Some albums you just don't need to own, because...well, everyone out there seems to own it, and you can just listen to their copy. At least, that was how the logic went circa 1990, when CDs and tapes were all the rage. In this case, my sister, who left a fair bit of her music collection behind when she went to college, was my unknowing benefactor whenever I snuck to her room and borrowed her copy of Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits.
My music collection back in 1990 left a fair bit of testosterone to be desired, and this album certainly didn't contribute to the cause. What it did do, though, was to allow me to work on my voice on some of the most poignant and beautiful songs from the 1960s. Anoretic ol' me couldn't rumble down low quite yet, and for some reason, I idealized a high tenor, so I did what I could to nurture said tenor. (It certainly came in handy a year later when I began my choral career.) And I tried to ape Simon and Garfunkel's straight, unobtrusive, simply declarative singing. Any high notes sounded effortless, and that was my goal...regardless of how much my neck muscles and jugular veins would pop out, I would make those high Fs perfect, and not in falsetto, either!
I still point to Art Garfunkel's "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her" as a crystalline example of how tender and touching singing can be. (I don't care that Paul Simon wrote the song...Art owns that damned thing.) The imagery is beautiful, and virtually every phrase is an impressionistic reverie ("I heard cathedral bells/Tripping down the alleyways"; "What a dream I had, dressed in organdy, clothed in crinoline of smoky burgundy"; "We walked on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight"). Say what you will about Simon's precious poesy elsewhere...here, he gets it perfect. The delicate and pointillistic accompaniment is gorgeous and perfectly suits the mood.
I also jibed with "I Am A Rock," Simon's declaration of emotional independence from all around him. Friends and lovers be damned, he was going it alone...and as an alienated teenager who found little of emotional sustenance to be had around me, so would I. Again, his fascination with poetry came to the forefront, where he intentionally contradicted John Donne's famous poem "No Man Is An Island."
Such was my resonance with this album and its melancholy that by mid-high school, I could sing anything on it, with memorized lyrics and the correct key, at a moment's notice. But as I grew older, so did this album, and we began to part ways during the latter years of high school. By mid-college, I had little use of it. The only reason I returned to it now was based on the 50th anniversary of JFK's death. I had mistakenly thought that "Mrs. Robinson" was the #1 song at the time of his death (actually, it was some song about a flying nun or something), when actually it was around RFK's death. Either way, I had remembered reading about how the lyrics seemed to echo America's sentiment at the time. ("Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.") So I decided to revisit the album...and on the recommendation of many others, ended up getting its more expansive and sonically-updated relative, The Best of Simon and Garfunkel. It's nice to have more songs here, particularly from Bookends, an album I never had. But much like people sometimes complained about the sterility of CD sound vs. the warmth of vinyl, I feel like something has been lost in the upgrade somehow, and I miss the familiarity of the original audio. Oh well. It still is good to have these guys back again.