Welcome to Two for Tuesday, an ongoing bi-weekly series where Consequence of Sound’s Henry Hauser will take two “unlikely pairs” in music and compare, contrast, juxtapose, and evaluate the commonalities between both parties. Last time, he analyzed how Billy Joel and Bob Dylan found solace in music men, and this week he looks into the cougars that inspired Rod Stewart and Simon & Garfunkel.
Ever since Anne Bancroft seduced a trembling Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, older ladies have been on the prowl. From Stifler’s mom to the sitcom stars of Cougar Town, middle-aged temptresses are enjoying a second wind. Touting decades of sexual experience, these seasoned paramours can deliver giddy thrills and invaluable knowledge to their puerile playthings. But, they also threaten to rob these jittery juveniles of something that cannot be replaced: innocence. For better or worse, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel have all been there. Both “Mrs. Robinson” and “Maggie May” present young men reflecting back on muddled affairs with older women. Though the songs’ protagonists still feel love and affection for their older partners, each track is driven by an unmistakable sense of loss and regret.
“Mrs. Robinson”, off of Simon & Garfunkel’s Grammy-winning LP, Bookends, comes off both chirpy and wistful. Toasting his aging lover, the singer comforts her with the promise of salvation (“God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson/ Heaven holds a please for those who pray”). Folksy acoustic guitar strumming and honeyed harmonies usher in a simplistic tranquility, as Mrs. Robinson is welcomed into a high-class sanitarium (“We’d like to help you learn to help yourself”). Contemplating taciturn Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio’s retreat from the public eye, Simon & Garfunkel simultaneously mourn America’s loss of innocence and their own fleeting naiveté. The song ends with the sense that we’ve lost something priceless, and there’s no hope of ever getting it back.
According to Rod Stewart, “Maggie May” is actually based on his first sexual experience, which occurred at the ’61 Beaulieu Jazz Festival. Compared to “Mrs. Robinson”, Stewart’s tune is both more wounded (“You stole my heart and that’s what really hurts”) and more vengeful (“The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age”).
Despite confessing an unremitting love for his lascivious partner, Stewart nonetheless wishes he’d never set eyes on old Maggie. Framed by Ray Jackson’s bittersweet mandolin lines, the London singer-songwriter blasts his erstwhile lover with scorched, raspy vocals, “Maggie, I wish I’d, never seen your fay-hey-hey-ceee!”
Those cougars really did a number on poor Rod, Paul, and Art. Though the jejune boys were initially just in it for the sex, they all ended up falling in love and getting burned. But, while Simon & Garfunkel are concerned with Mrs. Robinson’s welfare, Stewart is much more vindictive toward Maggie May. The folkies clearly have the more enlightened approach here; holding a grudge never works out for anyone. Still, that vixen at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival must have really been something.