Song 111: Simon and Garfunkel, “America” (1968)


Have you ever noticed that the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” don’t contain rhymes? I’ve known this song for at least 20 years, and it never once occurred to me, until today, after reading about the song. Is it Paul Simon’s songwriting prowess that sneaks the blank verse by us? Are we supposed to notice?

Now that I know about the non-rhymes, I think it contributes to the song’s themes of loneliness and loss. The two main characters are making their way across the country and becoming increasingly directionless. It’s telling that the only hint at a rhyme is in the first verse, when the couple is still in the beginning phase of their journey: “Michigan seems like a dream to me now.” After that, as the pair runs out of cigarettes and counts cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, the lines are fragments with no rhyming counterparts.

“America” has always been my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song, not only because of those lyrics, but because of the melody, which is so beautiful but so simple. The fact that he uses that simplicity to portray this complex, crumbling relationship (both the relationship between the characters and their relationship to their country) is what makes this song so heartbreaking.


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