This record is worth getting, if only for the cover, which captures the amazing resemblance of Simon and Garfunkel to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, respectively. Or maybe Avedon has merely captured them at their high-fashion best. It is hard sometimes, to find out who is putting whom on. Someone has succeeded.
The music is, for me, questionable, but I’ve always found their music questionable. It is nice enough, and I admit to liking it, but it exudes a sense of process, and it is slick, and nothing too much happens. It is, also, and this is certainly not a fault per se, not rock and roll, whatever that is. For instance, “Overs,” the weakest cut on the LP, would lend itself well to a Streisand styling. On “Old Friends,” strings are used with wild abandon, when they might better not have been used at all. The phrasing in the song, which has a kind of folk song feeling, is too loose for anything but a show song at its most dishonest. On “America,” however, there is a fine horn arrangement, and “A Hazy Shade of Winter” is simple but compelling.
The lyrics are a surprise, and they are fine. Simon, in Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme the most self-consciously “poetic” and arty of rock lyricists, has come up, in some places, with the most refined use of the prose aesthetic in rock music since “Between the Buttons”: “‘Kathy,’ I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh, ‘Michigan seems like a dream to me now.'” In the same song, “America,” he manages to “look for America” and discover it in the search itself, in its endless motion; “Watching the cars on the New Jersey turnpike/All come to look for America.” His ear for common speech extends to: “The cops can’t do a decent job/’Cause the kids have no respect for the law/And blah blah blah.”
In “Mrs. Robinson,” written for The Graduate, Simon has composed perhaps the best song of the movie genre. It follows the plot, but it explains it in imagery outside of the strict confines of that plot. It is also a wonderful song about America, even a rock and roll song, and it is rather poignant: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio/ A nation turns its lonely eyes to you … God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson/Heaven holds a place for those who pray …” “A Hazy Shade of Winter” is an exception to the prose aesthetic, but the attempt at poetry is restrained and not at all taste – curdling. “Punky’s Dilema” (“I’m a boysenberry jam fan”) and “At the Zoo” are a little too cute. Zoo” are a little too cute.
The strangest thing of all is a cut called “Voices of Old People,” which is just that. It is an interesting idea, but most of the old people sound like character actors.