First of all, if you know me at all, you know I’m obsessed with these two gentlemen and have been since the age of about 12. I listened to them in my room for hours on end in junior high school and on eight track tapes in my 1970 Volkswagen Karman Ghia in high school. In fact, they taught me to sing some pretty darned good harmony.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, elementary school friends from Queens, New York, are known for the combination of Simon’s thoughtful and poetic lyrics and Garfunkel’s angelic soaring tenor voice. For me, what sets them apart has always been their flawless vocal blend in both harmony and unison. As many times as I’ve listened to each of their songs, the unison is so pure that there are always at least a few measures when it’s impossible to tell whether or not both are singing.
Lest you think it’s simply good audio post-production, it’s apparent also in this live recording and many others. Not only the voices, but the breathing, the inflection, the vowels and the consonants are so completely in sync as to create the illusion of one voice.
I love the idea that in perfect unison, it’s not about the individual — it’s about what two (or more) individuals create together — greater than the effort from any one person.
But unison gets a little boring without harmony. Harmony requires notes that are not the same to create a fuller, richer sound. It can be two voices or a 100-voice choir, but each voice must be in tune with the other, must listen and match inflection and breathing as in unison.
While Simon’s and Garfunkel’s voices blend in perfect harmony, sadly, their spirits do not. Their personal relationship has been rocky and, though the two men express genuine love and respect for one another, their differences prevent them from working together for any length of time.
This makes Old Friends, written in 1968, all the more poignant. It’s a vivid word picture of an enduring friendship between two aging men who share life’s ups and downs and know one another well.
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
At the time these words were written, the 27-year-old Simon probably thought 70 was a lifetime away. Both turned 70 in 2011 and I can’t help but wonder if they were surprised by how quickly that milestone came.
I enjoy the music each has made in their subsequently successful solo careers, but, for me, nothing has ever matched what they created together.
Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears
Take just a couple of minutes and listen to the blended voices and the unison, the lyrics and the simplicity of Simon’s acoustic guitar.
I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere. What do y’all think it is?