Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Positively Celebratory

A Reason to Smile: It's Summertime, and the living is supposed to be easy. Yet, for an entire plethora of reasons, Abq Jew feels off-schedule and way behind on the many mundane tasks of Life. 

Which have recently included preparing mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially for an upcoming positively celebratory event that we all know must be prepared for months in advance.

Thank God! Ken O'Hara! Yet Abq Jew still feels like he's running behind. 

Horse on 7th Avenue

Never mind. Two weeks ago, Dan Rather wrote The Best Is Yet to Come in his Substack newsletter Steady about Tony Bennett, of blessed memory. Which Abq Jew then copied and published quoted (see Remembering Tony Bennett). 

Well, this week Mr Rather has done it again - written (with Elliott Kirschner) a remarkably uplifting piece about pain, trauma, loneliness, and "the indelible spirit of fighting on." Based on Simon & Garfunkel's The Boxer.
The Boxer: A Reason to Smile

Pain is an inevitable part of life, and none of us emerges unscathed. For some, the traumas are more acute — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is also the indelible spirit of fighting on in the face of everything thrown against you. 

There are many songs that capture this quintessentially human experience, and one of the best is Paul Simon’s classic “The Boxer,” which was released as a single in 1969. A year later it was included on Simon and Garfunkel’s fifth and final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. 

Simon later said the song about a prize fighter and the bruises of a hard life was semi-autobiographical. He himself wasn’t a pugilist, but by the time he wrote the song, he had endured his share of criticism and difficult living. It’s hard to believe he was still just in his 20s.

Most of the song’s lyrics evocatively express loneliness, poverty, and struggle, with lines like: 

Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest and 
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go looking for the places only they would know

Now, Abq Jew wrote about The Boxer in December 2021's Singing Engineering. Which was mostly about Abq Jew's year (1970-71) of living Biblically while studying Civil Engineering at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology.
It was a tough year. But Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, two Jewish guys from Queens, got Abq Jew through it. Their album Bridge Over Troubled Water had come out in January 1970, and Abq Jew knew most of the songs by heart.

Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking evenly
And I am older than I once was
And younger than I'll be
But that's not unusual

No, it isn't strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes we are
More or less the same

In the clearing stands a boxer .....
Boxer Dog

And that is where Abq Jew left off. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is exactly where Dan Rather picks up -

But in the end, we get the hope of resilience that can emerge from struggle and suffering. 

    In the clearing stands a boxer
    And a fighter by his trade
    And he carries the reminders
    Of every glove that laid him down
    Or cut him till he cried out
    In his anger and his shame
    “I am leaving, I am leaving”
    But the fighter still remains

The song also tells its story through powerful musical composition. It was a painstaking recording process, involving multiple locations and over 100 hours. 
There are wonderful instrumental accompaniments, but one of the song’s signatures is a simple vocal repetition of the phrase “Lie-la-lie.” Originally those sounds were stand-ins for lyrics yet to be written. But Simon chose to keep them. Sometimes we can express more through pure music than words can offer. 

We found, in our own times of struggle and uncertainty, reasons to smile in this remarkable song. We are sharing the original studio recording below. But first, this song has also been covered many times, and one of our favorites has a country style, showing the universality of the message. 

It is from a concert in 2007, when the Library of Congress awarded its first Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to Paul Simon. 
Here the close harmony is by two women of immense talent and vocal power: Alison Krauss and Shawn Colvin. 
They are accompanied by the equally brilliant Dobro and lap steel guitar player Jerry Douglas. 
And here’s the original recording by Simon and Garfunkel:

And here, Abq Jew must add - he must! he must! - is the live performance of S&G at Madison Square Garden in October 2009.

Looking for The Concert in Central Park on September 19, 1981?
Click here for the complete concert.
Or click here for The Boxer!

Fighter still remains


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