Stefan Kanfer

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 595

Instead of following the mainstream of the major popular lyricists, Paul Simon seems to have skipped Freshman Composition (Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein) and majored in 20th Century Poetry, principally T. S. Eliot, A. E. Housman and E. A. Robinson. In The Dangling Conversation he aims for no less...

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Instead of following the mainstream of the major popular lyricists, Paul Simon seems to have skipped Freshman Composition (Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein) and majored in 20th Century Poetry, principally T. S. Eliot, A. E. Housman and E. A. Robinson. In The Dangling Conversation he aims for no less than a Prufrock effect:

            And the dangling conversation
            And the superficial sighs
            Are the borders of our lives.
            Yes, we speak of things that matter,
            With words that must be said,
            "Can analysis be worth while?"
            "Is the theater really dead?"

And in A Most Peculiar Man, he restates Robinson in a song about a man who lives "within a house, within a room, within himself," who committed suicide, "and all the people said, 'What a shame that he's dead, but wasn't he a most peculiar man?'"

Like all young men hovering on the brink of life, Simon and Garfunkel are a little too obsessed with the death of things, a little too enchanted with disenchantment. Far more than half their recorded numbers speak poignantly of loss—of love, or youth (I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song. / I'm twenty-two now but I won't be for long), or loneliness (Hello darkness, my old friend, / I've come to talk to you again, / because a vision softly creeping / left its seeds while I was sleeping). On the other hand, one of their most popular new songs is entitled, simply, Feeling Groovy, and kicks up its heels with energy that not even youth can suppress….

Simon's lyrics are not social documents like [Phil] Ochs's nor are they full of the poetic fury of Dylan, who sometimes, sadly, seems as dated as the editorials of yesteryear. Instead they are simply laments or celebrations of the ordinary, of a day with nothing to do, a night without a girl, of people whose meaningless chatter fills the air at cocktail parties. And therein lies their success. For what Simon and Garfunkel have to say has obviously set up resonance throughout that amorphous mass damned from here to Peking as everything from the bourgeoisie to the booboisie—the emerging middle class. It is in that class's favor that Simon and Garfunkel have become, without gimmicks or manufactured social anger, among its most important new stars.

It is possible that the team is just a flash that will disappear, but it seems unlikely. Simon has just begun to grow and in a few years a Broadway score will not be beyond him.

Stefan Kanfer, "Two Fine Rockers Roll Their Own, " in Life (Life © 1967 Time Inc.; all rights reserved), Vol. 62, No. 16, April 21, 1967, p. 18.

Like so many rock troubadours, [Simon and Garfunkel] see pain in the affluent society—in alienation, lack of communication, insincerity, mindless cocktail-hour chatter—but they succeed with these tattered themes by understanding them rather than by reviling them. In Punky's Dilemma, in their latest album, Bookends, they even take up the subject of draft evasion, but gently, gently. The song begins innocently: "Wish I was a Kellogg's Cornflake floatin' in my bowl takin' movies / Relaxin' awhile, livin' in style, talkin' to a raisin who 'casion'ly plays L.A." And it ends on a note of tolerant satire: "Old Roger draft-dodger leavin' by the basement door / Everybody knows what he's tippy-toeing down there for."

But what the fans seem to like as much as the social commentary is S. & G.'s whimsical ability to poeticize about the commonplace.

"What a Gas!" in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1968), Vol. 91, No. 16, April 19, 1968, p. 46.

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