the manholes.

It’s all rather explicitly romanticised to be fair – reflective of a New York that exists through the softening lens of the film camera or, indeed a poetic imagination.

This is exactly why it retains such significance for me. I was an American Studies student in Liverpool in the 90s and Rhapsody brings me back to the lecture halls of those days – particularly the early days of the course, prior to me actually having the opportunity to visit New York, experience it with my own eyes, ears and, indeed nose. Before heading stateside myself I grew immersed in the history and literature of post-Civil War America – noting, as is true of Pre-Great War London, how the socio-politics of an age rub, often awkwardly, with the artistic output of the time and place.

I was growing interested in the changing times but more so of the writing of the era – of Wharton, Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald et al. The Lost Generation, decamped to Paris as their fictionalised accounts of ‘back home’ took on a form of reality. Listening to the opening solo of Gershwin’s masterpiece sends me, not only to this idealised, fantasy New York, but to a cold classroom at a Liverpool campus on a wet Tuesday morning sometime towards the end of 1993.

A scene, I suspect, that’s someway removed from the ‘musical kaleidoscope of America’ that Gershwin himself envisioned.

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