It’s been 54 years since Frank Lloyd Wright’s death on April 9, 1959, and it goes without saying that his influence on architects continues to this day. A decade later, in 1969, Paul Simon wrote a song seemingly in tribute to the revered architect. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” with its gentle bossa nova beat, is just one of 11 songs on the landmark Simon and Garfunkel album Bridge Over Troubled Water released in January 1970. While the most famous songs on the album, “The Boxer,” “Cecilia” and the epic title track, are still played on radio to this day, it’s worth calling attention to this lesser known gem. And really, how many good songs do you know about architects?
Fans of Simon and Garfunkel already know their backstory. They met in the 6th grade, graduated from high school together, and started singing under the names Tom and Jerry in the mid 1950s. Their recording career as Simon and Garfunkel began in 1964 and culminated with their fifth and final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, just six years later. During the years they were struggling to make their names in the music business, Art Garfunkel was pursuing another passion. He majored in architecture at Columbia University before eventually earning a B.A. in art history and an M.A. in mathematics. He was a busy guy.
Paul Simon, the songwriter of the famous singing duo, has said he was inspired to write “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” as a gift for Garfunkel and as a way of reflecting Garfunkel’s appreciation for the innovative architect. There is genuine affection for Wright expressed in the lyrics. But what else is being said in these simple words? Fans and critics alike have debated and speculated about the song for years, fueled by coy comments from both Simon and the duo’s longtime producer Roy Halee.
Legend has it that Simon was actually using the song to say goodbye to his longtime musical partner rather than directly paying tribute to Wright. Listen closely (at 2:57) as Garfunkel repeats the words “so long” over and over. As the song fades you’ll hear the distant voice of producer Halee saying “so long already Artie”. Apparently that vocal was added to the final mix of the record without Garfunkel’s knowledge and was Simon’s way of signaling the end of their partnership. The following year Simon made it official and announced he was pursuing a solo career.
Art Garfunkel has said he didn’t understand the opaque meaning of the song until several years after it was released, and by all accounts the years have diminished any sting he initially felt about the surreptitious goodbye. If it’s true that Simon intended for “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” to be some twisted way of saying goodbye to his musical partner, it doesn’t change the fact that while Garfunkel was singing it, his soaring, angelic vocals were inspired by his personal affection for the visionary architect.