Paul Simon wrote this song about his partner Art Garfunkel going to Mexico to act in a movie called Catch-22, which was directed by Mike Nichols, who gave Simon & Garfunkel a big boost when he featured their songs in his 1967 film The Graduate. Simon was also going to be in the film, but Nichols cut his part, which separated the duo. Garfunkel spent months working on the film while Simon returned to New York, where he toiled away on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. He expresses his frustration in this song: "Here I am, the only living boy in New York."
Simon sent letters to keep in touch with Garfunkel and update him on the album's progress. Up to that point, the pair had always partnered musically and shared a bond, which was now breaking. Simon & Garfunkel split up after the album was released; Paul recorded as a solo artist, and Art pursued his acting career.
Regarding the lyrics, "Tom get your plane right on time. I know that your eager to fly now," before the folk duo became famous, they were known as Tom and Jerry. Tom was Art's stage name, so this line symbolizes their increasing need for musical and personal freedom.
In a 1990 interview with SongTalk magazine, Simon said: "I liked the 'aaahhhs,' the voices singing 'aaah.' That was the best I think that we ever did it. It was quite a lot of voices we put on, maybe twelve or fifteen voices. We sang it in the echo-chamber."
This song was addressed during a screening of the Simon & Garfunkel documentary Songs of America. At the screening, Garfunkel said, "I had Paul sort of waiting: 'All right, I can take this for three months. I'll write the songs, but what's the fourth month? And why is Artie in Rome a fifth month? What's Mike [Nichols] doing to Simon & Garfunkel?' And so there's Paul in the third month, still with a lot of heart, writing about, 'I'm the only living boy in [New York]. You used to be the other one."
This was used in the 2004 movie Garden State. Zach Braff, who wrote and directed the movie, thought the song worked perfectly to convey the loneliness of a character. Simon & Garfunkel rarely license the song, but they let Braff use it for a greatly reduced fee after seeing the scene.
Suggestion credit: Denise - Santa Clarita, CA
The session musician Joe Osborn played an 8-string bass on this track, which the album's producer Roy Halee said was the featured musical element of the song. Years later, when Osborn tried to relearn his part to demonstrate it, he realized it was very difficult to reproduce live, as Halee spliced together various takes for the recording.
Eliseu Carvalho from Canoas, Rs, BrazilEverything But the Girl covered this song.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxEric, those echoing vocals certainly sounded like Garfunkel's to me. No way are they Simon's, anyway.
Tom from Portland, OrJoe Osborn has said that is is very difficult to play (but not impossible) because of the way the song was put together. I had the honor of hearing him play it at a celebration of his career, put on by Bass Player Magazine, in New York City.
Frank from San Jose , CaSaw Marc Cohn who did Walking in Mephis do this live in concert. He does a beautiful version of the song. It is also up on You Tube.
Steve from Torrance, CaAs of March 2011, this song is being featured in a Honda Accord commercial, possibly entitled "The One".
I would also like to mention that the placement of "Why don't you write me?" after this song on the BOTW album is one of the harshest juxtapositions in the history of recorded music. When I listen to this album, I listen to the last six songs in the following order: "Baby Driver", "Why don't you write me?", "Bye Bye Love", "The Boxer", "The Only Living Boy in New York", "Song for the Asking".
And yes, this is the best song on the album, and one of the ultimate musical encapsulators of the early 1970s.
Linda from Kansas City, MoI heard the commercial for the Honda Accord and knew I had heard that song before. Then the memories of listening to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with my siblings came to mind. It was one of the few albums we had, and we listened to it all of the time. Truly a great song and album.
Jon from Sydney, AustraliaKate Larkworthy NY 'Does anyone know if the Roches also sing backup on this?' No it's all them, recorded in an echo chamber and also multiple tracked for the choral effect, Bob Dylan was a guest at this session and was very impressed. This was Paul Simon's favorite song from the album Bridge over Troubled Water
Deb from Leamington, OnI'm not familiar with the De Burgh song Robert from Puyallup mentions, but I'm going to check it out. It sounds like the same sort of thing - "Unconscious plagarism" - that got George Harrison into so much $$ trouble with the He's So Fine/My Sweet Lord lawsuit. If legal action ever is taken, tell Chris not to hire the same lawyers as George, he had to pay!
Kate Larkworthy from New York City, NyDoes anyone know if the Roches also sing backup on this? It surely sounds like them -- I believe the words are , "Here I Am" Is this Art Garfunkel alone?
Kate New York City
Lorenzo from Firenze, ItalyI know this song hints at loneliness somehow. But when I listen to it I can't help but thinking about a girl I was with some years ago and about that day when we had a stroll in Central Park..we both were so happy - Lorenzo, Italy
Heather from Los Angeles, CaI agree this song reaches me too. I love the lyric, "Hey, let your honesty shine, shine shine."
Tom from Alameda, CaThis song is the flip side of Cecilia, another great S & G song. Too bad they didn't release it separately.
Micah from Clackamas, OrThis song is great; my bro left for the navy today and he was definitely my best friend. ill miss him
Miles from Vancouver, CanadaI almost start crying when I hear this song.
John from Edinburgh, Scotlandgreg alexander, lead singer has written for ronan keating, sophie ellis bextor and santana
Daniel from Staten Island, NyThe song fact is wrong when it hinted a break up. It was written when Art when down to Mexico to film the movie Catch 22. thats where the line "I know that your part will go fine, Fly down to Mexico" came from.
Marco from Chicago, IlI agree it's a song of friendship. "jerry" is left alone in New York, having "nothing to do but smile" at the thought of "Tom" pursuing his desire of being in a movie. And he cares that everything goes smoothly for Tom, and he follows him through the news he can get. There may be more than friendship in some of the nuances I won't get into, and it really doesn't matter one way or another. It's remains a song of friendship, sweet, honest, and sincere.
Sara Mackenzie from Middle Of Nowhere, Flit was "catch 22" that garfunkel was doing, not "carnel knowledge". "catch 22" also offered a part for simon, but at the last moment dropped. so, only garfunkel was in the movie and he missed EVERYTHING. mostly.
Brian from Westport, CtThere is a fairly brilliant reggae version of this song - retitled "Weather Report" by the Tennors available on the wonderful "Treasure Isle Story" 2CD set.
Steve from Fenton, MoI agree, this song hints at the coming split, as does "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright". This is a great song.
Glenn from Newquay, England (united Kingd, EnglandAlways Liked this song from the first time I heard it in the early 70's. For me it brings back loads of memories of simpler, slower times...
Laura from Spencerport, NyBeautiful song...one of my favorites. To me, it's like Paul looking out for Art, making sure he does get his "plane right on time"...i love these guys' music so much. I wish they did another tour.
Christian from Copenhagen, DenmarkArt Garfunkel definately appeared on this song. He didn't sing any lead vocals, but did backing vocals at the end of the song.
Willy Espinoza from Lima, PeruFor me, "The only Living Boy in NY" is the best song from the Simon & Garfunkel duo. I didn´t knew, untill now, it had a break up meaning for Paul and Art, but now that I know it has a lot of sense. Anyway, "I get the news I need on the waether report" is a very smart phrase, and invites me to put my shoes on, light up a smoke and walk around the world.
Eric from Teaneck, NjThough it's part of a Simon and Garfunkel album, Art Garfunkel doesn not appear at all on this song -- it's all Paul Simon. That's true of a number of songs on the B side of "Bridge," which was recorded while Garfunkel was frewuently off in Mexico, filming the movie "Catch-22."
Jon-michael from Augusta, Georgia, Gaanother lovely song indeed.
Frank Nico from Kassel, GermanyThe first time I went to NY, in 1999, I'd listened to this song all the time. Coming out of a small town in Germany, I really felt like the "only living boy in NY". Great song, great lyrics. @Ben: Your post seems to be right. That was what even I had heard about this song. A Dutch person told me about that.
Robert from Puyallup, WaChris De Burgh has a song from his album 'The Getaway' called "Where Peaceful Waters Flow" which sounds uncannily like "Only Living Boy", down to the same instrumentation and chord changes. I don't know but what he may have been unconsciously influenced by this song.
Lance from Spring Hill, FlBen from wahsington DC is quite accurate... listen to him :D
Matt from Goshen, NyThis is my most favorite song. It's a beautiful song and really reaches me. Matt
Sarah from Ottawa, CanadaThis song is a nice song. It has a good beat but I personally don't think it's one of S&G's best songs.
Ben from Washington, DcActually, This song was really a song of friendship that Paul wrote in dedication to Art while Art was Shooting Catch-22 in Mexico.