Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Old Man” by Art GarfunkelPosted: October 15, 2014
Sometimes an interpretation of a song can take it in a completely different direction than the one the songwriter intended. Randy Newman wrote “Old Man” and included a stark, somewhat acerbic version of it on his amazing 1972 album Sail Away. In the song, a son sits at the deathbed of his father and, rather than offering encouragement, spurns sentimentality and tells it like his father told him: No God will ride in to carry him off to heaven and he will die alone.
Even with strings buffering the blow, there’s something about Newman’s vocal that keep things pretty cold and unsparing. The way the song just ends after the words “Everybody dies” is extremely chilling. No comfort, no morals, just the end.
When Art Garfunkel recorded the song for his 1973 solo debut Angel Clare, he utilized a similar piano (provided by the inimitable session great Larry Knechtel) and strings arrangement, but he took the vocals into the stratosphere. The quivering of Garfunkel’s voice as he towers over the proceedings indicates a man desperate to reach out to his father, to make him see and hear how much he is grieving for him, even if theirs was not a father-son relationship from Hallmark.
Having had a great relationship with my own Dad and missing him still every day even though he passed away a long time ago, I guess I’m drawn to Garfunkel’s sweetening of the deal, even as I appreciate the honesty of Newman’s lyrics. In either case, it’s a beauty of a melody, ironically rendered by Newman and tenderly caressed by Garfunkel, and a weeper for the ages.
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