‘So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright’, by Simon and Garfunkel
I must have first heard this song when I was 10 or 11. It was the start of a strange teenage obsession with the music of Simon & Garfunkel; most specifically the work of Paul Simon. I would be surprised it between the ages of 10 and 15 a day passed without me listening to one of Simon’s compositions. On several occasions I have met people I hadn’t seen since college days who asked if I was still a fan. I think, I know in fact, that at the time I must have bored everyone to death talking about Simon’s music.
This fixation led to random peculiarities. I became a walking encyclopaedia of New York City and would know the names of all the city’s skyscrapers, the surface of Central Park, the geography of each borough, etc.; skills which have proved very useful on each of my visits to the Big Apple. Simon’s song ‘The Dangling Conversation’ made me discover the poetry of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson in their original versions; not something all that common when you are 11 and French. Similarly, ‘So Long…’ enticed me to read about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and to this day I love his work. I am uncertain though whether this feeling has remained because of what the song meant to me as a teenager of whether I genuinely liked Wright’s style. Undeniably there is a certain austere quality to his buildings, yet warmth and vivacity, particularly with the use of natural elements like trees, which has always appealed to me. I can see how this duality is present in the music that I make myself.
When I hear the song today, I wonder how my younger self was able to connect to what is quite a complicated and mature piece of music with opaque lyrics. It is a slow rumba, lead by a beautifully played nylon string guitar, accompanied by lush orchestral parts as well as jazzy flute and percussion arrangements. It is both symphonic and extremely intimate, South American yet traditionally pop. Art Garfunkel’s interpretation is stunning, his delicate voice floating over the multifaceted music. The listener follows Garfunkel’s breathtaking vocal melody and soon forgets the words that he sings, the complex changes in the guitar chords and the interweaving string and flute sections. Being able to create a vocal line that takes you away from the music and allows you to get lost in it is something I have always been fascinated with. Success in this venture, as Simon & Garfunkel achieve here, means that the song can be listened to over and over while never sounding the same. With every play, the listener perceives new facets, new subtleties; an unexplored richness, depending on what he or she focuses their attention on. It seems that one can never fully grasp the meaning of the song. As in a Brueghel painting, you may try different standpoints, but you will never manage to have a complete perspective so you keep going back for more in the hope that one day you will fully understand.
Angèle David-Guillou’s album Kourouma is out now on Village Green.