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The Story Behind Simon And Garfunkel’s Hit Song “The Boxer”: Who’s The One Getting Beaten Up?

The Story Behind Simon And Garfunkel’s Hit Song “The Boxer”: Who’s The One Getting Beaten Up?

Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” was quite a story in and of itself. Clocking in at over five minutes it slowly but steadily builds to a tremendous climax before falling back into a long quiet ending that lands as soft as a feather.

The innovation required to record the song was extraordinary, requiring 100 hours to record. Take the lush vocals of the interludes, for instance. Sung in a recording studio? Nope. Try St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University where the acoustics were provided by the church’s tiled dome. And an 8-track recorder (the state-of-the-art standard at the time) just wasn’t enough. So two 8-track recorders running in sync were required to record all the necessary vocal tracks. It was the first 16 track recording ever made, although Simon said later it was a “b—-” to get the two recorders to work together.

Then there was that thunderous drum part underneath those vocals. Hal Blaine, the incomparable veteran session drummer, was responsible for those. Played in a recording studio? Nope, part II. But they didn’t use a church for the drums. They used an office, specifically in front of an elevator at Columbia Record’s offices. Blaine pounded and producer Roy Halee added the reverb. And it worked. The part that didn’t work was when an elevator arrived and an elderly security guard walked out and got the surprise of a lifetime.

But probably the biggest innovation came from the lyrics. The song began with imagery Simon had picked up while reading the Bible in hotel rooms (“workman’s wages” and “seeking out the poorer quarters” are derived from New Testament verses). Simon had composed a flowing five verse story of poverty and resilience, where the singer (like a boxer) is beaten down but tenaciously holds on to take more punishment even as he voices his desire to give up and leave. One could easily imagine Simon had someone specific in mind (similar to the way he used Joe DiMaggio’s name in “Mrs. Robinson”). Well, he did have somebody in mind but it wasn’t someone from the boxing world.

It was himself.

From the beginning of their commercial success in 1966 the duo had praise lavished on them from both critics and fans alike. But it didn’t last. Popular music critics began to accuse them of not being real folk artists. The pummeling continued though Simon felt the criticism wasn’t fair. As he recalled in an interview with Playboy Magazine in 1984, “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.”