Wednesday, February 12, 2014

let's talk about Simon and Garfunkel.

It's almost Valentine's Day: a time of love and mushy feelings. So I found it rather appropriate to talk about one of my great loves in life. Are we talking about James? Nope (but he is pretty great). Nor are we talking about some long-lost boyfriend of mine. So what are we talking about? 

Simon and Garfunkel.

Yes, that’s right: I was totally and completely obsessed with a folk duo from the late 1960s/early 1970s. Let me take you back to the very beginning…

When I was a kid, my parents listened to a whole lot of country music. I was fine with it… for a while. I eventually figured out that – wonder of wonders! – there was more out there than just country. While I started off listening to pop radio (which is what you had to listen to in order to be cool, which was of utmost importance), I found that my preference was oldies radio.

It was the late 90s/early 2000s when I switched to the oldies, and the first thing I did was make a whole ton of mix tapes. I had a radio/cassette player in my room, and I would tune it to the oldies station as I went about my day. It was always loaded with a blank cassette tape, and if I heard a song I liked, I would dash over and hit “record.” This resulted in me having tons of recorded songs without their beginnings. I also had tons of duplicate songs because I either a.) couldn’t remember if I’d attempted to record it before, or b.) was trying to get more of the song than I’d previously managed to record. It was kind of a mess.

But it was through this mix tape recording process that I was first introduced to Simon and Garfunkel. The song that was playing “Scarborough Fair,” and I was entranced by the haunting guitar and the way the two voices weaved perfectly together. I snapped out of it long enough to record a portion of the song onto one of my cassettes.

As I continued through my oldies mix-tape phase, I managed to record a number of other Simon and Garfunkel songs without actually realizing that they were Simon and Garfunkel songs. “Mrs Robinson” made it to a mix tape, and so did “The Boxer” and “The Sounds of Silence”: the biggies. It wasn’t until I heard a DJ read their names at the end of a set that I finally knew that Simon and Garfunkel were the two whose music I had been admiring all this time.

Once I knew their names, my research commenced. I had recently become the proud owner of a CD player (well behind everyone else, but better late than never), so I had allocated some of my precious allowance money for the purchase of CDs. I was about thirteen at the time of my budding interest in Simon and Garfunkel, so I had to beg a ride off my parents in order to get to the WalMart CD section. There, I bought my third-ever CD: Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
I know you're curious: my first two CD
purchases were the Beatles' 1 and Styx'
greatest hits.
The greatest hits compilation that I bought contained twelve songs, and I recognized about a third of them from the radio. The rest of the songs opened up a whole new world for me. I had never heard anything as beautiful and mournful as Art Garfunkel’s voice, and Paul Simon’s lyrics and melodies were so powerful and raw. When you’re thirteen, you think your life is really hard, and I felt like they GOT me. (I can’t tell you the number of times I listened to “I Am a Rock” in fits of teenage angst.)
They had angst down pat.
It didn’t take long until I knew the lyrics to every song on that greatest hits album, and I was thirsty for more. I had utilized our painfully slow dial-up internet and had done my research: I learned that Simon and Garfunkel had released five studio albums, and I was on a mission to acquire them all. And one by one, I did. The most elusive of the albums was the very first Simon and Garfunkel studio release: Wednesday Morning 3 AM
They released it back when they were young and super adorable.
It wasn’t much of a hit at first, but the song “The Sounds of Silence” first appeared on that album, which – once it was remixed with percussion and more guitars – skyrocketed up the charts. But I had to have it. We were in Rapid City for some reason, and I stumbled across a copy of Wednesday Morning 3 AM in a bin at some now-defunct music store in the mall. I wish I could describe the absolute joy I felt that day… a joy which increased tenfold when a previously unreleased Simon and Garfunkel concert from 1967 came out on CD. Oh joy! Oh rapture!

After I had collected all the CDs, I moved on to the LPs. I had asked for a record player that Christmas, and I joyfully used it to play my mom’s old copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water. There was something about listening to Simon and Garfunkel in their original format that made it seem just a little bit better. (Maybe I was a fourteen-year-old hipster, but, you know, minus the skinny pants and ironic tattoos... so not really a hipster at all.)

By this time, I had developed a full-blown obsession. Any mention of Simon and Garfunkel would set my heart all a-flutter. 
And pictures like this - where they are so cute but still have
 that troubled genius look about them - just fanned the flame.
The summer after my fourteenth birthday, I began working at a small ice cream shop on the lake not too far from where I lived. The owner of the ice cream shop (who was the GREATEST) kept the radio on oldies, and I mentioned one day that I really liked Simon and Garfunkel. From that point on, whenever a Simon and Garfunkel song came on the radio, he’d serenade me. What a great job.

However, when you’re a fourteen-year-old in the year 2001, and your favorite band broke up on 1970, you are by far in the minority. A couple of my friends listened to Simon and Garfunkel from time to time, as did one of my cousins, but no one had the deep and abiding love that I did. So no one was really interested in talking to me about the individual albums and which songs totally spoke to me and so forth. That, my friends, is what led me to chat rooms.

That’s right: I went to Simon and Garfunkel chat rooms.

In that Simon and Garfunkel chat room, I met all sorts of people across the world who loved Simon and Garfunkel just as much (if not more) than I did. This was the conversation that I’d just been dying for – all Simon and Garfunkel, all the time. Now, when most fourteen-year-olds go to chat rooms, it’s not Simon and Garfunkel that they want to talk about, but I – needless to say – was not your normal teenager.
Most teenagers' favorite bands do not look like this.
It was through this chat room that I met my friend Sue. Sue and I initially exchanged messages through this chat room, and I found that she was by far the most interesting and pleasant person to talk to. We eventually began exchanging direct emails and talking about more than just Simon and Garfunkel – I remember her being completely amazed that I was only fourteen, as my grammar and punctuation suggested someone older. (That was the ultimate compliment for a budding grammar aficionado like me.)

The story of my friendship with Sue is an interesting one that deserves a blog post all its own, but allow me to give you the shortened version: Sue and I both loved to write, and we ended up writing some Simon and Garfunkel fan fiction together. You read that right: Simon and Garfunkel fan fiction. We’d choose a goofy Simon and Garfunkel photo and take turns writing chapters in a story about it, and we’d incorporate lines from songs as often as we could.
I'm fairly certain this was one of the photos.
The stories were crazy and off-the-wall, but we had a blast writing them. I still have every one of them saved in a binder at my parents’ house.

A couple of years into our correspondence, Sue came to visit me in South Dakota. We had a wonderful time, and it took until I was 22, but I eventually made it to see her in Connecticut. Sue and I still write to each other on a regular basis, and we exchange Christmas gifts every year. So who would’ve thought that a venture into a Simon and Garfunkel chat room almost thirteen years ago would evolve into a long-lasting friendship?

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, my Simon and Garfunkel craze continued full speed ahead. I tirelessly sought out articles, interviews, and pictures. Oh, the pictures – I had a GIGANTIC Simon and Garfunkel picture folder on my parents’ computer, and it took up an awful lot of space on that old Gateway laptop. My room was covered in printouts of those pictures, along with a poster that had come with one of my CDs.
This is the one - and it's still there!
And there were the videos! The Brookings Public library had an old VHS copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1981 reunion concert in Central Park, which I checked out ALL THE TIME. Thanks to PBS, I eventually caught an airing of that concert on TV and was able to get a gritty recording, which I watched until my ancient VCR ate the tape. I watched The Graduate because its soundtrack was predominantly Simon and Garfunkel music. (A blessing in disguise: The Graduate is still one of my favorite films.) I scouted the old SNL reruns on cable and dutifully recorded any episode in which either one of them was a host or musical guest. Sue sent me copies of some of Paul Simon’s solo concerts, as well as a movie that he wrote, produced, and starred in (which wasn’t very good, but it was better than anything Art Garfunkel was in: see below).

Oh, and did I mention that I’d developed a major crush on Art Garfunkel? 
But not present-day Art Garfunkel: mid-to-late 1960s
Art Garfunkel. That makes it a lot less weird.
Whenever I heard him sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," I was weak at the knees. I began gathering all of Art Garfunkel’s solo albums, and even though I knew they weren’t very good, I was still smitten. I requested an autographed photo from his official website, and when it arrived (inscribed “to Calla” and signed “with love”! SWOON!), I was practically giddy. At one time, Art Garfunkel decided he wanted to be an actor (hahaha!), so he was in a number of fairly terrible movies, all of which I sought out and watched.

Of course, Paul Simon had a much more successful solo career than Art Garfunkel did, and I collected his albums, too. I loved Graceland, and I still think that that the “You Can Call Me Al” video with Chevy Chase is one of the best things ever.

This Simon and Garfunkel mania went on for – and I swear I’m not exaggerating – YEARS. In 2003, it was announced that Simon and Garfunkel would be going on a reunion tour. The last time they had done a concert together was 1981. 1981! I HAD TO SEE THEM IN CONCERT OR ELSE I WOULD POSITIVELY DIE.

Luckily for me, Simon and Garfunkel were coming to St Paul. However, they would be there on a Monday night: October 27, to be exact. That meant missing some school, which might be hard to get past my parents. When I pleaded my case, I was surprised to find out that my parents were totally ok with me missing some school to go to the Simon and Garfunkel concert. Mom and Dad may not have known just how obsessed I was with Simon and Garfunkel, but they certainly knew how much going to this concert meant to me.

Mom, my friend Sarah, Sarah’s mom Sharon, and I would all go to the concert together. Sarah was on the internet as soon as the tickets went on sale, and even though they were something like $100 apiece (a hefty amount for a sixteen-year-old like me whose only employment was in the summertime), it was money I was happy to spend. The four of us went to St Paul and saw Simon and Garfunkel at the Xcel Energy Center, and I was walking on air.
Yep, we got the t-shirts.
My passion for Simon and Garfunkel inevitably cooled – I don’t remember when, but I eventually realized that there’s more music out there than just Simon and Garfunkel. Don’t get me wrong: just because my obsession downgraded to just a strong appreciation, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped listening to them… it just meant that I listened to more music than JUST them. When it came time to write my senior thesis for high school English, I said to myself, “Self, what do you know more about than anything else?” Simon and Garfunkel, obviously.

Now, here we are: more than a decade has passed since my Simon and Garfunkel craze reached its fever pitch. But a good deal of it has still stuck with me. When I had my radio show on KUMM, Simon and Garfunkel songs would make frequent appearances on my playlists. I can still tell you all sorts of weird facts about Simon and Garfunkel and their songs. (Did you know that Garfunkel was a math teacher? Did you know that they found out “Sounds of Silence” had hit #1 when they were smoking pot in Simon’s car? Did you know that "Mrs Robinson" was almost a throwaway song called "Mrs Roosevelt"? I could go on.)
Did you know that there are some
truly bizarre Simon and Garfunkel
pictures out there? Thanks, Google.
Simon and Garfunkel will always hold a special place in my musical heart. Even today, when someone mentions them, I am filled with a weird evangelical zeal and I MUST TELL THE WORLD how wonderful Simon and Garfunkel are. Their harmonies still give me the chills, and my trusty iPod is fully stocked with every single Simon and Garfunkel song. And you know what? I still remember all the words.

1 comment:

  1. Hello!

    I read this about a year ago and just stumbled upon it again. Back then I was less brazen about posting on random blogs, I guess. Anyway, allow me to introduce myself. We're quite similar, it seems.

    My name's Emily, and I'm 16 years old. I've been in love with S&G since my dad first showed them to me on YouTube when I was 12. I don't have a record player, but I've collected their vinyls over the years (for decoration) and now I own eleven of them - the five S&Gs, five of Paul's, and one of Artie's, which I just got signed a little over a week ago after one of his concerts!

    Yes, I was blessed enough to met him!!! He told me my hand was cold as he held it in both of his. *SWOON* He also commented on the Paul Simon shirt I was wearing - talk about embarrassing. I need an S&G shirt like the one you're wearing in the picture!

    What you say about his movies makes me laugh. I just watched "Bad Timing" last night and... bleah. He's an alright actor I suppose, but his character is creeeepy. Definitely not my type of movie. I had to, uh... look away quite a few times. I enjoyed "Catch 22" a little more because at least he was adorable in it, and a lovable character. A lovable character that DIES just after halfway in.

    Paul's one movie, on the other hand, I adore. Much more enjoyable than the aforementioned two, anyway, if not for only the fabulous soundtrack.

    I met an 18-year-old S&G fan at the Artie concert and now we keep in touch via Facebook. She and I have both confessed to dabbling in S&G fanfics - not the gross kind, of course, but more of the type you and Sue wrote - and I think it'd be fun if we tried the picture stories you did.

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