Sunday, October 11, 2009

Like a Bridge

A couple days ago they were handing out free promo CDs at work, which they still do on occasion (yeah, believe it or not there are still labels out there and they still manufacture actual CDs), and I came across Live 1969 by none other than Simon & Garfunkel. I couldn’t believe a) that something of that magnitude had come out and I didn’t know about it (it was actually released in April) and b) that no one else had already absconded with it. I mean really, people, Simon & Garfunkel. I know it was a long time ago and all, but geezus, at one time they were as big as The Beatles here in the U.S.


How time flies, and how tastes change. Funny thing is, theirs is the type of music that is so unique that they really were and are their own genre—to me, they exist out of time just like Dylan or the Fab Four or Beethoven—so in my mind, it’s not a question of being in or out of style. It’s about total frickin’ genius. And this particular CD—an assemblage of selections from various dates on their 1969 U.S. tour—is just stunning. They're at the height of their powers, their voices at their pristine best—the harmonies that are at once so complex and so intertwined it’s as though you’re listening to one voice instead of two; they know each other so well, complement each other so perfectly. And the material, which is culled from their first three albums as well as from their forthcoming masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water, is just stellar. It’s all there, from the whimsical “At the Zoo” to the tuneful “59th St. Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” to the profoundly moving “Sound of Silence.” Listening to these songs and these voices again, I am instantly transported back in time to when I was five or six years old. All of this was brand new then, and in a time of chaos and bloodshed, of assassinations and unrest, riots and war, these songs, this music—so soothing, so literate, so biting and true—were just what we needed.

I listened, and the lyrics came back to me instantly, almost as if I had always known them, and in a way, I guess I had. After all, I grew up on this stuff—literally. My father was a huge fan and early supporter of the boys from Queens, and it was perhaps the only time that he and I were passionate about the exact same music, one of the few times we actually agreed on something. And it was gone all too soon. But for those few years, 1967 or so to the end of the decade, we shared something something ethereal and fleeting, a bond deep and unspoken. We didn’t really talk about it, but when my dad went out to the record store to buy Bridge Over Troubled Water the week it came out, I was right there with him. It was as if we both knew this would never happen again.

And the audiences at these shows had to know that they were experiencing something that happens only once in a lifetime, too—you can hear it in the profound silence of their complete attention, in their enthusiastic response to the performances. It’s totally mesmerizing, and totally unforgettable, that old cliché about genius—you can’t really define it, but you know it when you experience it. But the real jaw dropping moment on this CD is one that the audience is completely unprepared for. But really, though you know it’s coming, nothing can prepare you for it either—how does one prepare for a watershed moment? You hear Larry Knechtel (yes, that Larry Knechtel—S&G were touring with their studio band, which just happened to include three members of Phil Spector’s famed Wrecking Crew) play the opening arpeggios that are so familiar to you, and you think to yourself that this audience has no idea that after hearing this song, they will be forever changed. That’s right, they are going to hear “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for the very first time (can you imagine?)—no studio arrangement, no lush instrumentation, just Larry on the piano and Artie’s unearthly tenor. You can picture him standing at the mike, a single white spotlight, hands in pockets, eyes closed—even on CD it’s breathtaking, one of those indelible moments you never forget. He finishes, the final chords fade, and there is a stunned silence, a pregnant pause followed by long, loud ovation. It’s truly a cathartic moment on an album filled with them, and I just wish I could have been there one on of those nights to witness it in person.

Night after night (so the liner notes indicate) in that turbulent fall of 1969, audiences had the exact same reaction—in packed concert halls across the country, people felt the power of Simon’s profoundly moving lyrics, Garfunkel’s crystalline harmonies, and for a moment, the real world was forgotten; the turmoil and despair a distant memory drowned in waves of sound.

We needed Simon & Garfunkel then, and didn’t realize how much we’d miss them when they were gone. But (as Bud Scoppa so aptly states in his excellent liner notes), history is cyclical, and everything comes back again. In this era of unrest and uncertainty, we need them again, perhaps more than we ever did. Well, with this essential release, Simon & Garfunkel are back and in their prime, as if they’d never been away. I just wonder if anyone’s listening.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful piece of writing, Lisa.