Sunday, November 19, 2017

BEHIND THE LYRICS OF THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

The lyrics of The Only Living Boy In New York are copyrighted, but you can find them online if you can't understand them when they're sung. I think they're easier to hear than a lot of lyrics, such as "there's a bathroom on the right."

Of course, the song is my choice for the current Battle of the Bands. My contenders are Simon & Garfunkel and PigPen Theatre Co. If you haven't voted yet, I hope you'll do so at BATTLE OF THE BANDS: THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK.

Paul Simon wrote this song. Although I've cautioned my readers many times against thinking that the poetic persona is the poet (or songwriter), in this case, Paul admittedly addresses Art.

But he begins by calling Art "Tom." As you might recall from my post yesterday, A BRIEF HISTORY OF SIMON & GARFUNKEL, the duo had their first success as Tom & Jerry when they were in high school. Art was Tom.

So why does Tom fly to Mexico? He has a part in the 1969 movie Catch-22, directed by Mike Nichols. Nichols gave Simon & Garfunkel's career a big boost when he used their music for the soundtrack of his hit movie The Graduate in 1967.

Art wanted to try to have an acting career, but Paul was left behind. They would have gone to Mexico together for the movie because Simon had been offered a role, too. The offer was rescinded when Nichols cut the part. That left Simon as the only living boy in New York. Losing something that had been in his reach must have been painful for Simon.

I can't imagine that Nichols wanted to break up Simon & Garfunkel, but the split recounted in this song foreshadows their break-up as a musical pairing, which occurred the next year. Garfunkel, however, did not have a big career in movies. He played Jack Nicholson's friend in Carnal Knowledge. That and Catch-22 were his biggest accomplishments. As a singing solo act, Garfunkel had some success, but nothing compared to that of  Rhymin' Simon.

The lyrics of The Only Living Boy In New York are wistful and lonely, but Simon wishes Garfunkel well. In the future, the two often did not wish each other well.

The Only Living Boy In New York wasn't one of their big hits, but it's been covered many times. Simon & Garfunkel also gave Zach Braff permission to use the original in his 2004 film, Garden State. 

It's a beautiful and deceptively simply song.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Now that we've chatted about Simon & Garfunkel's association with Mike Nichols, how about if we listen to something from The Graduate?



26 comments:

  1. These men were from my freshmen college English teaching days. I loved them. They wrote meaning in complete sentences. I once had a class diagram this song. Better yet, I transcribed it without going to the music store to buy the sheet music.

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    1. You knew every word, as I do. I know the lyrics to so many of their songs.

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  2. So much I didn't know at the time, but I loved the music.

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    1. I didn't know much about them and only began to learn more a few years ago. I loved their music and that's all I knew.

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  3. The Sound of Silence was the first song of theirs I heard, and decades later I can still recite it from memory. Beautiful, evocative and powerful.

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    1. Those of us who know it so well should all get together to sing it.

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  4. I didn't know any of this! Very interesting. And this is a favourite song of mine.

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    1. Many people adore this song. I think my favorite is Bridge Over Troubled Water.

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  5. The Sound of Silence it seems to be a dream with a warning that still flashes today.

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  6. All of their songs are captivating.

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  7. TSOS is one of my all time favorite songs. I remember when Art started appearing in a lot of movies. There was one film I went to see in the theater because he was in it, but now I can't recall what film it was. A lot of music acts eventually break up as people grow in different directions. Paul did a lot of great stuff when he went solo.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Yes, they'd known each other so long that I suppose a period of estrangement was inevitable.

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  8. I am listening to their greatest hits on youtube right now and have traveled back to my teenage years--LOL! :) Sounds of Silence and I Am A Rock were out about the same time and I fell in love with those boys. Especially the songwriter, of course. ;)

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    1. Paul is short! He really is so short that it's eye catching. We saw him in concert when I was still married.

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  9. "Hazy Shade of Winter" is one of my favorite S&G songs (as evidenced by the title of my recent blog post), along with "At the Zoo" and just about anything on the "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme" LP. (Hell, I even like "Red Rubber Ball," the mid-1960s hit by The Cyrkle," which Paul supposedly wrote when in England, because he needed food!)

    I really enjoyed Art in Carnal Knowledge. Very impressive movie in a lot of ways. And I love "All I Know."

    And I still think it sucks that the two of them can't get along.

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    1. They've gotten along well enough to reunite at times, but they can't seem to avoid irritating one another.

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  10. Even though Paul Simon talked about the background, it's the song's title that is evocatively enigmatic. This is part of why Allan Loeb wrote a whole screenplay, now a movie. It was a riddle waiting to be fleshed out.

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    1. I agree with you, although I haven't seen the movie. Perhaps I need to do so.

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  11. Great backstory on The Only Living Boy in New York. I had no idea. Poor Art didn't fare so well in his acting venture or his solo work. It's hard to see a duo that had meant so much to a generation of fans fall apart...especially when it's with hurt feelings and anger.

    Love The Sounds of Silence, the song and sometimes the actual silence itself...

    Michele at Angels Bark

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    1. My favorite sound is silence. Unless one of the dogs is snoring. That's a great sound.

      Love,
      Janie

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  12. I really can't pick a favorite S&G song. They always sounded so beautiful together & the lyrics were pure poetry!!

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  13. Paul Simon looks so much happier in the early days! That's how I remember him. When I was reading up on them earlier in the week (thank you, Janie, for prompting that!) I saw some pretty recent photos of him and he looks like a grumpy old man.

    As far as that goes, I probably look like a grumpy old woman. Errr . . .

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  14. Love TSOS! Thanks for all the interesting information. It's always fascinating to know the backstory. Have a great day tomorrow!

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  15. Fascinating backstory! Thanks for sharing this, Janie. It's too bad their relationship was so rocky,but they sure made some beautiful music together

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