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February 18, 2005

The Soundtrack and The Outtakes

Posted by admin

I have been a Simon and Garfunkel fan for years --- an ardent one. Since I was 13 my life has had a running score under it of songs from the duo, and both of the artists solo. I hear a song and it quickly brings back where I was at the time when I first heard it. I have some pretty vivid memories of lying on a tweed couch in a room in our house in a room that we called "the study" listening to S&G while wearing HUGE headphones. I look at the earbuds that people wear today with such envy as I remember never being able to lie comfortably on the couch with the "moonphones" I was wearing.

Certain songs come on and I can feel the nubby fabric of that couch. Others remind me of long road trips where I would play tape after tape as the miles rolled away. Timing things like driving on the New Jersey Turnpike while listening to the line about the Turnpike in America was the equivalent of writing a soundtrack when you are 18.

I met my oldest (literally) friend through Simon and Garfunkel. She wrote a piece about them for a magazine called Horoscope back in October 1970. The article posted their astrological charts and included anecdotes and stories that I had never seen before. I, who clearly was setting the course for my later career in journalism, wrote Elinor to ask her how she knew this information. The article was forwarded on to her by the magazine (think snail mail, airmail stamps and weeks of waiting). She responded in April with a lovely handwritten note about how she had met Paul and Artie (her words) back when they did an early tour to the Bay area.

Letters flew across the country as I wrote and Elinor answered. For years. High school moved onto college moved onto career and marriage and motherhood. And the letters became emails and IMs. I still have boxes of her letters (yes, I save everything) packed up in the attic of my house. Reading them is like reading a history of both of our lives. No one had a better chronology of my teen angst, growing pains and real inner thoughts during these decades than Elinor. 35 years of writing tells a pretty in-depth story of a person's life.

Just last week I packed up a box of Simon and Garfunkel CDs to send to Elinor for her 87th birthday present. Moves over the years had taken their toll on her music collection and I could think of no better way to celebrate another year than by sharing with her the new re-issues of both Simon and Garfunkel and Paul Simon material. Each of the CDs has bonus tracks --- the outtakes.

Listening to these outtakes to me is even more fun than listening to the final versions. It feeds my desire to know where the writing came from. When you hear a different music track or lyrics not even close to what's on the final cut you feel like you are inside the writer's head. Often the outtakes just have humming over the music instead of words, or bits and pieces of the final verses. Listening to Let Me Live in Your City,which went on to become Something So Right gives the song a new perspective.

So, you ask, what does any of this have to do with books? Lots. Paul Simon and other songwriters often tell really tight 3:46 minute stories in their songs. Think about it. In 3:46 you can see an entire group of events and feelings play out. Studying songs can be a great exercise in writing. I have never forgotten my 7th grade teacher who drew a rather apathetic group of students together for a pretty riveting discussion of Sounds of Silence. older son also now is a Simon and Garfunkel fan. In fact, I am borrowing HIS collection of remastered tracks. Last month he did a paper on Dylan Thomas and quoted Paul Simon's line about him and Bob Dylan, which made me smile. Elinor jokes that she is the oldest fan and he is the youngest.

When I read books I often want to dissect the story. I want to know what came first when the author was writing. The murder, the kidnapping, the fact there were twins, the title, the thoughts go on and on. I have favorite books where I wish I could see the early drafts to see how the story evolved. I want the outtakes.

On Nelson DeMille's website he has the handwritten first draft of the first chapter of his novel, Night Fall. I love sharing things like that with readers. Character names changed in later versions. Fun to see that.

I often wonder if authors look back on early drafts once they are done. Or is it all wrapped up in their heads? Or does the story push on and become something else so these early versions represent something primitive and dismissable? Like the notes I write on the backs of envelopes of things that matter for the moment and then never matter again.

The outtakes of our lives form the history of our lives and shape it in ways that we often never measure. What we cast aside gets us to where we are now. Ponder that.