Richard Goldstein Talks to Simon and Garfunkel
November 3, 1966, Vol. XII, No. 3
The Sound of J.D. Salinger Clapping
By Richard Goldstein
We know about the sound of two hands clapping. We're pretty sure these days what one hand clapping sounds like. But what is the sound of J.D. Salinger clapping?
Paul Simon has the answer; so clap along.
You read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarks
That measure what we've lost.
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time,
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives.
Those image-drenched words have never appeared between slim cardboard covers marked with Japanese water colors. They have never dwelt in the refuge of a dust jacket, or in the praise of a window display at Brentanos. The Book of the Month Club hasn't had a finger in the distribution.
"Dangling Conversation" is modern music, teenage music, rock 'n' roll. You won't find it between the Library lions. You can't hear it at the 92nd Street Y. And even though they won't be studying verse by Paul Simon in lit this year, chances are he's brought you closer to the feel and texture of modern poetry than anything since the big black-out.
"Dangling Conversation" is the fourth hit for Simon and Garfunkel, the folk-rock team that sounds as though it ought to be running a delicatessen.
Their first single, "The Sound of Silence," made the charts in the heat of the folk-rock blaze. AM jockeys conveniently fit it into the newly-emerging protest bag. It looked well next to Barry MacGuire -- what wouldn't? Its sound -- gentle guitars, touches of mauve in the voice -- were in marked contrast to its theme: man's alienation from you know whom.
That theme has become an abundant source for Simon and Garfunkel. "The Sound of Silence" was followed by "Homeward Bound," the definitive word on the loneliness of the long-distance pop singer. "I Am a Rock" told the teenie intellectual, trapped and sheltered by his intelligence, where he was at. And "Dangling Conversation" brings it all down to the basic two: the guy in his wrinkled tweed jacket and wheat jeans, and his girl, in a Goodyear rubber raincoat and sandals. Its subject is the collegiate miasma; a love affair succumbing to emotional gangrene.
...Both Simon and Garfunkel grew up with rock 'n' roll. "The early music was a drag," says Paul. "The early '60s were a very bad time. See, I trace it through me. So, around that time, I was 18 or 19, and the music was lousy so I started looking for other areas and, like I settled for folk; it touched me more."
Both performers came of age in Kew Gardens. Art Garfunkel remembers a line of attached brick houses, with porches and trimmed hedges, a Jewish neighborhood. Simon's block was "no man's land. They played roller hockey over there."
Simon and Garfunkel don't like to talk about Queens. "I'd rather not even think about that time," says Art. Paul concurs. "Yeah, let's get off the subject. "Reasons?
Only a guess, of course, but a working man's semi-attached paradise is a hippy's inferno, and Simon and Garfunkel are New York hippies. They are partial to black jersey turtle-necks and six-foot scarves. In photos, they are always grooving on some litter-strewn chess table in Washington Square. Their hair has evolved with the times (the first album shows the pair in demi-crewcuts and single-breasted suits; by the second LP they are wandering down a country road with the look of revelation in their eyes, in capes and jeans, hair making inroads upon their ears.)
They are the local product, the New York student. Garfunkel is more likely to show up for lunch at Ta-Kome than he is to make the midtown luncheon scene. The is because Ta-Kome is a landmark sandwich shop near Columbia University, where Garfunkel is registered at Teacher's College. When he's finished there, he'll be a qualified math teacher. He fancies teaching at his old school -- P.S. 164 -- but just for a year or so.
Paul Simon is a Queens College man. He's out of school now, but he retains the calculated veneer of a student. He bobs back and forth in his chair as he speaks. His speech is laced with "likes" and "mans". He says "shit" like a Negro from Kew Gardens. You could call him nervous or frenetic, dedicated or neurotic, depending on your city editor. A Paul Simon interview covers an entire range of topics, like a verbal tablecloth....
Does Paul want to meet the Beatles?
"Yeah, I wouldn't say I was anxious to meet them. I probably would feel awkward. They're superhumans. I can't think of what I'd like to say to them...I'd probably stand in awe...I can't think of an opening line. What can you say to the Beatles? You have to wait for the Beatles to say something to you. And the whole thing becomes very courtlike. 'Cause the Beatles are like, the royalty of rock 'n' roll. Yeah. What would that make the Stones? If the Beatles were, like, Windsor...what were the two families in 'King Lear'? York? Chesterfield? It doesn't matter, huh?"...
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]