A lot changed during the 18 months between Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and the release of Bookends. The Vietnam War was reaching its critical stage, the release of Sgt. Peppers had impacted the very fiber of modern music, Jimi Hendrix had exploded upon the scene, and Simon & Garfunkel had helped to organize the legendary Monterey Pop Festival.
Simon and Garfunkel were legitimate stars by the time of this release. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme had reached number four on the album charts. The movie, The Graduate, with the memorable, “Mrs. Robinson,” would enable Simon & Garfunkel to reach a whole new audience and build upon their established fame.
Bookends, released April 3, 1968, held the number one slot in the U.S. for seven weeks and remained on the charts for over a year thereafter. The duo was now a mouthpiece for a generation and Bookends represented their manuscript for this place in time, containing a series of poetic stories about innocence, loss and the American Dream.
There were four single releases from this album, three of them selling well but not reaching the top ten. “Fakin’ It” (#23) and especially “At The Zoo” (#16) and “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (#13) may have been just a little too thought provoking for radio and car music, but within the context of the album they worked well. “Fakin’ It” is about life’s insecurities. “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” is a thoughtful song about time passing quickly with a melody that belies its serious content. “At The Zoo” is a complicated song with obscure lyrics that almost defies understanding but always brings the listener back for another try.
The fourth single, “Mrs, Robinson,” ultimately reached number one. It became a signature song for the duo and would cross generational lines as it addressed eternal themes of life and time’s passing. The song would go on to win the Grammy Award as Record of the Year.
Another tune that would stand the test of time is “America.” which remains a part of Paul Simon’s concert repertoire. It is interesting to think of the ever-changing context of this song over the years.
One of the most memorable two minutes on the album, “Voices Of Old People,” gathered a string of reflections by the elderly, which Art Garfunkel recorded at rest homes. Entire lives are presented in just a sentence or two. I wish the album could have concluded with this track as it is the ultimate bookend.
This album and I have aged forty years since its release and these end of life thoughts are more poignant, sadder and real for me today. When the track “Old Friends” follows, there is a sigh for what can never be again.
Bookends remains an album I play over and over again. As I have aged, these songs have taken on new personal substance and meaning, communicating on both conscious and unconscious levels. Music rarely gets better than this.