The Silent Fire of Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and GarfunkelI have no idea what I did to celebrate my birthday as a young teen in 1967. It doesn’t matter. I’m celebrating now. Or will this Thursday. It marks not only my birthday but a special anniversary date.

On the evening of January 22, 1967, Simon and Garfunkel played in Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City. Growing up in the DC area, I was unaware the concert was happening.

However, by that year of my life, I’d already learned to play the guitar, mostly from figuring out – all by ear – the chords and finger pickings of most Simon and Garfunkel songs. Their compositions inspired me to caress music, to play it with my own two hands, even harmonize vocals with other musicians. By the time I turned twenty-one, I not only knew all the songs from their five studio albums, but recognized myself as a committed musician.

How great it must have been to see and hear Simon and Garfunkel perform live, especially that night. They’d just completed their third album and were honing their folk/rock oeuvre at a time when performers, audience and excitement truly harmonized.

As I listen to the CD of that concert now (released in 2002), the banter between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was sparse but sincere, often humorous.  During songs, the audience remained deadly silent, that is, until culminating every song with lively applause. The stage was lined with seats in front and behind the singers (I learned later), creating a sort of intimate theater in the round effect. So many people, such close proximity, yet still so silent: one could hear the slightest off note from Art Garfunkel, or drop of a guitar pick by Simon at any moment, neither of which occurred during a full two hour performance. From this concert and hundreds like it to follow, along with two more extremely successful albums, Simon and Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Not too long ago, just before they received their 2012 Grammy award, I attended an Arcade Fire concert. Like the Simon and Garfunkel event, their music performance had roughly the same size audience. And, as Simon and Garfunkel have been known for, Arcade Fire relies on ensemble singing and harmony. But times have-a-changed.

The audience I was with stood the entire night. They looked up at a six-foot high stage for hours. The speaker towers blew away any semblance of nuance. To me, the concert was one long loud note with interchangeable beats in the background as the only element to provide variety.

One raving Arcade Fire fan introduced himself to me not face to face, but butt to face, from behind, that is, from overhead, as he was passed to the front row by scores of outstretched arms of frenzied fans. Suddenly finding myself in the center of a mosh pit, it was a concert I’ll never forget! But, as a musical event, it’s one I’d like to mostly leave behind from memory.

Simon and Garfunkel vs. Arcade Fire – an unfair comparison of concerts for sure. All I can say is one blew me away; the other seduced me in.

On June 1, 1967, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. Later that month, the Monterey Pop Festival occurred. In December, The Graduate was released, complete with Simon and Garfunkel’s signature song and smash hit, “Mrs. Robinson.” And with Woodstock two years later, pop music was evolving very quickly, and the Folk Revival of the Sixties was pretty much dead. Perhaps with it, innocence.

Even Paul Simon knew it was inevitable. In many ways, he speaks for me, too, in his words from “Leaves That Are Green:”

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song.
I’m twenty-three now but I won’t be for long.
Time hurries on.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown,
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.

Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl.
I held her close, but she faded in the night,
Like a poem I meant to write.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.

I threw a pebble in a brook
And watched the ripples run away.
And they never made a sound.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand.

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello.
Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye.
That’s all there is.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.

1 Comment

Filed under Blog, Remember This?

One response to “The Silent Fire of Simon and Garfunkel

  1. The sixties were not that long ago, but they might as well have been hundreds of years ago. The world is so very different now. Hell, some things from the eighties even look quaint now.

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