Friday, August 31, 2007

And we walked off to look for America

I'm leaving Israel tomorrow and relocating to the US of A. It took a long while to accomplish this goal, something I worked towards at least a year and has been on my mind for several years now. The shipping company has been at our apartment on Sunday and packed everything, to be sent ahead of us to California. On the evening before I had a whim to listen to Simon & Garfunkel, and once all my other CD's were packed and sent, I had a week to listen over and over again to their 1981 Concert in Central Park. Which brings me back to America.

Paul Simon wrote amazing melodies and lyrics, both simple and layered with meanings. I think that one aspect of his songs that always captured my heart, was the way the American way of life and its politics was evident. Most of the songs in their 1981 concert were written by Simon for the duo's albums in the 60's and Simon's early solo career in the 70's. The mood of that troubled time in the USA is very much there.

Kathy I'm lost, I said
For me, 'America' and 'American Tune' both describe a deep feeling of how USA has lost it's sense of purpose. I think many Americans felt, especially after the end of World War II, that their country has a role in human history, that it stood for Good wherever you find it. America saw itself as the ultimate democracy, promoting human rights, equality, justice and the courage to fight for all of these. This self-image was not undermined by realities such as minorities discrimination and bigotry, by the cruelness done by all parties at the war or by the way the corporate world of America was growing during the 50's and 60's. But by the early 70's this image was badly shaken by the cold war, the Vietnam war and the reaction it had in the public, by the 'summer of love' and the rock'n'roll culture and by a growing detachment between government and people. Nixon's escapades were just the tip of the iceberg. Many Americans doubted their country and what it set out to achieve in the world.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Simon's songs echo the 'lost' feeling not only in the loss of purpose, but also in nostalgic form. They celebrate the heroes-of-old, those who acted heroically out of their modest, private nature. The undertone of most of the songs is very personal, seeing the world from the 'common' person point-of-view. The past is somewhat glorified like the black and white of Kodachrome pictures. Simon's music relied on the folk songs of middle America, much like Bob Dylan's early albums. A tinge of religious music, Hispanic influences, a reverence of 50's rock'n'roll. This music intentionally takes the listener back in time to a simpler world (as opposed to the psychedelic music of the 70's), less angry (as opposed to punk or even Rolling Stones), more common. It speaks to everyone, it never shouts.

Life I love you, all is Groovy
What comfort does Simon & Garfunkel offer? In contrast of the drugs-inspired feel of 'Feelin' Groovy', escape is not the answer - one should accept the hardship of life while trying to find an inner compass. The real 'salvation' according to Simon lies in the 'American spirit', such common decency, headstrong sense of what's right and what's wrong, the kind that the pilgrims (supposedly) had. While I'm not partial to the simplistic nature of such a view, I do relate to the feeling that the complexity of modern world is taking away our ability to stick with the Good side. When all shades are grey, it doesn't really matter if you're greyer than most.
America certainly didn't become simpler since 1981, if anything its the other way around. At the same time, the voting percentage is dropping each election, and it seems that along with the vision of its place in the world, USA has lost the kind of virtues that united the American people. This is the country I'm relocating to, and I wonder if things will seem differently once there.

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