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“Traveling Boy.”

It’s mid-September 1973.

(If your memory doesn’t go back that far, just imagine you’re in the same room you are now, except no computers, and everything’s orange, brown or avocado green. That will hold you.)

You’ve traded in some used LPs you’d outgrown, and got a little spending cash from your friendly record store owner in return. And in your pile of new albums, you’ve brought home Angel Clare, the first solo album by Art Garfunkel.

Why, exactly, you find a little hard to explain. As a loyal reader of liner notes, you know he hasn’t written songs before; he doesn’t have a lyrical style or worldview that draws you in.

You’ve never heard him perform outside the setting of Simon & Garfunkel. And in the three-and-a-half years since Bridge Over Troubled Water, you haven’t heard him at all. (He’s spent the time acting, reading, teaching math at a prep school, and generally waiting for inspiration to lead him.)

Putting aside your copies of Hard Nose the Highway and Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, you drop the needle on this familiar yet unknown quantity.

What do you expect?

And what do you get?

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I wasn’t artistically conscious in the fall of 1973, but I find it easy to relate to the mythical record-buyer described above.

I find Art Garfunkel — countertenor, Ivy League graduate, math teacher, voracious reader, long-distance walker, amateur poet, sometime actor, pot smoker — an interesting character from afar.

And I’m fascinated, at least mildly, by the prospect of him setting his own musical course.

Like Robert Plant after Zeppelin, one wonders how much he contributed to the musical brew of his first group … which elements he would choose to carry with him, which to discard, and which to add new … and how that all might change in response to larger musical developments surrounding him.

These are not questions for which men go to war, certainly. But they are the sorts of things that keep music fans occupied.

They’re going to keep me occupied for a while, as I blog Art Garfunkel’s 1970s solo output, one song at a time.

So let’s go back to that dropping needle and start from the start.

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The song’s called “Traveling Boy,” but at first glance, Our Hero doesn’t seem to have traveled very far.

Larry Knechtel, who’d provided the pianistic bed for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” comes back to once again lead Art by the hand into a Big Number. Former Simon & Garfunkel producer Roy Halee is in the control room as well.

Knechtel’s piano is tinnier and more hesitant than before, though.

And as Art unfolds the lyric — beginning with the image of lovers awaking beneath the midday sun, and ending with an ad-libbed declaration of “no goodbyes” — it becomes clear that Our Narrator has no interest in bridge-over-troubled-water devotion.

Having gotten the night of pleasure he was after, he’s hitting the road instanter and forthwith, and makes no promises beyond “always thinking of” his ladylove. (Which is to say, no promises.)

I imagine critics in 1973 saw Paul Simon’s face between the lines of “Traveling Boy”‘s nice-knowin’-ya message. And, who knows? Maybe they were right.

On the other hand, Art didn’t write the song. Our fictional devourer of liner notes would notice Garfunkel’s complete absence from the writing credits, and instead see Paul Williams and Roger Nichols credited as writers for “Traveling Boy.”

So, maybe Art simply eyeballed the song as a good framework for a big S&G-style production number — laden with strings, horns, a soaring soprano vocal backup, and even a fuzzy, prominent lead guitar that Wikipedia credits to J.J. Cale (and that drops out of the mix with unprofessional suddenness at about 3:45.)

The song works on that level. And it serves as a useful introduction to a couple of things Garfunkelites would come to know over time:

– Matters of the heart, and dysfunction or disagreement thereof, would be the major lyrical theme in Garfunkel’s work.
– Art’s taste in arrangements would tend toward the lush and romantic.
– Art hadn’t been concealing any surprising whims to make hard-rock records; there was no Cub Koda beneath his placid exterior, itching to come out.

If our mythical record buyer had been cool with all of those developments, he would have considered “Traveling Boy” a promising start.

If not, he might have put on Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert and resolved to give Angel Clare a second chance some other, mellower time.

As for us, we’ll return in a bit, as Garfunkel’s second track introduces another, less predictable lyrical theme.

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