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December 19, 2010 5:46 AM   Subscribe

In recession-hit Saginaw, MI, the initial setting of Simon and Garfunkel's "America", mural painter Eric Shantz has begun painting the lyrics to the song on abandoned buildings.
posted by l33tpolicywonk (41 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Shantz should be careful. The man in the gabardine suit is a spy.

(Seriously, this is a cool project, the condition of Saginaw is a pity, and I really love that song.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:06 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The embarrassing preciousness of most all of Simon and Garfunkel's music has always left me really cold, which is very unfortunate, because Simon is obviously a very talented songwriter and their vocal blend was, you know, well done and all. And "America" (along with "The Boxer") is one of my favorite S&G tunes. But god, that version from the Central Park concert linked to here, ugh, I just couldn't get through it. The delivery, it just, ah, reeks of the worst aspects of S&G. For me, anyway.

So, just for those who maybe feel the same way about it, I'm going to link to the original recorded version, which is, well, better, IMO.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:09 AM on December 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I completely understand flapjax.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:10 AM on December 19, 2010


Another version of America done by David Bowie at the Concert of New York City after 9/11. Achingly beautiful.
posted by kimdog at 6:18 AM on December 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I know you wrote "painting the lyrics on abandoned buildings" but for some reason - I suppose because he's a muralist - I was expecting murals. I saw one mural. I was underwhelmed.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:20 AM on December 19, 2010


That real estate in your bag? Worthless now.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:28 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm really hoping these pictures were taken with a bowtie camera.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:34 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I'd say if you're gonna do a project of painting famous song lyrics onto walls, you should at least get the goddam lyrics right, don'tcha think? In photos 1 and 5 of the NPR link we see "ALL GONE TO LOOK FOR AMERICA". Thing is, that line doesn't appear in the song. At the end of the song there's "they've all come to look for America, all come to look for America". He's misquoting the song. Which leads me to think that he went straight to one of the notoriously inaccurate internet lyrics sites instead of, um, actually listening to the song.

And not only that... from the article, this quote from Shantz:

"I used to sit in my dorm room at least once a week and play 'America' by Simon & Garfunkel just because that line, 'Leaving Saginaw to go look for America,'.

There is no such line in the song.

Sorry, Eric Shantz, your credibility is low, brother.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:41 AM on December 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


Saginaw has been having a tough year. FBI stats again show it as the most violent city in America. They just had a recent spate of homicides, with the 6th a little while ago. This is in a city of about 50k.

An old hometown friend has recently started organizing several people to help the community after the death of one of his friends. A hundred people have gotten a tattoo in memory of one of the guy.

It's heartbreaking and inspiring work. But Saginaw really needs work. A Chinese company recently bought Delphi, the local GM parts manufacturer. Word is they'll probably relocate in a couple years. It's not going to help things.
posted by formless at 7:08 AM on December 19, 2010


This guy has stuff all over here, but I hadn't heard about this particular project yet. I have learned to really love this place; I resisted moving here for so long. We left briefly and moved back home to Lansing and I missed it. Yeah, things occasionally seem grim but there are some amazing people here who organize and do some pretty amazing things. I'll have to keep an eye open for for these when I'm out and about today.
posted by MaritaCov at 7:20 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Saginaw, Michigan - Lefty Frizzell (1963)

posted by nola at 7:41 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


America as you've (likely) never heard it before.
posted by hippybear at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2010


It's a neat concept but the execution seems so-so. The paraphrasing (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't just get it wrong) seems questionable, and some of the installations fall more on the graffiti end of the graffiti/art spectrum, IMO, and as such are unlikely to get noticed. The one mural is neat, though; they should do more of those.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2010


Lefty still has the last word on Saginaw.
posted by swift at 8:36 AM on December 19, 2010


hippybear: "America as you've (likely) never heard it before. "

Unless you've been listening to the radio for the last thirty-five years.
posted by octothorpe at 8:54 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I've never heard that cover played on the radio. I guess I don't have truly groovy radio where I've lived in the past 35 years.
posted by hippybear at 9:33 AM on December 19, 2010


As someone from Saginaw (who, incidentally, left this year to seek my fortune in another state), I've got a soft spot for what Schantz is trying to accomplish. There are a LOT of boarded-up, burnt-out buildings there; NPR does Paint Saginaw a disservice by only including a couple bland photos.

Here's a piece The Saginaw News did about Schantz in 2008 with more art.

And some more good news for Saginaw: the city has had only 8 homicides this year, the lowest rate the city has recorded in over 40 years.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:33 AM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In photos 1 and 5 of the NPR link we see "ALL GONE TO LOOK FOR AMERICA". Thing is, that line doesn't appear in the song. At the end of the song there's "they've all come to look for America, all come to look for America". He's misquoting the song.

In his defense, I grew up on Paul Simon's music, have probably listened to this song somewhere in the low four digits, and still thought the line at the end was "all gone to look for America".

And upon further investigation into my iTunes, in the Central Park version they do sing "all gone" interspersed with "all come".
posted by saturday_morning at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2010


"And upon further investigation into my iTunes, in the Central Park version they do sing "all gone" interspersed with "all come"."

Yeah, the OH NOES HIS LYRICS ARE PARAPHRASES is inane, and it's funny to call Simon and Garfunkel out for preciousness and still be such a dogmatic Beatles-booster.

I'm glad Saginaw is getting something, anything, but it's been dead for a long time. I remember dating a girl about twelve years ago who was from Saginaw (she taught me to shoplift from Meijer on our first date), and how everyone in her family always called it Sagnasty, never once Saginaw.
posted by klangklangston at 10:11 AM on December 19, 2010


Hah, yeah a lot of people call in Sagnasty (including The demon that lives in the air, from time to time)...although her brother calls it "The 'Naw" but I think he's the only one who does that.

She and I just got off a bus from Virginia to Michigan and she joked that we just acted out that song in reverse, since we're headed to her parents' place in Saginaw for Christmas. It's funny to see it on the blue the next day.
posted by Tesseractive at 10:28 AM on December 19, 2010


I love that song (sad romantic that I am) and consider that cymbal hit at its climax ("Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike-- they've all COME (crash) to look for America") to be somehow sublime and besides it makes me tear up (see: child of the 60s, literally, plus romantic). And the lyrics, the little narrative-- "Pass me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat/we smoked the last one an hour ago/So I looked at the scenery/she read a magazine/and the moon rose over an open field"-- are literature, you know? Seriously. There's a whole story folded into those few minutes of words and music, you can see these two riding into their uncertain destiny.
posted by jokeefe at 11:05 AM on December 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're on a bus, the people with you have "all come to look for America." If you're still in Saginaw, then the people who left have "all gone to look for America." Simple!
posted by edheil at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2010


Years ago a friend of mine- the formerly ungoogleable Pete Selbo- said something so apposite that I think of it just about every time I hear a Simon and Garfunkel song - "Paul Simon has a voice like a vanilla milkshake."

It's true!
posted by hap_hazard at 11:22 AM on December 19, 2010


I thought the line

"It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw"

was about how inhospitable northern Michigan and Saginaw in particular was to hitchhikers and vagrants: that no one in Saginaw would give him a ride.
posted by GregorWill at 12:03 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like Simon and Garfunkel a lot, but some of their songs make me embarrassed for them, in a high-school-poetry kind of way. This is one of them. I still like it, but I like the Yes version even better, partly because it's so incongruous compared to the original, which takes all the embarrassment out of it, and partly because it amuses me that Jon Anderson thinks "Michigan" is pronounced "Mitch-again."
posted by edheil at 12:09 PM on December 19, 2010


"Precious" is one of those criticisms of music, like "pretentious" or even "hipster," that doesn't actually mean anything. Yes, the music is sincere and executed without irony or humor. But it's really good. All you're doing is saying "I don't like it because I don't like it" and couching it in big words to make it seem like some sort of music criticism.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:17 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was expecting murals. I saw one mural. I was underwhelmed.

Agreed. All I saw was graffiti. And I'd be pissed if that were my trailer or building.
posted by CarlRossi at 2:26 PM on December 19, 2010


"It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw"
Yeah, it's apparently about 300 miles to Pittsburgh (where they board the greyhound) - that's some dire hitchhiking. It never occurred to me that that's where they'd started, though. But who knows.

re: "precious"... I think they wrote/performed some great songs, which I love (however little I actually listen to them) but I don't think I can actually disagree.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:32 PM on December 19, 2010


klangklangston: it's funny to call Simon and Garfunkel out for preciousness and still be such a dogmatic Beatles-booster.

So glad I could bring a little amusement into your world, man. I really mean that.

But as far as the comparison, it doesn't hold up. Sure, some of the Beatles music can be characterized as "precious", but virtually all of S&G's falls into that category. And Paul Simon would've had an a cerebral aneurysm if he'd ever gotten even close to recording anything with the raw visceralness of Helter Skelter or Yer Blues, or early rock covers of theirs like Dizzy Miss Lizzie or Twist and Shout.

drjimmy11: All you're doing is saying "I don't like it because I don't like it" and couching it in big words to make it seem like some sort of music criticism.

You really think "precious" is a "big word"? Well, heck, I guess I can be pretty proud of myself then, cause I an't never even had no college education or nothing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:25 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


'According to Chris Thomas, who was present, the 18 July session was especially spirited. "While Paul was doing his vocal, George Harrison had set fire to an ashtray and was running around the studio with it above his head, doing an Arthur Brown." Starr's recollection is less detailed, but agrees in spirit: "'Helter Skelter' was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio. Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams."'

-wiki page on 'Helter Skelter'

yup, sounds like some parties I attended in Saginaw. No Beatles though.
posted by clavdivs at 3:37 PM on December 19, 2010


I'm a huge Paul Simon fan, but I'll happily grant flapjax his criticism. The "preciousness" is certainly there; it just doesn't preclude me from enjoying the music.
posted by danb at 3:49 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Post Beatles and Stevie Wonder.

'What followed was not very productive. Lennon sounds to be on cocaine—he can be heard offering Wonder a snort on the first track, and on the fifth, asks someone to give him a snort. This is also the origin of the album name, where John Lennon clearly asks: "You wanna snort, Steve? A toot? It's goin' round". In addition, Lennon seems to be having trouble with his microphone and headphones.'

A Toot and a Snore in '74
posted by clavdivs at 4:42 PM on December 19, 2010


Very appropriate, given that Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:23 PM on December 19, 2010


And I hear it took Stevie ten days to hitchhike from there.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:55 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Paul Simon & Stevie Wonder - Loves Me Like A Rock
posted by clavdivs at 8:21 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, man. I normally hate these things, but the guest-heavy tribute show that clavdivs' video is from is fantastic. You can buy it on DVD.
posted by danb at 9:07 PM on December 19, 2010


I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel, it was the only vaguely contemporary music my Dad listened to. Last year my sister and I saw them in a stadium. It was pretty disappointing.
Sure, they are earnest (rather than precious), but I think that is a relic of the period and their political stance rather than some character flaw.
I've always figuratively pegged S&G as the guys writing the college newspaper decrying "The Man" while John Lennon was stoned in a share house decrying the man and the rest of the Beatles are just there for the dope.
Both have nice songs though.
posted by bystander at 2:37 AM on December 20, 2010


And Paul Simon would've had an a cerebral aneurysm if he'd ever gotten even close to recording anything with the raw visceralness of Helter Skelter or Yer Blues, or early rock covers of theirs like Dizzy Miss Lizzie or Twist and Shout.

Well, it's a bit silly to expect what started out as an acoustic folk duo to do that, isn't it? I mean, look back at the first album by S&G, and compare that to The Beatles' first release. The roots will nearly always determine the fruit of the plant.
posted by hippybear at 9:53 AM on December 20, 2010


There is a time and place for raw visceralness and gritty rock. There is also a time and place for quiet reflection. S&G were very very good at the latter.
posted by cereselle at 9:57 AM on December 20, 2010


I was born and I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. Or, more accurately, I was moved here against my will when I was about a year old. I can't wait to get out.

It is an asbestos swamp, and I don't have the gumption to fight against Tsunami of Sagnasty (or even more colloquially, The Nasty), trying to carve out a place for myself among the despair and hopelessness.

True, there are islands of sanity and joy in Saginaw. There is a wonderful community theater company. I was lucky enough to attend the one public school in the city that wasn't an almost certain lifetime sentence of near-illiteracy. It's not a complete cesspool, but it's pretty close.

I substitute teach now, and it's heartbreaking to see the state of these childrens' education, knowing that I can't do anything about it in the single day I'm there. Even more sadly, I know that their regular teachers, even if well-meaning, have almost no chance of helping them either, when set against the absurdly corrupt school board. Just a few miles away, there are whole schools full of suburban kids with supportive parents, teachers who haven't burnt out, and school administrators who aren't career-oriented transplants from other urban school districts, coming to Saginaw for a paycheck and a line on their resume.

The school situation is only one symptom of a completely crumbling city. Most side streets aren't plowed at all in the winter. The city bus system is a joke, and there's no chance of it ever becoming useful except to visit the Social Security or unemployment office, and even then it will take all day and you might not get home before they stop running.

The Saginaw News, where this story originally appeared, is the poster-child for the crumbling tradition of the local American newspaper. They print three days per week. They can't find enough teenagers to run their paper routes anymore because no one in their right mind would let their son or daughter go door-to-door with an envelope full of money.

I admire this guy trying to do something worthwhile here, but there's a reason that no one wants to live there. I'm not even convinced that, even in the GM boom days of mid-century, it was ever a very wonderful place to be. But at least, hey, there were union factory jobs for anyone who could stand to fasten the same nut 100,000 times a year. Without even that nominal point in its favor, there is nothing left to keep anyone in Saginaw.

It's Rustbelt Ground Zero, and there's fuckall anybody can do about it.
posted by LiteOpera at 12:50 PM on December 20, 2010


also:
MetaFilter: It's Rustbelt Ground Zero, and there's fuckall anybody can do about it.
posted by LiteOpera at 12:51 PM on December 20, 2010


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