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Posts Tagged ‘Simon & Garfunkel’

A couple of weeks ago I was in New York City. Although I have been to NYC many times since I first visited it in October 1985, this was the first time I had spent the night in Manhattan.

On the evening of Saturday 17th November I booked a ticket to go up the Empire State Building to take night-time photos. The cost of a ticket to the 80th floor is US$32, and I’d say that it’s good value. But, what is not is the extra $20 to go up to the 102nd floor. I had forgotten from my last time that this is not worth the extra money. Hopefully I’ll remember next time.

I was on the observation deck of the Empire State (86th floor) for about 2 hours taking photos and videos. I’ll post some of them over the next few weeks. Then, at about 11:30pm I walked to Time Square. I stopped to get a coffee and warm up a bit so got to Time Square at about 12:30am. The place was heaving, hundreds of people were milling around and many of the shops were open.

At about 1:30am I caught the subway to Brooklyn as I wanted to get a photo of Manhattan with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground. I took my photos from the Brooklyn Bridge Park, then walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.

By this time it was lashing it down with rain and I was soaked. The rain had seeped through my winter coat and my sweater and trousers were pretty much wet through. But, as I walked over the bridge I caught sight of the Statue of Liberty illuminated (it was about 3am by this time). So I decided to walk to Battery Park to take photos of her at night.

When I got to Battery Park and set up my camera I discovered that my camera battery was dead from all the long exposure photos I’d been taking. So I got my spare battery out of my backpack, only to find that it too was dead. So, I didn’t get any photos of Lady Liberty at night. It was now 4am.

I then walked back to my hotel which was in the Little Italy part of Manhattan. The rain was still lashing it down, and by now my phone was getting damp leading to Google maps misbehaving. The app kept on going haywire every minute or two, so I couldn’t use it to guide me back from Battery Park to Little Italy. Instead I just tried to figure it out, and it took me two hours!

I collapsed into my bed at 6am, having spent nearly 12 hours wandering around nighttime Manhattan taking photos.

When I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at about 3am this great Simon & Garfunkel song kept playing in my head.

The Only Living Boy in New York

This song appears on Simon & Garfunkel’s last album Bridge Over Troubled Water. Written, of course, by Paul Simon, the “Tom” in the lyrics refers to Art Garfunkel. When they were teenagers in Queens they released a single and briefly called themselves”Tom & Jerry”.

By 1970 Simon and Garfunkel were arguing and about to go their separate ways. Garfunkel decided to have a go at acting, he appears in the movie Catch 22. Simon is wishing him the best for his part in the movie Garfunkel is filming in Mexico.

As is usual with Paul Simon, the song’s lyrics are exquisite.

Tom, get your plane right on time
I know your part’ll go fine
Fly down to Mexico
Da-n-da-da-n-da-n-da-da a
And here I am
The only living boy in New York

I get the news I need on the weather report
Oh, I can gather all the news I need on the weather report
Hey, I’ve got nothing to do today but smile
Da-n-do-da-n-do-da-n-do
Here I am
The only living boy in New York

Half of the time we’re gone but we don’t know where
And we don’t know where
Here I am
Half of the time we’re gone, but we don’t know where
And we don’t know where

Tom, get your plane right on time
I know that you’ve been eager to fly now
Hey, let your honesty shine, shine, shine
Like it shines on me
The only living boy in New York
The only living boy in New York

Here is a video of this beautiful song. Enjoy!

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Tonight I am going to see Paul Simon play at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. I am very excited to see him perform live, he is one of my favourite songwriters and it’ll be the first time that I’ll have seen him in the flesh. I have watched the 1981 concert that he did in New York’s Central Park with Art Garfunkel countless times on DVD, and also his “Graceland – The African Concert”, a DVD of the 1987 concert he performed in Zimbabwe (the closest he could get to performing in South Africa in the days of apartheid).

I have blogged about Paul Simon several times, including here in Rolling Stone Magazine’s  list of the 100 greatest songwriters (Rolling Stone place him at number 8, I would place him higher in my own list).

Paul Simon is playing in Cardiff tonight (Friday 4 November) at the Motorpoint Arena.

In several interviews Paul Simon has said that he considers “Graceland” to be the best song that he has ever written, the title track to his seminal 1986 album of South African music. I have blogged about that album here, but I am surprised to see that I have never blogged about the song itself. So, here it is. Simon has commented on his process for writing this song; that the word “Graceland” was just a placeholder as he composed the words to fit the melody that he had recorded in South Africa.

He felt sure that he would replace the word as the song came together. But, he found that the word would not go away. He decided to take his first ever trip to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, to discover what the word may mean and how it could be relevant in the song. In making that trip, he got the opening lines for the song. He also realised that the word could mean “a state of grace”. Notice that in the last verse he drops the reference “Memphis Tennessee”, the “Graceland” that he is referring to at the end of the song is a more general, universal one than Elvis’ home.

The Mississippi Delta
Was shining like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis,Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never notice
The way she brushed her hair from
Her forehead and she said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, in Graceland, in Graceland
In Graceland,
I’m going to Graceland

And here is a video of this exquisite song. It is one of my favourite Paul Simon songs. Enjoy!

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At number 8 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Paul Simon.  Simon is one of my favourite songwriters; I would place him in my personal top 5 and I consider him one of the greatest lyricists in popular music, along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. However, in addition to his incredible lyrics, Simon has an ability to consistently write memorable melodies.

Simon was very much at the vanguard of introducing other musical elements into western popular music. His seminal 1986 album Graceland is possibly the best known example of this, where he went to South Africa to record with some of the country’s black musicians. But, in fact, Simon was including foreign influenced rhythms and music into his songs long before this. “El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)”, released in 1970 on the final Simon and Garfunkel album, was based on a traditional Peruvian melody. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (released in 1972) and “Late in the Evening” (released in 1980) are other examples, both with strong Latin rhythms.

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At number 8 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Paul Simon.

There are so many Paul Simon songs which I like, and I have blogged about several of them before. Here I blogged about his album Graceland, and in that blogpost I included two versions of his song “Under African Skies”. Here I blogged about his haunting song “American Tune”, and here I blogged about his song “Leaves That Are Green”, which he performed with Art Garfunkel during their days together. Finally, here I blogged about “The Boxer”, which appears on the final Simon and Garfunkel album before they split.

Today I thought I would include two Paul Simon songs, one from during his time with Art Garfunkel, the other from his solo career. “America” is a wonderful example of Simon’s ability to paint vivid pictures with his lyrics. Released in April 1968, when I first heard it as a teenager I had no idea where “Saginaw”, “Michigan”, “Pittsburgh” or “the New Jersey Turnpike” were. Ironically, when I moved to the United States in 1992 and bought a road map of the country, one of the first places I spotted on the map of Michigan was Saginaw. Several years later, when I was working at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, we had a visit from some high school students from Saginaw. I asked them whether they knew the song in which their town had been immortalised, but they did not (I guess they were too young!).

The opening lines of “America”, “Let us be lovers, / We’ll marry our fortunes together. / I’ve got some real estate / Here in my bag.” just draw you straight into the song. This song is just perfect, it completely enchants me each time I listen to it.

Let us be lovers,
We’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate
Here in my bag.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner’s pies,
And walked off
To look for America.
“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
“I’ve come to look for America.”

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.

I said, “Be careful,
His bow tie is really a camera.”
“Toss me a cigarette,
I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
We smoked the last one
An hour ago.

So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.
“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and aching and
I don’t know why.”

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

The other song I have decided to share is one that I mentioned above, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. This song shows the other side of Simon’s songwriting skills. There is nothing particularly profound about the lyrics; but I challenge you to listen to this song and not start at least tapping your hands or feet, if not wanting to start dancing. It just has a completely infectious rhythm. This song features on Simon’s first solo album after the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel, simply entitled Paul Simon and realeased in January 1972.

The mama pajama rolled out of bed
And she ran to the police station
When the papa found out he began to shout
And he started the investigation
It’s against the law
It was against the law
What the mama saw
It was against the law

The mama looked down and spit on the ground
Everytime my name gets mentioned
The papa said oy if I get that boy
I’m gonna stick him in the house of detention
Well I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m going
I’m on my way

I’m taking my time
But I don’t know where
Goodbye to Rosie the queen of Corona
See you, me and Julio
Down by the schoolyard
See you, me and Julio
Down by the schoolyard
Me and Julio down by the schoolyard

In a couple of days they come and take me away
But the press let the story leak
And when the radical priest
Come to get me released
We was all on the cover of Newsweek
And I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m going
I’m on my way

I’m taking my time
But I don’t know where
Goodbye to Rosie the queen of Corona
See you, me and Julio
Down by the schoolyard
See you, me and Julio
Down by the schoolyard
Me and Julio down by the schoolyard

Here is a video of this great song. Enjoy!

 

Which is your favourite Paul Simon song? Either from his time with Art Garfunkel, or from his solo career.

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This year sees the 25th anniversary of the release of Paul Simon‘s Graceland album. It is one of my favourite albums of all time, and it is my favourite by Paul Simon, including his Simon & Garfunkel days (and, that means it is up against some pretty good albums like “There goes rhymin’ Simon” and “Bridge over troubled water“). To my mind, it is one of the greatest albums of all time, and certainly in a very short list of greatest albums of the 1980s, along with “The Joshua Tree” by U2, “Hounds of Love” by Kate Bush, and one or two others. Graceland won the 1987 Grammy for the best album of the year.

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Paul Simon’s Graceland album was released in the autumn of 1986.

I remember first hearing Graceland from a bootleg tape I bought in Bangkok in October 1986. I liked it straight away, even though it was like nothing I had ever heard before. I think it was the first time I had really heard any “African” music, and I was breath-taken by the complex rhythms and melodies in the music. [For any authorities reading this, I have since bought the album on record, CD, and just a few weeks ago downloaded from iTunes the 25th Anniversary edition, so have more than paid my royalty fees to Paul Simon and Warner Brothers 🙂 ]

On Tuesday of last week (3rd of July 2012), the BBC broadcast a fascinating documentary called “Paul Simon’s Graceland – Under African Skies”. The programme in particular looked at the album’s impact on the struggle going on at the time for South African liberation under the racist Apartheid system, but it also talked about the recording process for some of the songs.

Whether Paul Simon helped or hindered the cause for South African blacks’ liberation is a very interesting debate. Yes, he broke the UN embargo on cultural exchanges with South Africa, and flew in the face of the desires of the African National Congress and Artists Against Apartheid. But, as he points out in this documentary, he was invited by black musicians to go there and play music with them, and certainly his album Graceland brought this “township music” to an audience it would never otherwise have reached. I myself had not heard any African or South African music before I heard Graceland, but soon after I bought an album by LadySmith Black Mambazo. I have since gone on to buy albums by the Bhundu Boys, The Four Brothers and John Chibadura.

There is an excellent series of programmes available via the BBC Radio 3 website called “World Music“. Personally my two favourites are the ones Andy Kershaw made on South African music, Kershaw in South Africa, and on Zimbabwean music, Kershaw in Zimabwe.

My favourite song on the Graceland album is “Under African Skies“, although after saying that there is not a song that I don’t like. But, this one stands slightly higher in my liking than the others. The original version of the album has Linda Ronstadt duetting with Paul Simon. In fact, Simon specifically wrote the verse which begins

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing ’round my nursery door
I said take this child, Lord
From Tucson, Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she won’t bother you no more

for Ronstadt, as Ronstadt grew up in Tuscon, AZ..

The other version of this song that I adore is the version performed by Paul Simon in the Graceland concenrt he did in Harare, Zimbabwe. For this song he invites “mama Africa”, Miriam Makeba, onto stage to sing with him. Here is a YouTube clip of this version.

Is Graceland the best album Paul Simon has done? Is it the best album of the 1980s? What is your favourite Graceland song?

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Yesterday my daughter Esyllt and I were in Bute Park in Cardiff taking photographs of some of the beautiful autumn colours of the leaves. Here are a few of our results:

I find this time of year very beautiful, particularly in the New England part of the United States, where the colours of the trees changing colour is truly breathtaking. I am in the process of scanning many of my photos that I took pre-digital camera, so hopefully sometime over the next few months I can post some of the many photos I have of the North American “fall“.

Seeing today’s colours also made me think of this beautiful song – “The leaves that are green” by Paul Simon, sung by him when he was with Art Garfunkel. The opening lines of the song are:

I was 21 years when I wrote this song.
I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long.
Time hurries on.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.

And, here is a Youtube video of Simon & Garfunkel performing the song live:

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