Beginning with President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the ‘60s became one of the most tumultuous, explosive, eye-opening times in American history. It was a time when Baby Boomers were forced to grow up and face the future in a way that generations before never had—with the confidence to change and rebel, the bravery to search for themselves and life’s meaning and the uncertainty of where that search would lead them.
By 1968, the realities of the Vietnam War had set in completely with America’s youth. Boys in their late teens received their draft cards to fight in a war that had no clear definition. Robert Kennedy would meet the same fate as his brother five years earlier, as would Martin Luther King, Jr. Hippies protested the war and their government, and the civil rights movement became increasingly more violent.
Simon and Garfunkel released their musical masterpiece Bookends in late March of that year; a collection of interweaving songs that focuses on loss—loss of identity, loss of innocence, and loss of youth. It was their most literary and accomplished album to date.
Like the characters in “Voices of Old People”, Art Garfunkel’s audio experiment and social message, the youth of the ‘60s would inevitably face the same fate—old age. Bookends is the well-lived life starting at birth and ending at death.
“Save the Life of My Child”, the most “rock and roll” song of the album, cuts off the quiet lull of “Bookends” the way a rowdy teenager might interrupt a grandparent mid-story. Paul Simon’s thumping bass, the gospel-like voices in the background, and the brief hint of “Sounds of Silence” tease and cure and taunt the delicate nature of the 30-second instrumental introduction that creeps in and out of the album as a reminder that old age, and eventually, death, is inevitable.
Though earlier songs such as “I Am a Rock” and “Sound of Silence” both portray dark themes, there is still a naiveté , a lack of maturity that can only be gained through the turbulent and controversial experiences of the late ‘60s. Bookends the album is the insightful, old man counterpart to Simon and Garfunkel’s earlier work.
It was a decade full of change. not only in music but in politics, American society, and popular culture as a whole. It left the Baby Boomer generation, by decade’s end, with a power unbeknownst to any generation before them—a power that left them searching, much like the couple in the song “America”, for a different kind of country than the one they inherited from their parents.
The Summer of Love had come and gone, Bob Dylan had gone electric, the Beatles were certifiable geniuses, thanks to their innovative, psychedelic, waking dream Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Jimi Hendrix was setting his instruments on fire as rock and roll’s first official guitar god. And then there was Simon and Garfunkel, the sage-like minstrels of the ‘60s, who translated easily the conscious of ‘60s American youth into songs that are just as relevant in 2008 as they were 40 years ago.