Ellen Willis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

The first pop performers to straddle the generation gap were Simon and Garfunkel…. Paul Simon (he writes the songs; Art Garfunkel arranges them) became a "rock poet," dealing with such non-cliché subjects as the soullessness of commercial society and man's inability to communicate. This appealed to kids who hadn't read much modern poetry but knew what it was supposed to be about, or were over impressed with their own nascent Weltschmerz, or both. As for parents, they could feel at ease because the catchwords were familiar; they had read "Dover Beach" and "Richard Cory," and maybe even "The Waste Land," in school. And it was reassuring that two bona-fide alienated young rock poets wanted most of all to communicate, not to spit in their eye. (p. 179)

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S. & G.'s first hit single, "The Sounds of Silence," was a re-release, with a superimposed rock beat, of a song originally included in their folk album "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." … I liked that record in spite of its ersatz protest, which it—well, communicated, even though the dubbed-in drums happily obscured most of the lyrics. Perhaps it was this unintended irony that saved the song; perhaps it was the melody. In any case, the over-all effect was mysterious and moving. But the songs that followed were just arty bores. The plebeian beat disappeared in favor of lush, gutless arrangements that ruined Simon's better-than-average melodies and emphasized his increasingly pretentious academic verse. This process reached some sort of apotheosis in "The Dangling Conversation," a failure-of-communication extravaganza featured on their third L.P., "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme." "Parsley" was so much overpraised that a critical reaction began to set in. Had the next Simon-and-Garfunkel album arrived on schedule, it would likely have been badly panned. But it was delayed—the rumor spread that Simon had a writing block—and the three songs he did write, all of which were released as singles, showed clearly that he was trying to move in a new direction. One of them, "Fakin' It," was truly impressive; it had strong, direct, colloquial lyrics, an excellent melody, and a beat. Now the long-awaited album, "Bookends" …, is out. It includes the three singles, and it is certainly S. & G.'s best collection of work so far…. [The] lyrics are printed, and you can see that something has happened. Item: references to Mrs. Wagner's Pies, Greyhound, the New Jersey Turnpike, the New York Times, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and Joe DiMaggio. Item: a track of old people's voices, recorded by Art Garfunkel "in various locations in New York and Los Angeles."… It seems that our boys have discovered Pop. Of course, they hedge—one song, "America," is really about how the Pop vision isn't good enough—and they are still obsessed with loneliness. But at least they talk about it in the language of the sixties; always intelligent imitators, they have finally begun to imitate their contemporaries. (pp. 179-80)

Ellen Willis, "Pop Ecumenicism," in The New Yorker (© 1968 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLIV, No. 11, May 4, 1968, pp. 179-80.

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