Song of the Day #505: ‘America’ – Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel released only one more album (so far), though they have reunited a number of times since 1970. That release was The Concert in Central Park, a 1981 recording of the most memorable of those reunions.

Simon had been scheduled to appear solo, playing a free concert on the Park’s Great Lawn, but word got out that Garfunkel might appear and the show turned into something much bigger, both in size and importance. More than 500,000 people filled Central Park that night, celebrating not just the reunion of a classic group but the era they represented.

It’s hard to imagine a concert like that being pulled off today. It would be loaded with corporate sponsorships and broadcast via YouTube. I can picture people walking through the streets of New York that night, hearing about the show taking place and wandering over to play their part in history. Things like that don’t seem to happen anymore.

I’m not a big fan of live albums but this one is on a whole other level. The recording really captures the vibe on stage that night, as well as the atmosphere in the park. There are mistakes — the pair had hardly any time to rehearse — and banter between the two men and the crowd. There’s the wonderful moment when they sing that line from ‘The Sounds of Silence’ (“and in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more”) and the whole place just goes nuts acknowledging two men standing in front of an ocean of people performing songs that helped define a generation.

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together”
“I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

“Kathy,” I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now”
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera”

“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago”
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #505: ‘America’ – Simon & Garfunkel

  1. Amy says:

    It’s funny… I was all set to agree with you about the way technology has changed an event such as this one, when I remembered that we watched it, I’m guessing, on HBO or Showtime or something? I know we watched it, and I know we didn’t watch it from a perch in Central Park. I wonder who was bemoaning (or celebrating) the advances in technology that allowed them to watch a concert such as that one when they couldn’t similarly partake in Woodstock. Today this concert could go off, it would just be tweeted to the various potential concert-goers and advertised as an “event” on Facebook. That would allow us to see the faces and learn the names of some of the 10,000 around us, to chat with them in anticipation, then reflect with them when it was all over. I wonder if there’s a FB group for people who atteneded this concert live 🙂 I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Anyway, it was an extraordinary concert, and this is an extraordinary song. I’m glad I got to experience even a little bit of that magic.

  2. Dana says:

    Come to think of it, I haven’t heard of any big Central Park concerts going on for awhile. Is that a casualty of 9/11? In addition to this special concert, I remember the famous Diana Ross concert when she sang through a tremendous rainstorm, and there were a few other big concerts in the park in the 80’s.

    Anyway, this is another beautiful song by S&G. I hope that they find a way to reunite again in Central Park. I don’t care who sponsors it or tweets it. It would still be great.

  3. peg says:

    Another wonderful choice, so glad to be back on a computer so I can see your blog again. As far as concerts outside, I know they are doing opera in Lincoln center outside and also some theater in central park during the summer months. So maybe we’ll have another S & G reunion some day!

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