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Posts tagged ‘Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr.’

Fifty Year Friday: Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends; Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr. Assassination; Civil Rights Act of 1968

bookends

Released on April 3, 1968, it wasn’t until summer of 1968 that I first heard this album.  My sister had left it out on the top of my dad’s large mono hi-fidelity set, and alone in the living room, I took the record sleeve out of the outer cover and the vinyl contents out of its record sleeve, put it on the only quality turntable in the house, and one of the better ones on the block, turned on the machine, guided the tonearm to the beginning and while still standing in front of the hi-fi, became totally ensnared by this work of musical art.

The album opens with a solo acoustic guitar prelude intimating that this is not going to be just a collection of songs, but something more  – an organized musical statement. The second track, with Moog synthesizer setting the general ambiance, and thick reverb and choir providing the texture, is dark and grey, much in keeping with the black and white cover, and sets an encompassing atmosphere of bleakness, alienation and separation which carries on even through the last, more upbeat, song of the album.

This is very much Paul Simon’s Sgt. Peppers album — a concept album without a concrete concept, establishing coherence and a unified whole based on the quality of the songs, their arrangements, and, even going further than Sgt. Pepper, on a consistency of style in both the music and lyrics.  There is a deep seriousness in this music far beyond the previous Simon and Garfunkel albums: the music is shadowy and gloomy but rich in textures and images similar to some of the more detailed and complex art-deco black-and-white photography such as one of Edward Striochen’s photos as shown below:

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“America”, “Hazy Shade of Winter”, and “At the Zoo” may be uptempo and full of rhythm and the essence of rock music — listen to Yes’s flashy, kaleidoscopic realization of “America” — but these are inherently dark compositions with all intrusively brighter colors filtered out to expose the true underlying monochrome content.  Should I venture to compare this album general effect to one of Mahler’s works? Perhaps there is merit for such a comparison, but these tracks belong to 1968 not to a time eighty years earlier, and the most appropriate comparisons are to music of 1968.  Like Sgt. Pepper’s, this album could not have been made with the normal limitations placed on studio time for most rock artists.  Thankfully, Simon and Garfunkel had a clause in their contract specifying the label’s obligation to provide the necessary funding for the studio time, and the duo took advantage of this with hours and hours spent on perfecting the final product with multiple takes and significant dollars spent on that studio time as well as money spent on  the incorporation of additional instruments and the musicians playing them.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Paul Simon, except “Voices of Old People” by Art Garfunkel.

Side one

No.

Title

Recorded

Length

1.

Bookends Theme 1968

0:32

2.

Save the Life of My Child Dec. 14, 1967

2:49

3.

America Feb. 1, 1968

3:35

4.

Overs Oct. 16, 1967

2:14

5.

“Voices of Old People” Feb. 6, 1968

2:07

6.

Old Friends 1968

2:36

7.

“Bookends Theme” 1968

1:16

Side two

No.

Title

Recorded

Length

8.

Fakin’ It June 1967

3:17

9.

Punky’s Dilemma Oct. 5, 1967

2:12

10.

Mrs. Robinson Feb. 2, 1968

4:02

11.

A Hazy Shade of Winter Sept. 7, 1966

2:17

12.

At the Zoo Jan. 8, 1967

2:23

April 4, 1968, was a day of great tragedy: the assassination of  Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr.  Further tragedy followed with rioting and violence across 125 cities that took the lives of 39 people and injured many, many more. As with so many tragedies, good followed including the passage of the previously stalled Civil Rights Act of 1968 which now made it federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin” as well as directly addressing an area where millions had previously been treated unfairly by being “the first effective law against discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the United States of America” making fair housing “the unchallenged law of the land.”  For this reason, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is also known as the Fair Housing Act.

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Nina Simone dedicates a program of music to Dr. King at Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968. This music is later released in 1968 on the album, Nuff Said.  The third track on the album, is “Backlash Blues”, a Civil Rights song first recorded on Nina Simone Sings the Blues with lyrics by renowned poet,  Langston Hughes:

Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash,
Just who do think I am?
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages
And send my son to Vietnam.
 
You give me second class houses
And second class schools.
Do you think that all the colored folks
Are just second class fools?
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues.
 
When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash
All you got to offer
Is your mean old white backlash
But the world is big
Big and bright and round
And it’s full of folks like me
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown.
Mr. Backlash, I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues.
 
Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just what do you think I got to lose?
I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues
You’re the one will have the blues
Not me, just wait and see.

Dr King’s voice was never silenced — it lived on the the memories of the many that heard him and lives on today in recordings and videos readily available all over the internet — and Dr. King inspired many others to speak out on the necessity of equal opportunity and freedom for all — a work that is very much still in progress today.

We_the_people__

 

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