Thursday, April 10, 2014

"So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" /
Simon and Garfunkel

So who invented this National Sibling Day?  I've never heard of this bogus holiday before -- yet now suddenly, today, everybody and their brother are posting all over Facebook these happy smiling pictures of them with their sibs.

And I'm one sib short and it makes me incredibly sad.

So here's a song that I've lately found makes me feel better.

I had already put this on my Holt playlist, but the day I was cleaning out his apartment and put his iPod in the iDock for iShuffle iListening, I was delighted to hear so many S&G tunes in his library. Flashback to our teenage years, when, even before The Graduate made "Sounds of Silence" so iconic, Holt had introduced me to Wednesday Morning 4 AM and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. I bought a guitar just so I could pick out those tunes (painfully, I might add). We were NEW Folkies, which these days would be labeled Indie Rock. Whatever. It wasn't Peter Paul and Mary, that's all we knew.

Jump forward to 1970, when Holt had gone off to college, leaving me at home in Indianapolis to carry the torch. Bridge Over Troubled Water was their last album, and just about every song on it alluded to their impending break-up . . . or so I now realize. Then, not so much. I thought this was a song about an architect. And yeah, if I thought about it that was kinda odd, but what did I know?

But as a farewell song, it's a beauty. It's so tender, so wistful, and just uptempo enough that you know not to despair; they're gonna be okay. That samba beat -- god, how I love a good samba -- soothes and smooths everything out.

Art is singing, at his most angelic. (If nothing else, this album forever stands as his finest singing ever.) That lagging syncopation -- "So / long / Frank Lloyd Wright / I can't believe your song is gone so soon." He's still a little dazed by the news, isn't he? (Me too.) "I barely learned the tune / So soon / So soon..."  What I love about this song is how it sets up Wright as a visionary, WAY ahead of his time (as he was), with the rest of us just scrambling to follow. And now WE ARE LOST, with our beacon snuffed out.

Now, Simon wrote this song but Garfunkel sang it, and I'm not about to get lost in the maze of who was the visionary and who was the acolyte. I prefer to think of it as an Escher print with endless echoes and doubling-backs and leave it at that.

And anyway, the verse that really comes home for me is the next one: "So long / Frank Lloyd Wright / All of the nights we'd harmonize till dawn / I never laughed so long / So long / So long." (You know me and word play; that "so long / so long" never fails to delight.) Then I think of all the late nights my brother and I spent talking, laughing, jumping from subject to subject with lightning flashes of irrelevant relevance ... forty, fifty years of that?  Where am I ever going to find that again?

"Architects may come and / Architects may go and / Never change your point of view," Art gently remarks in the bridge. The implied message? People who change your point of view are the only people worth messing with. Amen.

Is this song about Frank Lloyd Wright?  No, it isn't. It's about another short genius. Yes, Paul Simon. And the idea that Simon had Garfunkel sing this song, which could be construed as a paean to his own genius, makes me grin.

But the beauty of Garfunkel's singing? I'm inclined to say he had the last laugh.

And "when I run dry / I stop awhile and think of you"?  That's a prescription for getting through this season of love and loss. Because the thought of my brother still refuels my tanks, and will for a long time. Forever, most likely.


Mister Pleasant said...

Indeed Art did get the last laugh. Your perception about the true meaning of the song knocked me for a loop initially, then after some digging on the internet I found that even Art was unaware of the that meaning until many years later. When he finally got over being hurt, he said "one loves the giver of a beautiful gift".

So true. That melody was absolutely perfect for Art.

wwolfe said...

I have a vague memory of reading somewhere, long ago, that Art had been an architecture major during his brief academic career. Because of that, I've always read the lyric as Paul saying goodbye to Art. By having Art sing it, Paul somehow manages to administer a subtle burn to his soon-to-be ex-partner, while also acknowledging that Art's friendship was a real source of inspiration for Paul. I always find this odd combination of contradictory emotions to be very touching. (It's also a better, more generous, musical break-up song than any of those written by John about Paul.)

Holly A Hughes said...

Interesting. I had always heard that Art was a math major. So I went to check on Wikipedia and we're both right -- he began as an architecture major, ended up doing art history instead for his BA, then got his MA in math, all at Columbia. So yes, this could be Paul's goodbye to Art as well. I'm inclined to say it's both at the same time.

But now I'm going through the whole album, rethinking the breakup messages in every song. There's something very valedictory about "Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- like "I'm here if you need me, but not all the time anymore." "El Condor Pasa" is about flying away, escape. "Cecelia" is begging someone to come home, but that old Everlys-like sound could be a nod to S&G's early Tom & Jerry sound. "Keep the Customer Satisfied" seems to me to be cynically saying if they stayed together it would only be for commercial reasons. Then on Side Two, you've got the lonely heroic figures of "The Boxer" and "The Only Living Boy in New York" ("Tom, get your plane right on time / I know that you've been eager to fly now.." Art was Tom in Tom & Jerry, wasn't he?) "Baby Driver" is another snappy Everlys-style throwback, but it does have the line "Hit the road and I'm gone." And of course, "Why Don't You Write Me" is about estrangement, with a snarky edge to it. "Bye Bye Love"? Obvious, with another Everlys dig. And in "Song For the Asking," Paul is stepping out solo: "Here is my song / For the asking / Ask me and I will play / So sweetly I'll make you smile." Without Art, it goes without saying...

wwolfe said...

I love that reading of the songs' subtext. I'd add, for what it's worth, that "Why Don't You Write Me" was the tile of a hit doo-wop song by the Jacks in the summer of 1955 - a song that Paul and Art would've harmonized on together, back when they were 14 and figuring things out.