In March of 1968, Robert Kennedy was still alive and offering a vision for a way out to the America that had deeply entrenched itself in the Vietnam War. The inner-city rebellions in 1967 had shaken the youth culture's image of their own summer of love in that year. The beginning of America's crippling identity crisis had begun to shudder through the culture that would erupt with the death of Kennedy later that spring and the tragedy of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago later that summer. Before it was all over, ...
In March of 1968, Robert Kennedy was still alive and offering a vision for a way out to the America that had deeply entrenched itself in the Vietnam War. The inner-city rebellions in 1967 had shaken the youth culture's image of their own summer of love in that year. The beginning of America's crippling identity crisis had begun to shudder through the culture that would erupt with the death of Kennedy later that spring and the tragedy of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago later that summer. Before it was all over, Martin Luther King, Jr. had also lost his life. In pop culture, rock was exploding everywhere in Western culture. The impact of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band and the appearance of Jimi Hendrix on the pop scene in 1967 had ushered in a new way of making records, a way that not only referred to and portrayed everyday life but was part of its acceptance for what it was before attempting to transcend it. Earlier that spring, Simon and Garfunkel had slipped their fourth album into the bins with a whisper, the confoundingly literary, profoundly poetic and stunningly beautiful Bookends. Columbia Legacy has presented us S&G's entire catalog painstakingly remastered with extra tracks. The sound on these discs -- and Bookends in particular -- is amazing. It is literally true that there are instrumental passages and studio atmospherics that have never before been audible. As a pair, the two were seemingly equal collaborators with producer and engineer Roy Halee on a highly textured, multi-layered song cycle that offered observations on everything from urban crises that were symptomatic of larger issues, the prospect of old age and death, the loss and dislocation of those who desperately wanted to inherit an American Dream but not the one offered to them, surreal yet wistful reflections on youthful innocence lost forever to the cold winds of change.Bookends is a literary album that contains the most minimal of openings with the theme, an acoustic guitar stating itself slowly and plaintively before erupting into the wash of synthesizers and dissonance that is "Save the Life of My Child." The uneasy rock & roll that carries the song through its disaster and the revelation of "Oh my grace, I've got no hiding place," which is the mere hint of what is to come in this wide open terrain of the previously familiar but completely unknown. The classic "America" is next, a folk song with a lilting soprano saxophone in the refrain and a small pipe organ painting the acoustic guitars in the more poignant verses. The song relies on pop structures to carry its message of hope and disillusionment as two people travel the American landscape searching for it until it dawns on them that everyone else on the freeway is doing the same thing. Its sweetness and sophisticated melodic invention are toppled by the message of the song and it becomes an ellipsis, a cipher, turned back on itself into disappearance, wondering what question to ask next. The sound of a lit cigarette is the opening of "Overs," a balladic study in the emptiness at the end of the relationship. The sound of inhaling and exhaling of the smoke tells the entire story. Also woven into the mix is a two-minute field recording of the voices of old people made by Garfunkel, collected from nursing homes and centers for the aged. The disembodied voices are chilling and heartbreakingly beautiful in their different observations, entire lifetimes summed up in a few seconds. This interlude leads into "Old Friends," which carries the message deeper as the image of two old men sitting on a park bench in languid statements of life lived ordinarily but poetically share not only their memories but also the commonality of their fear. A horn section threatens to interrupt the reverie, carrying the chaos they feel, their lack of control over current events, but is warded off as denial and the gentleness of the melody returns and fades into the album's opening theme,...
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