The Sound Of Insomnia

July 27, 2011

One Sunday morning in the spring of 1982, I thumbed through the Entertainment section of the Cincinnati Enquirer and, as I’d hoped, found some album reviews.

(the reviews seemed to appear erratically, but, when they did, it was Sunday)

This particular morning, Simon & Garfunkel’s reunion album, The Concert In Central Park, was spotlighted. My young mind snagged on the reviewer’s assessment that the duo had released considerably more good music during their brief career than REO Speedwagon had during their far lengthier one.

I was fourteen and REO Speedwagon had – after a decade of middling success – notched one of the biggest albums of the ’80s with Hi Infidelity two years earlier. Its follow-up, Good Trouble, was one of the most anticipated of the summer.

I understood the reviewer’s angst, though. Simon & Garfunkel was music for adults and, thus, better than REO Speedwagon and the greasy kid stuff that might be popular with me and my friends.

I doubt that I knew much by Simon & Garfunkel in 1982 and probably couldn’t have named much aside from Bridge Over Troubled Water and Mrs. Robinson, maybe Cecilia and The Boxer.

I’d heard their version of Wake Up Little Susie while listening to Casey Kasem on American Top 40 that spring.

(I was definitely more familiar with REO Speedwagon’s oeuvre)

And I knew The Sound Of Silence.

In October, 1975, I was herded into our auditorium with the other five hundred or so kids in our school.

The lights went out as the film projector fired up. I was seven and nothing broke the tedium of the school day like a film strip. Sitting in folding chairs on the gym floor with my friends was the educational equivilant of being in our hometown theatre for a Saturday matinee.

It was Fire Prevention Week.

For the next forty-five minutes, we were treated to scenes of the carnage that could result from fire.

The one that vividly remains in my head was one of an ordinary-looking family of four, sitting in the living room, watching television. It likely resonated as the very ’70s decor – shag carpet, wood paneling – resembled our family room where, like the family portrayed, we often spent evenings in front of the television.

As the family headed off to bed, the father, extinguishing the lights failed to do the same with his cigarette burning in the ash tray. The next scene was one of firemen removing charred bodies from the rubble.

And playing over the scenes was Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence.

I’ve heard the song be described as haunting, but, after that little Ludovico technique-type experience, I found it to be freaking creepy.

I was also convinced that our house was going to go up in flames if someone didn’t remain vigilant during the wee hours of the night.

Night after night, for weeks – maybe months – I’d lie in bed, remaining awake as long as possible to ensure that we wouldn’t fry like bacon as the duo once known as Tom & Jerry crooned about prophet’s words on subway walls.

(the legacy of Fire Prevention Week ’75 for me has been decades of restless sleep and a song that still makes my skin crawl)

Having not been present for their heydey, I’ve nonetheless become familiar with the hits from Simon & Garfunkel’s catalog throughout the years. But, there are moments when I hear something from the duo -like last week when I heard April Come She Will on television last week – that I make a mental note to dig deeper into their catalog.

In the meantime, here are four songs from Simon & Garfunkel (none of which are The Sound Of Silence)…

Simon & Garfunkel – El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
from The Best Of Simon & Garfunkel

I’m not sure if it’s a true memory or not as I would have been about three when it was a hit, but I seem to have hazy recollections of hearing El Condor Pasa on the radio as a wee child.

Simon & Garfunkel – Mrs. Robinson
from The Best Of Simon & Garfunkel

If I recall, the first time that I saw The Graduate wasn’t long after, like Benjamin Braddock, I had graduated from college. It certainly resonated and put the song Mrs. Robinson into a new light for me.

I still think of a teacher I had in eighth grade when I hear the song. Her name wasn’t Robinson, but she had attended the same college which I would eventually attend. Not long after his star-making turn in The Graduate, she had escorted Dustin Hoffman around campus when he had been a guest for some function.

(she told us that she had him commemorate the day by autographing the interior roof of her VW Bug with a magic marker)

Simon & Garfunkel – America
from The Best Of Simon & Garfunkel

Having had the good fortune to do some aimless wandering, America truly captures the vibe for me of rolling through unfamiliar terrain with no clear destination or being constrained by timetables.

(and making sure there were enough smokes was certainly a concern)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer
from The Best Of Simon & Garfunkel

If I were more disciplined and ambitious, I might compile a list of songs which I would have on my ultimate jukebox as whiteray over at Echoes In The Wind did awhile ago.

If I did so, Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer would definitely have a spot.

It had me at the first lie-la-lie.

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