“And they’ve all come to look for America”

Tonight, folks, we have a musical post. Very nice music too! And it’s all about the song in the video above, so feel free to start with that before reading on.

The Magnificent SevenRight: so here’s why that song is my topic today. You might recall how in a post the other night I said that one thing I find very evocative about the oh-so-’60s theme music from the movie The Magnificent Seven is how it makes one think of wide open (American) spaces, and thus speaks (musically, I mean) to the longing so many young people felt back in those heady 1960s and early ’70s days to get out on the road and find both themselves and, yes, America. Whatever that means. But hey, it was the ’60s.

Oh, and by the way: Did any 1960s/’70s young people from my own country set out on the road to “find Canada”? I have to admit that I’ve never heard of such a phenomenon. Somehow finding America seemed to be more the thing to do. Perhaps it was because Pierre Juneau’s Canadian-content (“CanCon”) rules hadn’t yet come into effect.

At any rate, as I was typing the words about hitting the road in search of America in that earlier post, a lovely song from the 1960s came into my head, and it’s been running around there ever since. Lots of you will know it, but many may not – which is why I thought it might be a nice thing to share of a pleasant summer Saturday evening.

It is Paul Simon‘s song (as performed by Simon and Garfunkel) called America, which was on the 1968 Simon and Garfunkel album Bookends. I heard it for the first time in my life only a very few years ago, and was mesmerized by it. And I assumed it was about those same young people I’ve mentioned, hitting the road to, as the duo sings, “look for America.”

In fact, upon examining the lyrics more closely just now as I’m writing this post, it doesn’t seem to be about that, exactly. Yes, the chorus in which Artie Garfunkel sings his typically divine harmony goes on about people who have “all come to look for America.” But the people in Paul Simon’s song (who include the narrator [Simon himself?] and a woman named Kathy) are heading east on a Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh, by way of Saginaw, Mich., toward, apparently (given the reference to the New Jersey Turnpike), New York City – as opposed to all those young people at the time who, following Jack Kerouac‘s example, were thumbing it west to California and, more specifically, San Francisco. And actually, at this juncture let’s insert another great song of the era on  that very topic:

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, Paul Simon’s song America. Well: heading east to “look for America” is an odd thing (though, now that I think of it, kind of Paul Simon-ish); in the great American tradition of the open road and the wide open spaces it is west that one goes to find one’s fortune and/or reinvent oneself and/or look for America.

But that doesn’t stop America from being a brilliant and beautiful song. I am particularly impressed with how amazing Simon and Garfunkel sound doing it live, at that huge (and now very long ago) concert in Central Park back in 1981.

Hey, wait a minute! Is 1981 really “long ago”? It seems like yesterday! Uh-oh…

5 thoughts on ““And they’ve all come to look for America”

  1. Kathy Chitty was Simon’s girlfriend (met her in England when she was 17 and he was 22). She’s the muse for whom Kathy’s Song was written and also shows up in at least two other songs: Homeward Bound and The Late Great Johnny Ace.

    Here’s a pic:

    Another great Simon tune about America, of course, is tiitled American Tune. Simon clearly pinched the melody line from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which Bach himself “reworked” from a secular tune by Hans Leo Hassler.

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