♫ The Boxer ♫

Our friend Keith and I often plant earworms in each other’s minds, sometimes inadvertently, other times with gleeful intent!  I’m not sure what earworm I gave him lately that led to him planting this one in my head in revenge, but as soon as I read his comment, the song began scrolling through the corners of my mind, would not be banished, and thus is being played here in hopes of the earworm jumping into someone else’s head and leaving me in peace!  Frankly, though, it is a grand earworm, and I was happy to receive it, plus it gave me an idea for today’s music post.  I can’t believe I haven’t played this one before, since it is one of my favourite Simon & Garfunkel tunes.  Thank you, Keith!  Mission Accomplished!

In his 1984 Playboy interview, Paul Simon revealed that he wrote this song when critics were writing harsh things about his music – he was “the boxer.” Said Simon:

“I think the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop. By that time we had encountered our first criticism. For the first few years, it was just pure praise. It took two or three years for people to realize that we weren’t strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock ‘n’ roll. And maybe we weren’t real folkies at all! Maybe we weren’t even hippies!”

This song took over 100 hours to record, with parts of it done at Columbia Records studios in both Nashville and New York City. The chorus vocals were recorded in a church: St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University in New York. The church had a tiled dome that provided great acoustics.

Sometimes what is put in as a placeholder lyric becomes a crucial part of the song. That was the case here, as Simon used “lie la lie” in place of a proper chorus because he couldn’t find the right words. Simon said: “I thought that ‘lie la lie was a failure of songwriting. I didn’t have any words! Then people said it was ‘lie’ but I didn’t really mean that. That it was a lie. But, it’s not a failure of songwriting, because people like that and they put enough meaning into it, and the rest of the song has enough power and emotion, I guess, to make it go, so it’s all right. But for me, every time I sing that part, I’m a little embarrassed.” Simon added that the essentially wordless chorus gave the song more of an international appeal, as it was universal.

It was during the recording of “The Boxer” that Art Garfunkel met his future first wife, Linda Grossman. As he recalled:

“I invited Linda to the studio that night… we were working on “The Boxer.” She was reluctant, but she thought she’d try it. She came, sat over the engineering console, with her chin on her wrist, staring at me, Paul and Roy for four hours. She was going to know everything. I was impressed and flattered. I like people who third-degree me, who stare at me, I feel they’re interested. And we went out afterwards, and I was very charmed and we dated a lot. It took us about three years though before I had the courage to ask her to marry me.”

The legendary session drummer Hal Blaine created the huge drum sound with the help of producer Roy Halee, who found a spot for the drums in front of an elevator in the Columbia offices. As recounted in the 2011 Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water documentary, Blaine would pound the drums at the end of the “Lie la lie” vocals that were playing in his headphones, and at one point, an elderly security guard got a big surprise when he came out of the elevator and was startled by Blaine’s thunderous drums.

The opening guitar lick came courtesy of the session player Fred Carter Jr., who Simon hired to play on the track. Simon would often use another guitarist to augment his sound.

Simon added he is glad the chorus is wordless because “a deep truth of songwriting is we love to sing nonsensical sounds.”

The song charted at #3 in Canada, #6 in the UK, and #7 in the U.S.

The Boxer

Simon & Garfunkel

I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles
Such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places
Only they would know

Lie la lie, lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie

Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores
On Seventh Avenue
I do declare
There were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
La la la la la la la

Lie la lie, lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie

Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Going home
Where the New York City winters
Aren’t bleeding me
Leading me
Going home

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him ’til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains

Lie la lie, lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, lie la lie
Lie la la la lie la lie, la la la la lie

Writer/s: Paul Simon
Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

17 thoughts on “♫ The Boxer ♫

  1. Jill, thanks for the shout out. Actually, this is the ear worm you accidentally planted with the Boxing Day post. I just put up a mirror to return the ear worm to its source. But, it is a good one to have. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooooohhhhhh … I get it now! I don’t know how I didn’t figure that out to begin with. CBS (Calcified Brain Syndrome), I think. It is a good one to have, and even Clive liked the song!


  2. Pingback: ♫ The Boxer ♫ — Filosofa’s Word | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  3. I never did understand this song, though the words and melody created a winsome mood. The opening lines were very significant to me, though, as my 16th birthday present to myself was leaving home and striking out on my own.
    I wrote a poem that day. I called it “The Fool Steps Out,” after the first card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • today my father has died
      yesterday death took my mother
      now i stand here all alone
      insanity has claimed my only brother
      i can lean on no one

      what now can family do for me
      where does all my schooling help
      all my thinking was done for me
      i must think my thoughts myself
      who guideth me, oh sun

      i once had food to feed my body
      i once had a roof above my head
      now i must fend for myself a larder
      now i must find for myself a bed
      there is no time left for fun

      Liked by 1 person

        • For me it was not sad. I took a lot of “poetic liberties” with it, and for me it was the most hopeful yet meaningful way to write my joy of being free.
          (My father was not actually fead, just dead to me, as of that day. He was a cruel and vicious tyrant, but he could never tell me what to do again, and that was the best of all possible worlds.
          (My mother had died 8 years earlier. Cancer was her way of escaping my father.
          (Since all my siblings except one had left home by this time, I had had only one sibling left for the past year, my little brother. He was not insane, but he had Down Syndrome, and two days earlier he had been taken into an institution because my father was mistreating him too — it was for his own safety.
          (So, literally, after I left for school that day, not intending to ever return to that house, I was in actuality all alone for the first time in my life.
          (I had made no plans, having taken only the clothes on my back so as not to arouse suspicion. I did go to school, but left for lunch and never went back there either. I wandered around the city for hours, just experiencing what freedom truly meant. I ended up at my sister’s place, and she put me up for the night. And that was the end of the first real day of my life!

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