America

Album: Bookends (1968)
Charted: 25 97
  • Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together
    I've got some real estate here in my bag
    So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner's pies
    And we walked off to look for America
    Cathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
    Michigan seems like a dream to me now
    It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
    I've gone to look for America

    Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
    She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
    I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
    Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat
    We smoked the last one an hour ago
    So I looked at the scenery
    She read her magazine
    And the moon rose over an open field

    Cathy, I'm lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
    And I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
    Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
    They've all come to look for America
    All come to look for America
    All come to look for America Writer/s: PAUL SIMON
    Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 47

  • Mark from Chicago I think this song is a metaphor, wonderfully written and expertly crafted but most importantly this song is more relevant today than it was even in 1968. This song represents a generation of today’s lost youth, maybe A little entitled, yes, but lost never the less. Our young people trying to find their own sense of America. I particularly love the line “I’m 18 and aching and I don’t know why” This to me is the antithesis of what the Gen Y Gen Z generation is going through at this very moment. Hey, we were all confused at 18 but today it’s a very different time and one can get lost easily in social issues and cultural shifts in values and purpose. Mainstream media and social media influence everyone and force a personal value on what American should be. Ask anyone 10 people what America is to them and you will get 10 answers. None are wrong. That’s what makes is incredible. Finding your own America is critical and if you don’t go out and find, it find your own America that stand for your own values and principles, you will be lost. The song is a metaphor for personal truth.
  • Faz from EnglandI think some people are trying to read too much into this song as with many others. I agree it is most probably not about Paul Simon moving to the USA from England as someone suggests.
    I think this is a beautifully composed song about a journey that only covers a relatively small part of the States - Saginaw in Michigan to New Jersey via Pittsburgh - to convey its vastness - it took me 4 days to hitch-hike from Saginaw". The lines about "playing games with the faces..." serve to convey the length of the journey rather than tedium or disappointment. I do agree that the comments on "..cars on the New Jersey Turnpike... may be the only part of the song about disappointment - in not finding the desired dream destination - or may be just lamenting the fact that everyone is looking for America resulting in a gigantic traffic jam both real and metaphorical.
    I love the drums on this song and the simple poetry of the lines such as - ...the moon rose over an open field. This is one of my favorites, along with American Tune.
  • Marty from Cleveland, OhNice melody and nice recording, but in my opinion the lyrics are pretentious and self-absorbed dreck sung by a spoiled kid. He's aching and empty? Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, do something constructive.

    Simon wrote a few songs during that time that were painfully pseudo-intellectual (e.g., "The Dangling Conversation"). But he can be forgiven because in retrospect, many/most/all of us did embarrassing things when we were that age.
  • Sam from North CarolinaA lot of people have one song they consistently think of as their favorite. This has always been mine.
  • Bucky from Boca RatonPaul Simon is talking about the persist of happiness in this song. The main character and his girl friend have made plans to travel around the country because they believe they will find freedom and happiness in doing so. As the song continues we begin to see little things breaking down. Kathy and he attempt at entertaining each other or having interesting conversation is reduced to each other trying to be witty or funny ( "she said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said be careful his bow tie is really a camera."), they run out of cigarettes and we get the feeling they didn't plan ahead to buy extra packs or they don't have enough money. Their adventure is reduced to him staring at the scenery and her reading her magazine. Not the most exciting stuff, and they're not inter-reacting anymore. Finally the realization that he won't find America (happiness) in this manner or with this person hits him. (Kathy, I'm lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping. I'm empty and aching and I don't know why". Why doesn't he tell her when she's awake? Because he has been faking it with her and pretending to be happy so he is telling himself first.
  • Tom from Perth, AustraliaWalked off to look for Australia a few times in my life. Ended the same way as it did for the characters in the song. Something ironic about looking for oneself geographically, but sometimes you won't work that out till you've tried it and, if so, you're the lesser for it if you don't.
  • Steve from Sheffield, United KingdomI agree with Sean from Chicago that the song can't be about Paul Simon and Kathy Chitty. If they were coming to America from England, they could fly directly to New York or New Jersey. Why would he end up in Saginaw and hitchhike alone for 4 days to meet Kathy in Pittsburgh before travelling together on a coach to New York? I think the man in the song and Kathy are just two characters he's invented taking a road trip together. "Let us be lovers" suggests they aren't even that close yet.
  • James from Atlanta, Ga1-2-3 (later known as CLOUDS) actually played this song live some 5 years before Yes did their arrangement. The Yes version is quite clearly derivative of the 1-2-3 version, which you can hear 'live' on the CD "Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71].
  • Bryan from Capistrano Beach, CaSorry retraction on Garfunkel's comment - the part about the most beautiful song written by Paul. It was "April Come She Will". I agree. Sorry
  • Bryan from Capistrano Beach, CaGreat song. I often listen to it back to back. Garfunkel said it "was the most beautiful song Paul had ever written". The drummer sounds like Russ Kunkel not Blain.
  • Smith from Oslo, NorwayI especially like this line: "Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat"
    To me this line sounds like a reference to the next stanza where he says "'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said". I take it as an expression of confusion/ uncertainty: He does not know what awaits him in his future ("And we walked off to look for America"), nor is he sure about what HE has to offer to the world (which is expressed in this very line -> "toss me a cigarette I think theres one in my raincoat")
  • Coffeegod from Brandon, Ms"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, thought I knew she was sleeping. "I'm empty and aching and I don't know why." God, been there.

    Say what you will, they don't write lyrics like these anymore.
  • Daniela from Buenos Aires, ArgentinaI heard this song in Almost Famous for the first time! It's so pretty and relaxing :)
  • Josh from Westborough, Mait's true - everyone counts the cars on the New Jersey turnpike.
  • Dean from Sydney,Mark, Let me preface this by saying that I love and respect the Beatles. But Ringo's drums and McCartney's bass were never at this impeccable standard.
  • Mark from Manassas, VaI didn't see anyone mention the obvious Beatlesque elements in the song; from the Ringo-like drum fills and the McCartney sounding melodic bass line. I do love this song. It's not the Boxer or Bridge Over Troubled Water but it is in their top 10.
  • Jay from Brooklyn, NyTry listening to the sounds of the lyrics without thinking about their meaning. Forget the theme of loss and longing for a home. Just pay attention to how the sounds flow together. This is a lyricly beautiful song. From the beginning to the end, the words flow together perfectly. Perhaps the greatest line Paul Simon ever wrote is "Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat" - a line with no deep, important meaning and no cultural reference - a line that could be spoken in a conversation and not sound out of place. It is a great line (and this is a great song) not because of what it says but how it sounds. The words fit together like a puzzle.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnOne of Simon and Garfunkel's best songs. It might be the only song to mention The New Jersey Turnpike.
  • Rjh from London, United Kingdombeautiful, poignant mixture of external and internal observations, the excitement, insecurity, unrootedness of travelling where your companion is your only fixed point. like the comparison with Glen Campbell, it reminds me of his songs too
  • Mike from Seattle, WaRafael in Pasadena. Thanks for the Glen Campbell tip. Some friends of mine and I brainstormed an Americana compilation for 4th of July's. This song by S&G is on there, but my two favorite are "Minutes to Memories" esp. with the line 'the rain hit the old dog (Greyhound Bus) in the TWILIGHTS LAST GLEAMING' and the song "City of New Orleans" (Good morning America- How are you?)
  • Kombucha Mushroom :) from Millihole, Australia~ I first heard this song on my favourite movie ever which is um. . . Almost Famous which has an absolute killer soundtrack :) ~
  • Susan from Tampa, Fl"Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together.., I've got some real estate here in my bag..." yeah, the songwriting is genious! Paul Simon is my favorite of all time, there is not one song by he or them as a duo that I do not adore!
  • Sadie from Dallas, TxThis (along with The Boxer) is a song I can listen to over and over without getting weary of it. It paints a landscape of a moment of life that runs like a film in my mind. Not too deep, not too shallow. It feels real...
  • Heather from Los Angeles, CaI am amazed that there are no SongFacts entries for Kathy's Song (who is the same Kathy in this song) and "To Emily (wherever I may find her)" They are two of the most beautiful songs they recorded.
  • Sean from Chicago, IlI find it odd that this song is about moving to America from England, considering that, at least at face value, the two characters are starting in Saginaw, Michigan, and heading east to New Jersey and possibly New York. My wife and I saw S&G in Atlantic City a few years ago, and of course, my wife and I had to prepare for an audience explosion when the Turnpike line was approaching...
  • Eddie from Northern, NjI was at the S&G Reunion concert in Sept. 18, 1981. It was a magical night. Having grown up with this Queens, NY duo, it was indeed a treat. I still remember the smirk on Paul's face singing 'Fellin Groovy'.
    S&G were the orginal and no one else's version stands up to this.
    Bookends is just a tremedous work of art, ah...what a duo!
  • Steve from Torrance, CaYes' version appears on the following albums: "The Age of Atlantic" (1972), "Yesterdays" (1975), and "Keys to Ascension" (a live version - 1996). As far as song length goes, Yes' version was also severely editted for single release and radio play when it first appeared.
  • Jim from Somewhere, PaSeems to be alot of Yes fans here.. I am one also. However I must say that the S&G arrangment of this song is a classic in its own right, and well written. The Yes version is a completley different arrangment. Very original,and rumored to admired by Paul Simon. A mutual admiration by both entities.

    JIM 3/20/07
  • Gary from Miami, FlThe lyrics about the spy and the bow tie etc is simply endearing chatter between two close people - it has no further meaning, they are kidding each other joyfully.
  • Rafael from Pasadena, CaEvery time I hear this song I really picture myself on a bus traveling into the country.

    Much like the Glen Campbell songs and John Mellencamp's " Minutes to memories " it gives me chills.
  • Luke from Melbournewhat dose it mean with the spy and the bowtie thats realy a camera? is it something to do with the cold war or something like that? also, this is the best song ever. love the lyrics, esp how they don't rhyme.
  • Don from Phoenix, AzAs Julian noted, David Bowie performed this at the Concert for NYC after September 11. The simplicity of the arrangement, and the heartbreak in his voice, combine to capture the raw sadness of the moment. "I'm empty and aching, and I don't know why."
  • Katie from Somewhere, NjI first heard this in Almost Famous. Now I love the song! And yes, the NJ Turpike traffic is really bad... lol.
  • AnonymousAmerica is my all-time favorite.

    The drums and the organ are simply unforgettable.

    The Simon & Garfunkel Reunion Live DVD has a wonderful version with a great electric guitar solo. Check it out.

    And I bet S & G liked the song too because they've chosen it as the theme in the DVD's intro!
  • Jerrybear from Flint, Mione of my favorite S and G songs...just really seems to capture the mood of the time it was written, late sixties and the hippies and other counterculturalists trying to find their place in the world, and also the theme of "america" the reality versus "america" the myth...
  • Adam from Poplar Bluff, MoThis song can't compare to the more extended Yes cover, which is 10 1/2 minutes, rather than a measly 4 minutes.
    - Robert, Chicago, IL

    Are you insane Yes did do a good version of this song, but Simon & Garfunkel's version is in a class by itself. Now, some covers top the originals, but this is not one of those times.
  • Tone from Brisbane, United StatesA particularly gorgeous interpretation of this wonderful song is by Australian jazz pianist Joe Chindamo as played by his trio...
  • Barry from New York, NcLong forgotten folk singer Bert Sommer performed this at Woodstock on the first day of the festival. He also had this on his album.
    Paul Simon has said this is his favorite cover version.
  • Jay from New York, NyThis song does not rhyme. There is nothing close to a rhyme in it. Simon also wrote "Mrs. Robinson", "A Most Peculiar Man", and "Bookends" with little or no rhyme. It takes a talented writer to write an unrhyming poem while maintaining such perfect rhythm.
    This song displays perfectly Simon's talent for fitting dialogue into song. The conversation is natural, yet rhythmic. It flows with the music.
  • Caitlin from A City, NcJosh Groban has a beautiful version of "America" on his "Josh Groban: Live at the Greek" CD and DVD.
  • Julian from Oakland, ArDavid Bowie performed this song at The Concert for New York 9/11 benefit concert.
  • Nathan from Anchorage, AkYa, but this the origanal.
    Almost Famous is my favorite movie of all time.
  • Nicola from Perth, Australiai really like this song... its tops
  • Lindsay from Tucson, Azgreat great song...i guess thats all there is to say.
  • Daniel from Perth, Akgreat song, maybe about the immigration of jews and others in to new york or america
  • Robert from Chicago, IlThis song can't compare to the more extended Yes cover, which is 10 1/2 minutes, rather than a measly 4 minutes.
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcYes recorded an excellent version of this in 1972.
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