Troubled Water: Dementia, unhappy endings – comparing Simon and Garfunkel to ACDC

I can be a terrible music bore. I AM a terrible music bore. I had a lovely moment this very afternoon when two friends came by and said “what’s this?” to my playing Bill Callahan stuff… So I then proceeded to put on a bit too much and then try to talk them through the lovely lyrics in Rococo Zephyr.

I say “talk them through”: all I wanted to point out was how lovely was the line “I used to be sorta blind. Now I can, sorta, see”. Many times I stop and marvel at Bill Callahan lyrics and think the man can do what he wants… Here’s the song for you to listen to.

“I used to be sorta blind. Now I can, sorta, see” allows him to be almost confident about what he’s saying… maintaining a vague insecurity. It feels better than boasting I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. It’s more modest. There’s still room for error or improvement. But he means it. He can see now, where once he couldn’t. (I think).

Anyhow. I had cause to remember recently, perhaps where I got my music bore qualities from. When I was a little tubby cherub boy my mum had Bridge Over Troubled Water on tape. I would go upstairs and play this over and over on the shoe-box tape player. Celia, and El Condor Pasa were my favourites as a kid. And finding out who Frank Lloyd Wright was later on was cool.

Mum one day talked me through the title track. It was particularly special when Art Garfunkel joined in with his special harmony. She quite specifically wanted me to hear that part. She loved it. I still do. Here’s my music bore bit: It’s like a whole crescendo that song… building right to the end… almost… not quite as marked as Hells Bells, but almost…

So I went to see mum last week and played her the song. A few in fact, from the album. Given I’m a buzzfeed dick, I have seen that video of the nice old American man who is just seemingly actually SWITCHED BACK ON AGAIN from his almost comatose state upon being played his favourite songs from his youth. (it’s here if you haven’t seen it).

me and mum

Me and mum

I can confirm that the reality (for me at least) was not quite so dramatic. Mum DID know what she was hearing and perked up a bit. Hummed/murmured along. Tapped her feet ever so lightly. It was so nice to see. She didn’t miraculously come back to life though. I think that’s what I was sorta hoping for.

3 responses to “Troubled Water: Dementia, unhappy endings – comparing Simon and Garfunkel to ACDC

  • Glenn

    Hi Howard — thanks for the post.

    I’m an Alzheimer’s Society ‘Singing for the Brain’ Leader, and also do my own music sessions in day centres and care homes. The ‘Henry’ video is great, but I find that just giving people recorded versions of old songs, even if it’s their favourites, lacks the important social element that is so drastically reduced in the lives of many with a dementia diagnosis.

    I’ve found that often a live-music version, even if it’s only the vocal sung inexpertly by a relative or carer, can get much more of a reaction than recorded music.

    Often in care settings there is music playing or the TV is on pretty much all the time in the background anyway, so it can take something unusual to make it come alive. And often people from that generation grew up with singalongs in the pub and at parties, so the opportunity to be social through the medium of music (ie to join in with another real person rather than with a recording) is often a large part of the appeal.

    So my suggestion for non-musical carers and relatives would be to print out a few lyrics and do an acapella sing-song, perhaps with handclap/thigh-slap percussion. Even better if you can play a few chords on a guitar or ukulele or keyboard and find the chords on the internet.

    I hope that’s useful! Best wishes,


    • howardmonk

      thanks Glenn that’s useful.
      I understand your points. I wasn’t really expecting a miracle. I did retire to mums room to escape the tv, and we did sing along to it.
      Will do more of that for sure. It was definitely more response than I’d seen for a long time.

  • mnemosene

    More frivolous than commenting on dementia but the Bill Callahan lyric that get me is from Small Plane

    I always went wrong in the same place
    Where the river splits towards the sea

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