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The Boxer

by

Simon & Garfunkel



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

In his 1984 Playboy interview, 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!" (thanks, Tristan - L.A., CA)
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. It was an interesting field trip for the recording crew who had to set up the equipment in the house of worship.

With all this material to work with, a standard 8-track recorder wasn't enough, so the album's producer, Roy Halee, brought Columbia boss Clive Davis into the studio to demonstrate his problem and lobby for a new, 16-track recorder. Davis, who didn't become a legendary record executive by turning down such requests, bought him the new machine.
Simon found inspiration for this song in The Bible, which he would sometimes read in hotels. The lines, "Workman's wages" and "Seeking out the poorer quarters" came from passages.
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. Other examples of placeholders that worked include the "I know" chorus in "Ain't No Sunshine" and Otis Redding's whistling in "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay."
In a 1990 interview with SongTalk magazine, 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.
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.
This song was recorded about a year before the album was released.
Bob Dylan recorded a version of this on his 1970 album Self Portrait.
Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel Artistfacts
More Simon & Garfunkel songs
More songs with occupations in the title
More songs about loneliness or isolation

Comments (53):

I think you are mixing up The JFK/RFK/MLK memorial scene from Songs of America where they play Bridge over Troubled Water with the Boxer.
- Howard, Bedminster, NJ
@John, Oklahoma City, OK
Okay, You seem to have a personal gripe with S&G, which is fine. Have at it, but kindly don't abscond my topic to use to vent your thoughts. To stop that TANGENT topic all together, I am refraining from discussing whether or not S&G thought they were hippies.

My point was that 7th avenue in NYC is NOT an area where whores/hookers/prostitutes are/exist/etc. Never have been, ever. It doesn't follow any form of logic if you REALLY meant whores, because whores have always worked 42nd street. 42nd street is the stereotypical reference for the 1940's though 1980's that you want to use if you REALLY mean whores.

I am thinking, apparently they didn't, so they were trying to say something subliminally with obscure imagery for anybody who doesn't live in or know NYC.

It is the BUSINESS district. Any discussion that I used previously was to support my thesis that they were saying that the b-u-s-i-n-e-s-s d-i-s-t-r-i-c-t (and thereby the businesses in that locale were the whores. Meaning anybody going to work for them would be "Johns". As in, if you want sole-less automaton type work, work that doesn't fulfill what you are in life but just enough to get by, THAT is a perfect place to go, the same as you would do when you go to a whore.

I did NOT call S&G whores, I was saying they were calling the BUSINESSES, whores. Which is relevant to discussing my rationalism for their choosing the lyrics they did.
- Lonewulf, Tampa, FL
I love this song and I sing a lot (badly) a lot to my kids and animals. When I sing them this song I change the gendered references (poor girl; johns on 7th avenue) because this song spoke directly spoke to me, it was like they had looked at my life to write it - a poor girl who had run away from home, where listening to girls speak of sexual and other dometic violence were never heard, and sought shelter and safety in the "ragged quarters" - the fringes of society back in the late 60s where hippies were simultaneously rejecting and being rejected by society. The song gave me hope, in a time when I had none, that I would remain, I would survive. So, I think artist's intentions and listeners lives make what they will of lyrics....
- Tess, Prince George, BC
We seem to have quite a discussion going on here. I was a teenager in the 60's and had a rather mixed bag of experiences. I played guitar for the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars during part of their tour in 1963, before "they sent me off to Vietnam on my senior trip". I also wrote R&B songs and had a "hit" (regional hit) record a couple of years before that, Nite Owl, recorded by the Dukays and the Trend Dells. So I was exposed to both sides of the street. However, I was never a hippie, but I did drop a little acid and took speed and had my mind expanded. After getting out of the service I went back to playing music. I even played for REO Speed Wagon when they were first forming (they liked my R&B licks). But after moving to Bossier City, LA I got into C&W and played with a number of those artists until I settled in to just playing with my own band locally. So that is how I developed my opinions of the music world and the artists. My knowledge of S&G and comes primarily from research on the internet, the Bridge Over Troubled Water 40th Anniversary DVD, and a few people I knew in the recording industry who had a broader background and supposedly actually worked with some of the legends.
So I am not without a few certificates of knowledge and background. However, I do believe Simon may have thought of he and Garfunkle as whores, but only during their Tom & Jerry phase. When S&G were really sailing, they were neither fish nor fowl. They weren't folkies, the weren't R&R, they weren't British, they weren't any of the genres that A&R guys like to stick artists into. They were S&G, they were their own "genre" and they seemed to stay that way. However, I do believe it was Paul who lead the way.
- John, Oklahoma City, OK
@John in Oklahoma City
Let me state I am not speaking with avarice. Peace, man! heh But I will represent my side firmly. First, I don't know if you were around or not during the 60's but I was, and lived in Brooklyn (which is next to Queens where they grew up) So I know what was and wasn't a hippie at the time and I know how those who were old enough, were jobless. However. to explain my position; A) you were either a "square" or you were "hip" which is to say "cool/easy going/accepting other peoples differences/etc". While there wasn't a pigeon hole large enough to express the whole hippie generation, there WAS a definitive pigeon hole for "squares"; clean cut, not interested in speaking out about rights, not interested in Rock n Roll, never experimenting with illegal drugs.
B) Were they both-feet-in "hippies"? Heck no, but as I just said, the hippies weren't a clearly defined group. Some were into archaic clothes styles. (See Austin Powers) which developed into punk which developed into goth. Some dressed simply. Some liked to dress like Indians and thereby "fringe" was in. Some wore turtle necks and chokers. Some were political activists and some didnt care what they wore.
The only common denominators with Hippies were; 1) they liked music, 2) they wanted to have sex outside of marriage and 3) they tried/used recreational drugs.

I also didn't say having a recording contract and singing folk songs (another typical hippie tag) was whoring. Working a corporate job instead of having simple "honest" work was considered whoring by that generation. However, I will give a nod that MAYBE Simon was appealing to what he thought that hippies WANTED to hear and that he was speaking FOR them. I don't know one way or the other on that and as I originally said, some of what I was saying was speculation based on facts. But I was saying what I said based on his (Simon's) words that HE was the boxer. You might THINK the the song being called "the boxer" means that the whole song is therefore about him. I freely admit this isn't a solid fact.

Now while Simon was a, mostly, clean cut dude, Garfunkel had a head of hair on him that was almost an afro. Still, Simon did sport a cheesy mustache during those years. Simon also admitted he used drugs recreationally.

My summation that they were trying to fit themselves into that generation is best summed up in Simon's own words in the first quote aat the top of the page; "...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 quote was Simon talking about how the hippies were rejecting them, that Simon and Garfunkel weren't "even hippies!", which apparently, he didn't like. Suggesting that Simon at least thought of himself as a hipster.
- Lonewulf, Tampa, FL
I don't believe S &G were ever hippies. They may have dressed a little like them, but they were already recording artists with a contract when they were in their teens (Tom & Jerry) and they were taking direction and money from the suits, so according to your interpretation they were already "whores". They were singing about a lifestyle I don't believe they ever experienced. I'm sure they knew many artists that did have that lifestyle and of course that is what makes a great writer. If you can write convincingly about something you have only observed then you truly have talent.
- John, Oklahoma City, OK
While some of this information is factual, some of it is based on my interpretation based on those facts.
referencing the lyrics "Asking only workman's wages I go looking for a job, but I got no offers, just a "come on" from the whores on 7th avenue. I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there"

At the time, 7th Ave in NYC is not where whores are, they, being typically "uptown" on the famous 42nd street (as of the 1980's, no longer but that's besides the point). 7th Avenue however is, and is still to this day, the "business district".
The 60's generation was all about not being "soulless" and doing something of "substance" or meaningful. That generation would have looked at having a job in the business section of NYC as soulless, which is how some people view whores who sell themselves for money and get nothing meaningful out of it.
Thus, I believe Simon was equating the business section to whores, that he was trying to stake his claim that he was a part of his (the hippie) generation, though he confesses that he "took some comfort there" in other words he confesses he got a job doing soulless, thankless (corporate) work. Another thing that his generation praised was full disclosure, while they didn't claim to be perfect, they appreciated when someone was honest about something that they would collectively deem as "wrong". "Honest" work would have been some type of work on a farm or in a factory that you would get only "workman's wages".

I don't think this song had anything to do with the woes of immigration but simply speaks of the hardships that the 60's generation had looking for jobs and how hard it was for them for finding their niche in life.. They sought out poorer "ragged" people because they believed there was knowledge to be learned from people who have lost all.

Thanks Paul and Art for wonderfully inspiring songs!
- Lonewulf, Tampa, FL
To my ears there is a mellotron mixed with real strings in the closing chorus.
- Robert, London, United Kingdom
What Mike from Syracuse said is true. Hal Blaine, the drummer, and the engineer tell the story of how the drum part came about and they relate that store in the the DVD of Bridge Over Troubled Water 40th Anniversary. As for St Paul's church I'm not sure where it is although on the DVD they said they used a chapel at Columbia University for the Lie-La-Lie part and for a number of other areas that needed echo.
- John, Oklahoma City, OK
All of the questions that have been asked on here about Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer have been answered on the 40th Anniversary DVD of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I saw this documentary on MTV just about 2 months ago and it is terrific. The big drum crash echo sound on The Boxer came from the drums being setup in front of an elevator shaft in the CBS building in NYC. I could tell you more but there is too much to cover and the DVD covers it all. Watch for a replay on MTV for those of you who do not want to buy the DVD.
- John, Oklahoma City, OK
According to the drummer that actually played the drums, and the engineer that actually recorded them, the crash sounds at the end of the song were recorded in a hallway at Columbia studios in a location that had the best acoustics. This location happened to be directly in front of the elevator doors. They recall that during the recording of the drum crashes, an elderly security guard stumbled in to the session and when the elevator doors opened, he was terribly frightened by the noise that came as soon as the elevator doors opened, to the great amusement of the crew.
- Mike, Syracuse, NY
I had heard that the crash sound during Lie-la-lie were created by opening up the doors to an elevator shaft on the 12th floor of a recording studio and playing the drums in front of them.
- John, Oklahoma City, OK
The Li-li-li chorus was inspired by the song "July, You're A Woman" by John Stewart released in 1968. Stewart was a member of The Kingston Trio and a friend of Paul Simon.
- Dave, Scottsdale, AZ
this is a truly remarkable song. one of those songs that one can relate to. you dont have to necessarily have left your country to do so, but you can certainly relate. its about life, i believe, the struggles one goes through sometime, the loneliness. its a tad bit depressing and sad, but it communicates humanity and perserverance.one of my favorite songs.
josphat, Mombasa, Kenya
- Josphat, Mombasa, Kenya
I love the line "I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles,/ such are promises." It means nothing when taken literally. What is a pocketful of mumbles? How do you get one? And why would you want one? Obviously, we have to look deeper than the surface to understand. Put simply, the narrator gave up everything he had and got nothing in return. This supports the theory that the song is about an immigrant coming to America and finding life in a new country difficult. How many people came here after hearing promises that the "streets were lined with gold," only to find that opportunities were not always easy to find, and that, although there was plenty of gold to be had, it was not usually available to the immigrant. The narrator has not seen the promises of wealth and happiness come true. He wishes he could go home, but he cannot, and all his sacrifice was for nothing.
- Jay, Brooklyn, NY
You know I love to add knowledge when it includes synthesizers - debunking peoples' hatred for those "fake instruments". I heard Paul Beaver made an appearance in the studio and added his famous Moog at the end of the song. Listen closely folks! That's a Moog synthesizer. I don't know that it was Paul Beaver's, but it's a synth nonetheless. Big sounding. And that snare! I think it was just a big snare recorded in a "live room" and run through a tape echo and gated, it's what it sounds like to me - but who am I to judge?
- Jesse, Madison, WI
In the live free Central Park concert in 1981 there was an mistake made at the begining of "The Boxer". After singing the songs first line "I am just a poor boy though my story seldom told." Art sings "I have squandered... earlyer than they had planned to sing it for this concert." (You can hear it in the cheering). You can also here the looser sound when both Paul and Art sing the line together because they smiled over the error. Although this mistake is there, it does not take away from the impact they have.
- Phillip, Freehold, NJ
To me the story narrates the hard times most immigrants face when they come into America. They always hear about how it's the land of opportunity, but don't realize until they come here that opportunity doesn't always come knocking on the door. Sometimes you have to work hard for it. I picture the story taking place in the early 20th century, when there was a large Irish immigration due to a potato famine. Unfortunately they weren't welcomed with open arms. I remember seeing a documentary about how a lot of them faced hard times, couldn't get a job of any kind ("I get no offers..."), and were pretty much unwanted. In the documentary I remember seeing photos of signs at construction sites or factories, stating they were hiring, but "Irish need not apply." In this song, the narrator states how he's finding it very hard to make it in New York, let alone America, and when he's about ready to get on the next ship back to his homeland, he sees a boxer taking a beating, but instead of giving up, he stands and takes the blows. Even when all seems lost, the boxer and fighter still stands his ground, knowing that while he may lose this fight, he'll still live, and he might win the next fight. The immigrant takes this as a life lesson, that while today may be hard, and you may fail, tomorrow may be better.
- Patrick, Bremen, GA
What makes the sound like a ships horn, tubas?
- Bev, Dallas, TX
Matt in NY - When I first heard the song, I thought that was exactly what they were talking about.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
If some political campaign is on the ball, they will use the "Lie, Lie, Lie" chorus against the other party's candidate this fall....
- Steve, Binghamton, NY
"after changes upon changes we are more or less the same" - yep
- Susan, Westchestertonfieldville, VA
Here is a bit of a different take on this song. Being from New York, immigration is a major part of the city's history. Could it be this song can also represent an immigrant, with the phrase "I am just a poor boy," and, "seeking out the poorer quaters where the ragged people go." He could be referring to the tenemants on the lower east side. Also, there were fight clubs in the early 1900's, which is how many immigrants made there money. Maybe the boxer doesn't exist in a metaphorical sense, but he is acutally what Simon says he is - a boxer. Just a different take and something else to think about. thanks for reading.
- matt, New York, NY
The Boxer was named the 105th best song ever made in the rolling stones magazine "500 greatest songs" issue.
- Alex, Fort Collins, CO
Simon intended "The Boxer" to be the theme song for "Midnight Cowboy". But after they chose Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin at Me" for the movie instead, Simon tacked on that part about the boxer at the end. Which explains why there's no correlation between the first 75% of the song and the verse about the boxer.
- Russ, Newark, NJ
Thanks for the info Daniel,Staten Island,NY. I imagined that Simon added this verse later due to deeper insights gained through age, wisdom and the benefit of hindsight.
- marc, perth, Australia
The added verse has always been there, it wasent only used when Paul Simon went solo. The added verse was first performed by Simon and Garfunkel in 1969 at Miami University at Oxford Ohio. Later it was performed in 1975 when they reunited for one show on Saturday Night Live. Then in the concert in central park it was performed. Who ever said that it was added when Simon went solo was wrong. That verse was was always written, but Art enjoyed the Horn solo so they put that in the original instead of the verse.
- Daniel, Staten Island, NY
The Boxer..this a folk ballad written by Paul Simon in 1968. It was released as the follow up single to their number one hit Mrs. Robinson. The Boxer later appeared on their last studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water in 1969. I think it could easily have been used in a news cast after Robert Kennedy's death. I am currently listening to the version that was done live at their Concert in Central Park on my IPOD... so it is like I have my own personal concert!!!
- Jane, White River Jct, VT
Its really great.this is something which impresses me not only me but it also reflects the thinking pattern of modern individuals who have been opressed & rejected by the excisting capital based social establishment.It not just reflects the oppressed life under social inequality but gives us a sign that if we try yeah somthing can be done.Fight with tha inhuman reality lika the BOXER.BOXER is a symbol which reflects the spirit of a true revolutionery.-Ramindu el
- Ramindu, Kandy, China
the "years are rolling by me" part was addded when simon became a solo artist. he used them ever since, if i remember right...
- Sara MacKenzie, Middle of Nowhere, FL
Neil from London:
I heard that verse at the Paul Simon tribute concert in Montreal. The performers placed it between the whores from 7th avenue verse and the Laying out my winter clothes verse.
- mampoop, Montreal, United States
And, what if it wasn't at all about just one specific person ? Not this boxer, or that singer, or anyone in particular but the one who ever felt that way ?

What it if was a song for all who ever felt small and alone in the world ? Those who thought they'd be strong enough to leave their home, and find that, sometimes, they crave to go home ?
- Michel, Paris, France
I have come across an additional verse that S&G apparently performed live that goes: "And the years are rolling by me, they are rocking evenly, I am older than I once was, younger than I'll be, that's not unusual. It isn't strange, after changes upon changes we are more or less the same, after changes we are more or less the same. Lie la lie..." Does anyone know where this verse fits in the normal sequence of verses?
- Neil, London, England
The booming snare drum in this song is actually a loudspeaker playing the snare part at the bottom of an elevator shaft with mics at the top of it. Then they gated it to control the reverb time.
- Bobby, Basalt, CO
Hey Bill from Philadelphia: that's pretty funny that you should claim that this song is "about the life of Jack Dempsey", because it actually has nothing at all to do with Jack Dempsey. Where do you hear these ludicrous things? Come on!!!
- Ted, Glenview, IL
I love the drums on this one
- Yuya, Kyoto, Japan
Cameron from Mesquite, how could this song have been played in a news segment about Robert Kennedy's death, if the song was released in 1970 and Kennedy Died in 1968?
- Mike, Germantown, MD
This song gives me goosebumps every time i hear the "li li li" part at the end---with the strings and everything, just amazing musical architecture.
- Laura, Spencerport, NY
This song seemed to be about the book "The Power of One." I know that it's not, but it kinda seemed like it. So, if anybody comes across that book (which everybody should read, by the way), you should listen to the song.
- Jo Bob, McCleary, WA
This song was played during a television news segment for Robert Kennedy, after his death in 1968.
- cameron, mesquite, TX
The song is about the life of Jack Dempsey who was heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926. The song talks about how he "left home as a boy." The references to New York, where Jack arrived at a young age and got taken advantage of. Also the referenes of the "railroad" stations and stranger depict his travels accross the country as many a poor person did at that time - riding the rods as a hobo.
- Bill, Philadelphia, PA
I've heard an Irish performer claim this was about Bob Dylan and the way he tried to hide his comfortable upbringing and make out he was an underprivelidged child- hence "Lie lie..."
- C, no., England
An amusing moment came during the Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert in Central Park. When they sing the line "just a come on from the whores on Seventh Avenue", you can hear a rousing cheer that sounds like it's coming from the back of the huge crowd!
- Jerry, Brooklyn, NY
didn't know about the chain... I always thought it was some serious crash symbol, but hey! whatever works
- corey, Indianapolis, IN
would have been a good theme for the new "Cinderella man" movie. "making only workman's wages", etc.
The end reminds me of the end of "hey Jude"
a bit....how haunting as the end recedes back into the acoustic coda......they were right up
there with the beatles at this point....actually,
Let it be and BOTW were quite similar.......
- Scott, chicago, IL
The song was performed in the pre-opening credits sequence of the first Saturday Night Live broadcast after 9/11.
- Martin, sydney, Australia
apparently they used the elevator snare for 'bridge over troubled water'
i love this drum
- alvin, sioux center, IA
I've always heard the echoing drum was created by placing the drum at the bottom of an empty elevator shaft. It sure doesn't sound like a chain on a concrete floor to me!
- Steve, Hamilton, Other
A great song that can still bring tears to the hardest of hearts. I seem to recall a movie about a club fighter that used this song.
- John, Levittown, NY
Was this song based on the Ernest Hemingway short story "The Battler?"
- Kim, Salt Lake City, UT
Love this song, great Jewish singing with the Lai Lai Li Li
- Daniel, Perth, AK
Some of The Boxer was recorded at St Paul's Church in NYC. Fine. But where is St Paul's? There are a bunch of them in NYC. Journalists/authors are so lazy sometimes! Anyone know?
Thanks.
Email me, please, at davidcandler@hotmail.com
- David, New York, NY
The first single from the Grammy-winning final Simon & Garfunkel LP "Bridge Over Troubled Water". This single was released months before the LP.
- Charles, Charlotte, NC
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