To understand this song, one must know a bit about what was going on in the duo at the time. Yes, they were breaking up. But one of the reasons is less well-remembered today, and that was Garfunkel's desire to pursue a career as an actor.
The song is addressed to "Tom." This was Garfunkel's name when the duo was going by Tom and Jerry; Garfunkel was Tom Garr and Simon was Jerry Landis. The reference, of course, was to the famous cat-and-mouse cartoon.
Garfunkel was about to shoot the movie version of the anti-war novel Catch-22, which was going to film in Mexico. Which explains the first verse, in which Tom has a "part" for which he is going there.
Leaving Jerry, which is to say Paul, as the one left back in New York. He will feel as isolated as if everyone else in the city were dead.
The next verse hearkens back to their earlier, perhaps simpler days. A verse about the weather being the only important news, and having "nothing to do... but smile," could just as well have been said by the speaker of "Cloudy" or "Feelin' Groovy."
The final verse returns to the sentiment of farewell. (Along with "So Long" and the Everly cover "Bye Bye Love," this makes three farewell songs on one album, in case anyone had missed the point.)
The word "fly" here, in "I know your eager to fly, now," means more than just to take an airplane flight. Simon knows Garfunkel is eager to "fly" in the sense of "flee." He wants to escape the group and embark on his new artistic adventure, and he does not begrudge him his enthusiasm.
Simon's only acting advice to his departing partner is "Let your honesty shine/ Like it shines on me." Interesting, that to be "honest" is the best way to play a fictional character in a fictional story. But honesty, Simon admits, is one of Garfunkel's strongest traits, and he might as well use it.
(As it turned out, Garfunkel's acting career was brief. Its highlights were Catch-22 with an all-star cast, and Carnal Knowledge, playing Jack Nicholson's friend. He would soon return to singing.)
The chorus is intriguing-- simply the line "Half of the time, we're gone/ And we don't know where." Again, this aimlessness is one of Simon's main themes. It echoes "Cloudy" and also foreshadows the line in "Me and Julio": "Don't know where I'm goin'/ But I'm on my way."
To this searching line comes the wafting "Here I am," which is present, yes... but faint and receding, as if drifting down from an airplane speeding away overhead. Garfunkel sings this line, appropriately. Even when he is gone, he will still be "there" in some sense.
While many of Simon's songs refer to events and people in his life, few are as autobiographical as this. There were so many emotions around the break-up-- anger, betrayal, disappointment, bewilderment, abandonment... resignation, and finally, acceptance. This slight song manages to work through many of them in a short space, focusing on the final two.
Go catch your plane, Tom, Simon says. If this is what you want, I wish you all the luck there is. I'll miss you, but don't worry about me-- I'll be fine.
And, if you were the one leaving, what else would you want to hear?
A pretty, if slight, song, it seemed destined to be forgotten by all but ardent S&G fans.
It was revived by inclusion on the emo-heavy soundtrack of the Wes Anderson movie Garden State. It is by decades the oldest song in the batch, and it stakes an interesting claim for S&G as a grandfather to today's emo groups (much as grunge fans rediscovered Neil Young).
Next Song: Why Don't You Write Me