Sunday, October 4, 2015

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Part 1

Driving back from Canberra last week, I put on a CD I hadn’t played in years: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme”. The album is a collection of classic S & G and some of the tracks - Patterns, The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine, Homeward Bound – kept going around in my head for days.

I’ve made the point before that the lyrics of songs are great poetry in some cases, the works of Dylan, Billy Joel and Leonard Cohen being especially illustrative. Add to that the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel.

It is also interesting to know the background of songs:how they came to be written, what they are about, what some of the lyrics mean.

That said, here is a brief rundown on some of the tracks and the album.

A brief bio from Wikipedia:

Simon & Garfunkel was an American folk rock duo consisting of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel. They were one of the most popular recording artists of the 1960s and became counterculture icons of the decade's social revolution, alongside artists such as the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Their biggest hits—including "The Sound of Silence” (1964/1965), "Mrs. Robinson" (1968), "Bridge over Troubled Water" (1969), and "The Boxer" (1969)—reached number one on singles charts worldwide. Their often rocky relationship led to artistic disagreements, which resulted in their breakup in 1970. Their final studio record, Bridge over Troubled Water, was their most successful, becoming one of the world's best-selling albums. Since their split in 1970 they have reunited several times, most famously in 1981 for the "The Concert in Central Park", which attracted more than 500,000 people, the seventh-largest concert attendance in history.

Btw, Paul Simon is aged 73 and is still performing. In 2014 Simon did a joint world concert tour entitled On Stage Together, with Sting. The tour continued in early 2015, with ten shows in Australia and New Zealand and 23 concerts in Europe, ending on 18 April 2015.

Art Garfunkel is also aged 73, is also still performing including a 2014 tour, and has appeared in films. He has also released poetry anthologies.


How they began: Tom & Jerry (1957-1964).  
Garfunkel named himself Tom Graph, a reference to his interest in mathematics; Simon named himself Jerry Landis, after the surname of Sue Landis, a girl he had dated.

In 1966, at the time that Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme was released.

Paul Simon (right) with Sting, 2014

Art Garfunkel performs with his son, Art Jnr, in 2002

Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon perform during the 38th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Mike Nichols held at Sony Pictures Studios on June 10, 2010

"Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" is the third studio album by Simon & Garfunkel and was released in 1966. Following the success of their debut single "The Sound of Silence", Simon & Garfunkel regrouped after a time apart while Columbia issued their second album, a rushed collection titled Sounds of Silence. For their third album, the duo spent almost three months in the studio, for the first time extending a perfectionist nature both in terms of instrumentation and production.

The album largely consists of acoustic pieces that were mostly written during Paul Simon's period in England the previous year. It is considered to be one of their best efforts.


Side one
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Homeward Bound
The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)

Side two
The dangling Conversation
Flowers Never bend with the Rainfall
A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’ss Into Submission)
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
A Poem on the Underground Wall
7 O’Clock News/Silent Night

Scarborough Fair/Canticle

  • One of S & G’s biggest hits, the song is actually a traditional English ballad about the Yorkshire town of Scarborough and has been dated back to 1300.
  • The singer is setting his former love impossible tasks and says that he will have her back if she completes them – make him a shirt without a seam and then wash it in a dry well, give him an acre of land between the water and the sand, and so on.
  • Minstrels and travelling singers modified and rewrote the song, such that there were dozens of versions by the end of the 18th century.
  • An English folk singer Martin Carthy recorded the song in England after learning of it from a songbook. When Paul Simon was touring in England in 1965 he heard Carthy’s version and lifted it without crediting Carthy. The latter accused Simon of stealing his arrangement, Simon stating in a 2011 interview:
"The version I was playing was definitely what I could remember of Martin's version, but he didn't teach it to me. Really, it was just naivety on my part that we didn't credit it as his arrangement of a traditional tune. I didn't know you had to do that. Then later on, Martin's publisher contacted me and we made a pretty substantial monetary settlement that he was supposed to split with Martin, but unbeknown to me, Martin got nothing."
  • Carthy and Simon did not speak until 2000, when Simon asked Carthy to perform this with him at a show in London. Carthy put his differences aside and did the show.
  • The Scarborough Fair, which was an annual event beginning in 1253, was a big deal in its heyday. It wasn't a medieval fair as we picture as a place to go specifically for amusement. Rather, it was an enormous open-air trading centre/market that attracted merchants and tradesmen from all over the country, as well as impressively large crowds. A trip to Scarborough Fair would be the equivalent of taking a modern-day trip to, say, New York City.
  • Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme:
Parsley, is said to take away bitterness. Medieval doctors took this in a spiritual sense as well.  
Sage is a symbol strength for thousands of years.  
Rosemary represents faithfulness, love and remembrance, and the custom of a bride wearing twigs of rosemary in her hair is still practised in England and several other European countries today. Rosemary sprigs are widely worn on Anzac Day as a symbol or remembrance. 
Thyme symbolises courage, and at the time this song was written, knights would often wear images of thyme on their shields when they went to combat. 
  • "Scarborough Fair" and "Canticle" are 2 songs that are sung simultaneously to create this piece. The first and last verses are "Scarborough Fair," but lines from "Canticle" alternate after the first line of the other verses, so "On the side of a hill in a deep forest green" and "Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested ground" are from "Canticle." 
  • Canticle, written by Art Garfunkel, has an antiwar theme and was written during the Vietnam War:
“War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions
Generals order their soldiers to kill
And to fight for a cause they have long ago forgotten”
  • Impossible tasks:
"Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather" impossible to do,
"Tell her to make me a cambric shirt Without no seams nor needlework" impossible to do (cambric is a fine form of linen).
"Tell her to wash it in a dry well" impossible to do
"Tell her to find me an acre of land Between the salt water and the sea strand" impossible to find
"Then she´ll be a true love of mine" impossible to be.
  • The suggestion is that the singer’s ex was unfaithful, hence his reference to rosemary, a symbol of faithfulness as well as remembrance. Having set the impossible tasks for his ex to do if she is to be reunited with him, the final lines:  “Remember me to one who lives there/She once was a true love of mine" are the equivalent of saying “Good luck”.


  • The lyrics are about how life is a labyrinthine maze, following patterns that are difficult to unravel or control although we are trapped in them.
  • Pure poetry:
The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees
And the light from a streetlamp
Paints a pattern on my wall
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl 
Read the rest of the lyrics at:

Homeward Bound:

Hear it at:
  • Written by Paul Simon, the song was composed in 1964 during his period in London, England. Away from his love interest Kathy Chitty while touring clubs, Simon felt depressed and homesick. He first penned the song on a scrap of paper outside the Widnes railway station in Widnes.
  • Chitty is mentioned in several other Simon & Garfunkel songs, most notably "Kathy's Song" and "America". In their 1970 hit "The Boxer", Simon alludes to a railway station, a possible reference to "Homeward Bound".
  • Paul Simon performed this song with Billy Joel at Joel's concert on August 4, 2015 at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York. This was the last concert at the venerable arena, and Simon was a surprise guest. It marked the first time Joel and Simon ever sung together.
  • A plaque commemorating Simon’s writing the song there is displayed on the Liverpool bound platform of Widnes railway station:
  • Simon is quoted as saying "[i]f you'd ever seen Widnes, then you'd know why I was keen to get back to London as quickly as possible.”

Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine

Hear it at:
  • Written by Paul Simon, "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" is Simon’s comment on advertising. It was written while Simon was in London watching his clothes in a washing machine and particularly targets radio and television commercials.
  • The notes for The Columbia Studio Recordings (1964–1970), a 2001 release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and four other albums, called the track "Simon's caricature of consumer culture", although in a 2006 review of The Graduate, John Nesbit called the track "a silly flop that no self-respecting young person played even back in the 1960s".
  • It is a catchy and fun song, I love the lines “Are you worried / 'Cause your girlfriend's just a little late? / Are you looking for a way to chuck it all?”
  • The song and its message are still relevant today, especially in its satirising advertising’s message that buying something will solve life’s problems.

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy):

Hear it at:
  • The opening lines – “Slow down, you move too fast” – set the scene for the meaning of the song.
  • 59th Street bridge (officially the Queensboro Bridge), goes over the East River in New York City, connecting Queens to Manhattan. Simon & Garfunkel are from New York, which has a very hectic pace. In this song they remind us to slow down and appreciate the simple pleasures in life, like cobblestones and flowers.
59th Street bridge, seen from Manhattan, 2010
  • When he performed at Tufts University in 1966, Simon said of this song: 
"I spent most of the year 1965 living in England, and at the end of that year in December, I came back to the United States, 'The Sound Of Silence' had become a big hit, and I had to make this adjustment from being relatively unknown in England to being semi-famous here, and I didn't really swing with it. It was a very difficult scene to make, and I was writing very depressed-type songs until around June of last year. I started to swing out of it, I was getting into a good mood, and I remember coming home in the morning about 6 o'clock over the 59th Street Bridge in New York, and it was such a groovy day really, a good one, and it was one of those times when you know you won't be tired for about an hour, a sort of a good hanging time, so I started to write a song that later became the 59th Street Bridge Song or Feelin' Groovy."

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