I sometimes feel Paul Simon has been writing the soundtrack of my life.
Maybe it’s because we see the world from the same low angle, were both born Jewish, both grew up in New York at about the same time.
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
So, when I read recently that Simon, 74, is thinking about not making any more music, I thought …
Oh, hell, I’m not sure what I thought.
Memory brushes the same years.
Silently sharing the same fear.
I bought the first Simon and Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, when I was commuting to my first job in Manhattan, exploring the city’s shadowy corners at night.
And the sign said ‘The words of the prophets
Are written on subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.’
It was about this time I clipped from a magazine – and carried in my wallet many years – a line scratched on a subway wall: It’s 3 a.m. and I’m scared.
In 1968, I packed that first Simon and Garfunkel album, and the second, and the third, in the trunk of my ’64 Mustang – white, with red interior, stick shift on the floor – and headed for the West Coast.
Before I left, I went to a movie theater on Third Avenue to see The Graduate.
Mrs. Robinson blasted from my radio all the way along Route 66, then in Benjamin Braddock’s tire tracks from L.A. to San Francisco.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
In the early spring, I was living with my girlfriend in the cheapest one-room apartment in Pacific Heights, at the corner of California and Laguna.
I kept getting turned down for newspaper jobs. She was renting cars for Hertz at the airport.
On the night of April 4, driving down the 101 to pick her up, the news on the radio was all about the assassination of Martin Luther King and riots across the country.
When we got home, we sat in the dark, a single candle burning, listening to the new Bookends album I’d picked up earlier in the day at Tower Records.
Time it was,
And what a time it was,
It was …
A time of innocence.
A time of confidences.
That girlfriend became my wife, then my ex-wife. She left with the Beatles albums. I kept Simon and Garfunkel.
Before we split, we had a daughter, Kate, who was weaned on Simon songs.
The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly, but they’re dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.
Simon and Garfunkel split, I moved to Canada, married Linda, had two more daughters.
Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries.
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.
The records were set aside, cassette tapes were plugged into the dashboard, replaced by CDs on family road trips.
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,
They’ve all come to look for America.
In 2001, stunned by 9/11, we drove from our home in suburban Toronto to New York for Thanksgiving with our American family. I wrote a piece for the Toronto Star on the homecoming, punctuated by Simon’s American Tune.
And high up above, my eyes could clearly see,
The Statue of Liberty,
Sailing away to sea.
And I dreamed I was flying.
It ended with:
Linda and I went to Ground Zero, filing past the jumbled ruins with the silent and solemn queues, a cop keeping up a steady chant: “Please keep moving. Take your pictures, and please keep moving.” People did as they were told. Maybe we were all Canadians.
“What do you think?” Linda asked.
“About what?” I replied.
“About being here?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, “except everything’s changed.”
We walked through the financial district, to a restaurant at the South Street Seaport. I could see the Statue of Liberty in silhouette. A jetliner flew overhead.
But it’s all right, it’s all right.
You can’t be forever blessed.
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day,
And I’m just trying to get some rest.
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.
When I wrote a memoir in 2007, recounting of my life in journalism, I turned to Simon for an epigraph:
When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,
It’s a wonder I can think at all.
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none,
I can read the writing on the wall.
When my daughter Jodie opened a Twitter account for me without my knowledge last year, instead of a photo she traced those first two lines from Kodachrome over a 1950s tableau of hot cars.
And, last week, when I sent my kids the story with Simon saying he may give up making music, daughter Lacey replied: “I now have Graceland stuck in my head.”
And I may be obliged to defend,
Every love, every ending,
Or maybe there’s no obligations now.
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received