Jewboy Salvation

Admitting the hots for Simon & Garfunkel

It's like this: I'm a Simon & Garfunkel fanboy, I admit it. I'm more excited about the potential of Paul 'n' Artie's much-ballyhooed reunion tour than any recent event I can readily recall. That's not because seeing them perform all the old hits in concert will fulfill a lifelong desire that previously eluded me (it will), but because I'm hoping the notoriously temperamental twosome can get along well enough this time out to finally, belatedly put together a new album once the tour has ended—something they should have accomplished decades ago.

Nothing short of the Beatles-reunion-that-never-happened would have such sweeping implications, and truth be told, the only thing that prevents Simon & Garfunkel from being held in similarly deified regard to the Beatles is the exasperating brevity of their career and catalog. With a scant five albums released between 1964 and their fractious finale in 1970, what could have been the most hefty legacy in midcentury pop was tragically cut shorter than Tucker Carlson's penis. Of those five glorious albums, two—Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Water—are the equal of anything ever unleashed in the pop pantheon. And I mean anything you can name, from Revolver to Pet Sounds to Blonde On Blonde.

Ultimately, these guys' solo careers have deflated all promise. It's a common view that Garfunkel's output has been a major bust; Paul Simon was the songwriting genius of the duo, and without the material to wrap his angelic tenor around, Artie's catalog of singles has been largely comprised of regurgitated, overproduced oldies. Conversely, I'm not among those who subscribe to the notion that Simon's own solo trajectory has borne fruit juicy as anything accomplished in tandem with Garfunkel. He, too, has turned in many an embarrassment (One Trick Pony; Songs From the Capeman), and much of his celebrated experimentation with gospel and world music has been very forced and very white (white not being a good thing in the service of black South African and gospel music). In any case, Simon's voice is so unpleasantly wan and pinched once removed from Garfunkel's opulence that it becomes an albatross when imposed upon even his best material. These two Jewboys require one another like gefilte fish needs horseradish.

But enough with the carping; let's look back at what made Simon & Garfunkel such a momentous entity in the first place, with fervent hope that the finale of this story has yet to be written. Here are my picks for Paul 'n' Artie's 10 most mesmerizing moments:

1. "Bridge Over Troubled Water." When Elvis, Johnny Cash, Smokey Robinson, Peggy Lee and Aretha Franklin are just a few among the dozens to cover a composition, it's a pretty fair bet the tune is a masterpiece—yet none of the above came close to equaling the original's enduring grace and elegance. From the spiritual ache and comfort of the lyrics to the magnificence of the melody; from Garfunkel's gooseflesh-inducing vocal performance to the Phil Spector-just-soiled-himself production splendor, this ranks among the greatest recordings of the 20th century by any standard.

2. "America." This tune captures the rudderless yearning of its era with the existential blight of such cinematic landmarks as The Graduate (which owes a good measure of its success to its Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack), Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. Literate and impressionistic, "America" conjures up stark visions of gray, menacing skies; crushed cigarette packs; and grimy Greyhounds in grandiose tones very nearly as majestic as "Bridge."

3. "I Am a Rock." Hostile and alienated, this tune demonstrates that even the erudite suffer coming-of-age pains, same as any pissed-off punk rocker. That Simon turns to poetry books rather than mosh pits for salvation doesn't make the paranoia herein any less valid, just a whole lot easier on the ears.

4. "Mrs. Robinson." Such was the impact of this song that the term "Mrs. Robinson" has entered the English vernacular as a synonym for the middle-aged woman lusting after boy-loins. Here, Simon also turns in one of his finest guitar performances, tricky runs and slick dynamics perfectly complimenting the dazzling vocals.

5. "Fakin' It." Disregard all bloated dissertations claiming this song is a plaintive essay on romantic doubt, blah, blah, blah; in fact, this is surely the greatest ode to beating off ever set to wax, and you can even dance to it, by yourself or otherwise.

6. "The Boxer." Taken alone, these lyrics read like a Travis Bickle monologue. Experienced amid the striking harmonies, sing-song choruses and reverb-drenched percussion of the recording, it's more like an early Springsteen tune performed by the Everly Brothers, with George Martin twisting the knobs.

7. "Homeward Bound" is thematically similar to "America" and nearly as catchy, but seen through the eyes of a younger, less jaded protagonist who actually has a place called home to yearn for.

8. "Hazy Shade of Winter" features an extended riff worthy of contemporary Lennon/McCartney, a hook so bitchen that even being Bangles-ized couldn't erase the original recording from our collective consciousness.

9. "Punky's Dilemma." The music and lyrics are both absolutely retarded in only the way that the finest chirpy, effervescent, late-'60s pop can be. This seems to get stuck in my head more than any other Simon & Garfunkel song for some reason, and it never even bugs me.

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