Monday, September 13, 2010

Song for the Asking

This simple song hearkens back to Simon's early S&G-era folksongs, like "April Come She Will" and especially "Leaves That Are Green."

The instrumentation, sparse as it is, shows some complexity. The string quartet-style accompaniment might seem an odd choice for the folksy guitar with the odd bent blues note thrown in. But this is the same Simon who would later write a song called "American Tune" based on a Bach piece. One of Simon's great musical gifts as a composer and arranger is exactly this kind of synthesis of Old and New World sounds, of ancient and modern styles.

Lyrically, the song is very straightforward. "Ask me and I will play," Simon tells his audience, perhaps an audience of one. "Take it... I've been waiting all my life..." he offers, and then it trails off. "Waiting" for what? For the addressee of the song to ask him to play, evidently.

And then the song turns into an apology: "...I'd be more than glad/ To change my ways." First, the request not to "turn away," now this. What did he do, and on a regular basis, that upset the other party so greatly that they would leave, and leave him "sad"? We are left wondering.

There is a purposeful parallel Simon is creating: Just tell him, and he'll change. Just ask him, and he'll play.

The solution to both is his song itself. "Ask me, and I will play/ All the love that I hold inside." If you just give him a chance to play, to express himself in his terms, he will be able to explain and apologize and, well, love.

There are dozens of break-up albums, but very few about the break-up of the band itself. After several songs of farewell, it is curious to end the album-- and the partnership-- with this song. A song that says, "Don't go, I'll change-- whatever you want, just ask."

It is the first indication that Simon was perhaps ambivalent about the break-up. Unlike many bands thrown together by studio executives, or created through auditions, Simon and Garfunkel were friends. Even at their young age at this point, they were "old friends," having been performing together since high school.

Yes, together, they were once-in-forever team. But each was also immensely talented on his own, and each had musical and other artistic ambitions that the other did not share (Admittedly, like Garfunkel, Simon did have a brief acting career; Simon had a cameo in Annie Hall, aside from One Trick Pony. But he and Garfunkel never shared a film). And there was that personality conflict, too.

It seems to be taken as historical fact that the break was inevitable and mutual, and both parties felt relieved by it.

And yet... assume for a moment that this song, in the context of the album, is about the break-up. Then "Song for the Asking" might be the only indication that Simon was "sad" about the situation, was willing to admit fault, and even willing to make amends. He even offered Garfunkel his greatest gift, to play whatever Garfunkel wanted. But, as Simon said in "Overs," "Why don't we stop fooling ourselves?/ The game is over."

The album does not end with one of the farewell songs, or upbeat numbers. It does not end with the title track, and its promise to stay supportive as the other "sails on by." It ends with a song more suited for a re-beginning. And it really ends, not with the crescendo that ends "Bridge," but with a bent, bluesy, "sad" note.

As TS Eliot said, an ending not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Simon and Garfunkel would end up reuniting for concerts and a song or two. But "Simon and Garfunkel" was no more.

Note to readers: This is the last song on Simon and Garfunkel's official five albums. However, there were other Simon and Garfunkel tracks. One, which we will discuss next, was released on a 45. Others did not surface until concerts and box sets covering the S&G years were released. Some do not seem to have been recorded at all, yet are included in sheet-music books as S&G songs. We will deal with these songs-- as many as I am are of-- in the coming months.

After those, we will delve into the songs of Simon's solo career through the Surprise album, unless he comes out with another album by then [Note: as I edit this, he has-- the album So Beautiful or So What.] And, after that, we will double back around to discuss Simon's pre-Garfunkel, pop-oriented work.

So, those of you who are S&G fans, don't despair; there is plenty S&G left to go. And I will tell you where these tracks are to be found, naturally. And those who were expecting to move on to Simon's solo work at this point, don't tune out-- you may discover a track or two you'll like.

Next Song: You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies


  1. I always saw this song similarly to as you have said, but as a kind of pre-cursor to Bridge, in a way. 'This is my tune for the taking... take it, don't turn away.' Garfunkel famously turned Bridge down, not wanting to sing it. But Simon wrote it as a small hymn, that ode to friendship... and musically it should have been the final song on the album, but it was the opening.

    So I see Song for the Asking as the song that completes the circle, taking the listener thematically back to the start... 'take this song (Bridge), it's yours now.'

    Just as beautiful and sad a parting letter to Art as The Only Living Boy in New York is.

  2. Helen-- Interesting thought! I always thought of this song as self-reflexive, being about itself. It is intriguing to think of it as being about a different song.

  3. The lyrics may also be interpreted as Simon launching his solo career. "Ask me and I will play."

  4. Gus-- I hadn't thought about that but it makes sense; he says "here is MY song," as in just his, not "theirs" (his AND Art's). He also talks about having been "sad" and being willing to change his ways" (which sounds like someone mulling a major shift) but only if the audience "asks" him to. Thanks for the insight!