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The gift of music

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for The Coalition of Awesomeness blog some time ago. The blog has since gone to an unfortunate (but very awesome) grave so I thought I’d share it here. This particular entry has a special meaning for me, and may shed some light on one of the entries on the list in a recent post.

ParsleySageIt wasn’t my birthday, or Christmas, or any of the typical gift giving occasions. It was just a day. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, laying on my bedroom floor, playing with something or coloring. Maybe I was using our portable record player (yes, an actual record player… you know, vinyl, big circle, a needle… never mind… you kids and your technology…) to listen to some kids album or story.

Anyway… I was just there alone in the room and my Dad came in and said he had something for me. He didn’t make a big deal of it. He just said there was a song on this record that he thought I’d like. He put the record on and moved the needle to the right spot to play The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). And we sat there on the floor and listened together. He was right; I liked it. We listened to it a few more times and sang along with the catchy, happy tune. After a while we listened to a few more of the songs and I got my first taste of “grown up” music. And I liked it. And then he said he was giving me the album.

Thus did Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme become the first album I ever owned. It would have a huge impact on my life. I still love it today.

I didn’t love it all at once. There were a few songs that I tended to skip. But I listened to the ones I liked a lot. And eventually I began to like the others as well. Over my teen years I began to understand more of the layers of the songs as I learned more about the climate in which they were written. And my appreciation of the craft that Paul Simon poured into his songs grew.

As we moved into the era of cassette tapes I got another copy of this album. I also got other Simon and Garfunkel albums, and as cassette players became standard in cars, those tapes became standards on our car trips. Any trip over a half-hour would inevitably find Dad and I singing along with these songs. We still talk about those times singing along with Homeward Bound and Scarborough Fair/Canticle on our way taking me to and from college.

That one understated day in the ’70s when my Dad handed me this album had a huge impact on my life. It was the first time I ever owned something “grown up” – and thus was a rite of passage of sorts; it provided many bonding moments for me and my Dad; it was my introduction to “serious” music; it shaped much of my musical tastes; and it spurred my interest in music as a performer/composer (though the latter wouldn’t really take shape for a few more decades, my analysis of the construction of these songs was undeniably a factor).

The day may have been understated, but it would be hard to overstate how much it ended up meaning to me.

Thanks, Dad.

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2 comments to The gift of music

  • Paul N

    I remember reading this before, and I was reminded of it in your “very incomplete list of things I remember about Dad” from your recent post. I feel compelled to share my thoughts on another Simon & Garfunkel album titled “Bridge over Troubled Water”.

    Like you when I was young I heard Simon & Garfunkel songs because the grown-ups in my life were playing them, specifically my Mom and Dad. I recall loving these from when I was age 5: “Bridge over Troubled Water” and “Cecilia”.

    Much later in my college years I recall finding this album (yeah my folks still had the vinyl and a record player) and re-acquainting myself with it and discovering new favorites like “Keep the Customer Satisfied”. I was surprised that it contained a really great horn-section part.

    When I listen to that album today I feel a great nostalgic connection to my youth. There is something else as well – a spiritual connection – perhaps because of Simon & Garfunkel’s use of church-like reverb (echo effect) in most songs on that album, especially “El Condor Pasa” and the “lie-la-lie” section of “The Boxer”. According to songfacts.com the big crashing, echoing drum sound in that “lie-la-lie” section “…came from the drums being setup in front of an elevator shaft in the CBS building in NYC”.

    Finally I’ll mention the song “Bye, Bye, Love” ( a cover of the original written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and made famous by the Everly Brotehrs) which was recorded live by Simon and Garfunkel at a concert in Ames, Iowa. A performance made very powerful by the crowd.

    All the songs on this album are great, and you should pick it up if it’s not already in your collection; but I’m sure it already is :)

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    A few years back I got the entire S&G collection as a gift on CD, so anything I was missing to that point has been filled in. :)

    Cecelia has always been one of my favorites. That’s one of the first songs I heard with a more complicated rhythm. Love it.

    Love that horn section, too. The Boxer is, of course, awesome (though to be honest I think it goes on just slightly too long). That’s cool abou the elevator shaft. Wonder if that’s true.

    I heard the Everly Bros., version of Bye, Bye, Love way back. I didn’t know it was a cover for them, too.

    I really like every song on that album, actually. Even So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I like how Garfunkel sounds and I dig the flute and guitar, the whole arrangement.

    If I’m not mistaken, the two of them hated each other so much by this point that they weren’t even in the studio together when recording this album. Impressive album nonetheless.

    I’m surprised you didn’t rediscover S&G in my dorm room – I know I was playing it from time to time.

    I can’t hear a single S&G song from any of their albums without getting hit with some serious nostalgia.

    Reply to this comment

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