A platonic love song, and my favourite off Bridge Over Troubled Water, the massive zeitgeist album which in 1970 sold something over 13 million copies while serving both as an elegant swan song for the duo and a sort of bookend for the Sixties, then coming to a crashing close with the breakup of the Beatles, the tragedy at Altamont, and the untimely deaths of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, with Jim Morrison soon to follow. The Only Living Boy in New York was written in a time of loneliness and uncertainty, when Paul was left behind to write the songs for their next album while Art jetted down south to play a role in the film Catch 22; Art is the “Tom” who’s flown off to Mexico, a reference to the formative days in the late Fifties when the pair billed themselves as “Tom and Jerry”. As filming dragged on, month after month, Paul wrote about feeling all alone, abandoned, lost in the big city, and gone somewhere, but he didn’t know where, a feeling somehow perfectly evoked in the studio recording by the swirling, echoing backing vocals (performed by an ensemble of fifteen different voices), and that evocative, plaintive “here I am…”, the very sound of waiting and watching expectantly for someone to come back home, at once sad, wistful, and hopeful. You can almost see the sun setting behind the towers of Manhattan. In retrospect, it’s also easy to make out Simon’s dawning awareness that he and his old friend were about to go their separate ways, as he acknowledges that his longtime collaborator has been eager to fly on his own for a while now, and offers the assurance that Tom’s part’ll go fine, hey, he just has to let his honesty shine “like it shines on me”, a lovely sentiment; if this is farewell, then there’s no hard feelings.
I stumbled across the live rendition from the “Pigpen Cover Series” by accident. It’s a nice performance, don’t you think?