Patterns: Lyrical Themes
from Simon & Garfunkel
The album Bookends represents a phenomenal piece of album creation in that the entire first side offers a set of separate and wildly differing songs that nevertheless trace the human existence from birth to death when taken together. A central theme of the relationships that we keep in each stage of our lives runs throughout and ties all the pieces together. Below are some extracts from the lyrics of those songs that paint this musical portrait.
Life begins: Bookends Theme
Childhood: Save the life of my Child"Save the life of my child!"
Cried the desperate mother
"Oh, whatís become of the children?"
People askiní each other.
When spotlight hit the boy
And the crowd began to cheer---he flew away.
Oh my grace, Iíve got no hiding place,
Oh my grace, Iíve got no hiding place,
Oh my grace...
Young adulthood: AmericaLet us be lovers; weíll marry our fortunes together
Iíve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner Pies.
And walked of to look for America
Kathy Iím lost I said though I knew she was sleeping
Iím empty and aching and I donít know why
Countiní the cars on the New Jersey turnpike
Theyíve all come to look for America.
Middle age: OversWhy donít we stop fooling ourselves
The game is over, over, over.
No good times, no bad times,
Thereís no times at all---just the New York Times
We might as well be apart
It hardly matters we sleep separately
Drop a smile
Cause we laughed d them
And we laughed them all in a very short time.
Aging: Voices of Old People"Iíve got little in this world. Iíd give honestly one hundred dollars for that picture..."
"God forgive me, but an old person without money is pathetic."
"Children and motherís...That is motherís life, to live for your child!"
"I couldnít get younger. I have to be an old man, thatís all..."
"You could say, yes, an eyesore. And I was so happy and everybody was Ďwhat is this?í Ďwhat is here?í This is just---beautiful ...Your own room and your own home."
Old age: Old FriendsOld friends,
Sat on their park bench like bookends.
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes of the old friends.
Winter companions, the old men---
Lost in their overcoats waiting for the sunset...
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy.
End of life: Bookend Theme
During the creation of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, Art Garfunkel accepted a role in the screen adaptation of Joseph Hellerís Catch 22. For this part, he had to travel down to Mexico for filming. This move frustrated Paul Simon who wanted to focus on the album, and many blame this incident as one of the principle causes of the duoís break-up. In looking at the lyrics of the album, one can see that several of the songs reflect this period as Paul was in New York and Art away in Mexico...
From So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright:So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.This is the first definite reference to Art Garfunkel and his trip on the album. Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous architect and, because Art studied architecture in college, becomes a symbol of him in this song. Thus, Paul seems sad that Art is gone "so soon" before he had barely "learned the tune". One could imagine that this indicates a feeling that Art had left things unfinished. That he longingly remembers "all the nights weíd harmonize till dawn" would hint that Paul wanted thingsback the way they were.
I canít believe your song is gone so soon.
I barely learned the tune.
Iíll remember Frank Lloyd Wright,
All of the nights weíd harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long.
From The Only Living Boy in New York:Tom, get your plane right on time.
I know your partíll go fine.
Fly down to Mexico.
Da-n-da-da-n-da-n-da-da and here I am,
The only living boy in New York.
This is a very direct reference to the event. Tom was the name used by Art Garfunkel during the duoís high school performance days as Tom and Jerry. The lyric mentions his part in the movie and his trip to Mexico. Paul also refers to himself as "the only living boy in New York" which may or may not be a veiled reference to his irritation at being left to work on the Bridgeproject alone.
From Why Donít You Write Me:Why donít you write me
Iím out in the jungle,
Iím hungry to hear you....
Mail it today
If itís only to say
That youíre leaving me.
If this is also a reference to Artís trip, that fact is not as clear as the other songs on the album. However, the theme of loneliness and being left on oneís own does seem to carry through here. Indeed, the line "if itís only to say that youíre leaving me" could be taken as signifying a worry about the direction in which their partnership was heading.