Melancholy Harmony

by Neil Fein
I always saw Simon and Garfunkel’s albums as boomy, echoing voices from the past, their clear harmonies telling me stories of the inevitable loneliness and alienation I’d soon experience as a young man.

I would sit on the floor of my room and listen to the cassette tape of “The Concert in Central Park” over and over again. I was mesmerized by this glimpse into years I had yet to live. I knew perfectly well that these records sold millions of copies. I also knew in my heart that they were talking to me, reassuring me, warning me.

Later, I bought S&G’s studio albums, starting with the folk-rock “Sounds of Silence” and ending with the studio masterpiece “Bridge over Troubled Water”. Guitars were not as clear as they are on modern records, and drums sounded, for the most part, muffled and distorted and tinny. (Like my portable record player.) But the engineers of that time wisely put most their energies into capturing Art and Paul’s vocals. The duo made four albums before breaking apart in bickering and in diverging artistic goals; all four are wonderful in their own ways.

“The Concert in Central Park” is made by seasoned, professional musicians, well-rehearsed and tightly produced. As I bought their sixties studio albums, one by one, I found that the performances were more understated and the sound was less clear, the arrangements built up to showcase their tight, lush harmonies. But Paul Simon’s melodies were deceptively simple, usually hiding surprising, complex plot twists under what seemed to be a simple foundation. Growing tired of themes of alienation, Simon explored old age and nostalgia in their themed album “Bookends”. I wonder if growing old feels familiar to the songwriter, who’s reached the seventy years he wrote about when he was in his twenties. And as I grow older, I often think of the suite of songs on first side of the album “Bookends” that explore the passage of time; songs that are melancholy but somehow never depressing or morose.

The airy harmonies that Simon and Garfunkel sang turned what might have been stories of unbearably collegiate isolation into relatable, emotional art. Paul Simon has succeeded brilliantly in other ways, telling us tales of marriages falling apart and culture in the New York area. In his solo career, he virtually created what we now think of as world music. But he’s never recaptured that magic Paul and Art sound, and he’s no longer telling me stories about my inevitable future.


Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here, and even ask for a free sample edit. He rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when he damn well feels like it. He also plays acoustic guitar in the bands Baroque & Hungry, and The Trouvères.

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One Comment to “Melancholy Harmony”

  1. You sure have conjured up memories with this post. A former boyfriend of mine used to always say, “The memories are in the music.”. Boy, was he right.

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