Let Us be Lovers We’ll Marry Our Fortunes Together

The song “America” was written by Paul Simon and first published on the Simon & Garfunkel album “Bookends” in 1968 at the height of the Viet Nam war. A lot has changed in America over the past 53 years.

Back in the days when I had a guitar, a singing voice, and a girlfriend named Kathy, this song was one of my favorite songs to sing. Now it just makes me smile and shake my head. Bittersweet.

“America” is essentially a road-trip song, but like all road trips, it tends to reveal as much about the participants as it does about the lands being traversed. The narrator and his companion Kathy (a reference to Simon’s 60’s girlfriend Kathy Chitty) board a bus in Pittsburgh with a four-day hitchhike from Saginaw, Michigan already in their rear-view. “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together,” Simon begins, an optimistic opening, but cracks in that optimism will soon start to show.

Passing the time on the bus with little games about their fellow passengers is all well and good, but a kind of ennui soon sets in when the cigarettes are gone and the magazines are read. “And the moon rose over an open field,” Simon and Garfunkel sing, and their voices convey both the awe of witnessing that phenomenon and the melancholy such a sight can bring about in a weary traveler.

Indeed, Simon’s next lines lay bare the extent of his character’s pain: “’Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping / ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.’” With that admission, he becomes another in a long line of wanderers hitting the open road to fill the voids in their souls. Simon makes this connection with the closing couplet: “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike / They’ve all come to look for America.”

“America” suggests that restlessness is just as much of our unalienable birthright as anything else. To borrow another word from the Declaration of Independence, Simon & Garfunkel’s talent for making such effortlessly vast yet intensely personal statements was always self-evident.

Behind the Song

That was then. This is now. In tomorrow’s America there are no inalienable rights. Just whatever the asterisk government deigns to allow on any given day. Get used to it. Or come up with an alternative.

Today’s consumers of news & entertainment media fare, glued to their tiny smartphone screens, have the attention span of a gnat and the historical perspective of a flea. And even if you could get them to agree in principle (for a limited time) to any restoration of America’s once-remarkable level of freedoms — the corrupt and cheating overlords would almost certainly overrule. And the Orwellian media would cover them in roses for doing it.

The song says, “They’ve all come to look for America…” Good luck after tomorrow.

Let us be lovers
We’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate
Here in my bag

So we bought a pack of cigarettes
And Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And walked off
To look for America
“Kathy”, I said
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now

It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw
“I’ve come to look for America”

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy

I said, “Be careful
His bow tie is really a camera”
“Toss 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 her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said
Though I knew she was sleeping
“I’m empty and aching and
I don’t know why”

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come
To look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America

Lyrics

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