Old friends

Editorial Notebook

December 13, 2003|By Nicky Penttila

IT'S NOT ONLY the legion of baby boomers who never fell out of love with folk crooners Simon and Garfunkel. For their children, captive home audiences for furniture-size hi-fis also playing the likes of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Judy Collins, that color of their music is the clarion of first memories.

Spare, coordinated, harmonic. Melody over rhythm, perfect for dancing one of those otherworldly child-dances in a shaft of afternoon sunlight, staying out of mom's way so she can have a quiet hour.

Those flower children's children, now in their 30s and 40s, have snapped up tickets for the duo's "Old Friends" tour, which stops at the MCI Center tomorrow and Monday. Both generations have come a long way from the free-style communal-living dogma of that past, though -- they aren't balking at post-millennium ticket prices that range from $53 to $228. Tickets went so fast that the second performance date was speedily added.

Their eagerness could be seen around company water coolers. A group of forty- something women were overheard plotting to send one of their mothers (now retired) to stand in line for tickets, planning a multigenerational girls night out for eight. A pair of thirtysomethings reminisced over institutional coffee about what their lives were like (riding bicycles equipped with learner's wheels, wearing homemade jumpers) way back when. And, later, discovering the stories behind the music.

For older adults, Simon and Garfunkel also are a story of idealism and friends in and out of harmony. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met in elementary school five decades ago, and in the 1960s their aural urban snapshots defined the gentle side of anti-establishment culture. They fell out, as friends do, and have rarely performed together since breaking up in 1970. When they did sing together, though, the magic still flickered. Their reunion concert in Central Park drew a half-million people.

They opened the Grammy awards this February with "The Sound of Silence," and what had been a prickly non-partnership had somehow returned to good company. The rehearsal "forced us to hang out together again, and then it turned really very pleasant," Art Garfunkel told David Letterman after they performed the same song on the Late Show. "You know, you make a big deal of things when there's distance." Then, suddenly, it's as if one is back in that shaft of sunlight.

Their kids' memories, though, differ in tone. They don't remember the breakup that drew tears from their mothers and aunts. They remember thinking "I am a Rock" was a song about a rock. They remember less the poetry and anger of the words, but instead the beauty of the tones, the shape of the words, the unmistakable hope and faith.

Those impressions are now overlaid with knowledge -- recognizing the harmony here is in thirds, there in fifths or unison, recognizing that this is an old choral song, that an original. But let loose the constricting constructions, and it's easy to return to the open spaces, the endless discovery, of early memory.

Though shorter-term than the Beatles and less stylistically diverse than Motown's singers or Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel crystallized a style of thoughtfulness, gentle protest and yearning for the ideal that can uncloud a heavy mind even on a dark day. Their falling back in tune with each other, too, offers hope to listeners in this time, with its parallels to the 1960s' factional politics and splintering society, darkened by re-emerging intolerance.

How can all be lost when a voice sounds like a cathedral bell, or a single line recalls a summer's day?

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