The Galloping, Sprouting Guitar: Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson” (1968)

A hooks reflection often crystallizes on a metaphor.  This one is split between two metaphors, one animal and one vegetable, for the appeal of the guitar part in Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

“Mrs. Robinson”

#1.  Riding a powerful horse on good terrain, the greatest thing you can do is let your horse run full-out at a smooth gallop.  Dig your heels in, work your fingers into the mane and whoop it up.  Guitarists feel like their steel-string guitars could take off like that if played right.  You could get the rhythm part flying on the lower strings and weave in free-spirited licks on the upper.  The main hook in “Mrs. Robinson” is its realization of the galloping guitar ideal.  It’s an illusion:  Paul Simon is playing at least two parts, a basic propulsive rhythm part and a second pass with all the nice touches, including the hot nail-plucked low notes that grab our attention at the start.  We all fall short trying to replicate it solo.  But listening to the track—with Hal Blaine’s congas murmuring along, knitting everything together—it magically feels like the one super guitar happening.  This makes the song much dreamier than it would be on the basis of its lyrical content alone (the nation turning its lonely eyes to Joe DiMaggio and all that).

#2.  On the floor of a steamy rain forest is a long hump that used to be a tree.  Now it’s a nurse log that has partially merged with the rich soil and is sprouting a dozen different kinds of vegetation, fungi, new trees even.  This log is Paul Simon’s guitar, and all the nice things in “Mrs. Robinson” seem to grow right out of his playing, or make that all the years he’s been playing and listening to the Everly Brothers.  The notes and textures are gently irresistible, filling all niches, superbly evolved—an ecological guitar climax.

My two metaphors don’t fit together especially well, but that’s okay.  Hooks appreciation, like musical performance, has many moods.  (In a wonderful harder-edged performance of “Mrs. Robinson” at Madison Square Garden in 2003, Simon held his guitar out in front of him a little stiffly, playing it like—what would the metaphor be?  A fire hose?  A Tommy gun?  Call it the spraying guitar.)

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Arrangements and Sounds, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Galloping, Sprouting Guitar: Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson” (1968)

  1. Elise Smith says:

    The Muybridge photos are a wonderful visual parallel, but the nurse log metaphor works better for me. Simon’s guitar seems too controlled to be a flat-out, exuberant, reckless gallop – more like a rollicking canter, maybe?

  2. Steve Smith says:

    Thanks for refining the thesis–you’re right, it’s more like cantering. But “cantering guitar” doesn’t alliterate so well.

  3. Professor Of Pop says:

    Brilliant fusing of lyrical and musical analysis. Nothing to add. Thank you Steve.

  4. Pingback: Horse galloping | Tervola

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