Tag Archives: customer

1970 – “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” Simon & Garfunkel

My choice for 1970 is “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon & Garfunkel. It originally appeared on their swan song Bridge Over Troubled Water album, but I’m pretty sure I first heard it on my parents’ copy of their Greatest Hits comp (although they owned Bridge, as well as numerous Simon solo albums … as a matter of fact, the first album I remember purchasing with my own money was Simon’s One Trick Pony record — guess it’s hereditary!).

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As with 1969, this was a tough choice. In the running were a bunch of great tunes, and I discarded faves by The Beatles (anything from Let it Be — just too obvious), the Velvet Underground (at one time or another, I’ve played almost every worthy song from Loaded — “Sweet Jane,” “Rock and Roll,” “I Found a Reason,” “New Age,” “Head Held High,” so that’s an automatic disqualification), Black Sabbath (“War Pigs” was definitely in the running — it’s even on the final mix CD I’ve been listening to), and Bowie (“The Man Who Sold the World” — is anyone really going to attempt to cover this after Cobain/Nirvana? — not for at least another couple of decades).

So I settled on the seemingly innocuous Simon & Garfunkel tune. It was certainly a favorite when I was young, one of the songs I loved to sing along with on the record — that one and “Homeward Bound” (which is a more melancholy — and adolescent — take on the same theme) are probably the S & G tunes that resonate the most with me as a listener and a performer. The emotions in each are right there on the surface, yet the melodies are incredibly accessible, the performances are brilliant, and the production plays to the strengths of each song.

The more I’ve thought about “Customer,” the more I’ve felt that it belongs on the 40Rock list, as it really fits with the confluence of events that have lead me to the place/person I am. For instance, “how are rock and roll [or music, or songwriting] similar to politics,” is a question that I’ve gotten from journalists, professional and amateur, at least a dozen times in the past year. I was asked this question again the other night at Down Home, before my first show since last August, by a student journalist from my university. When I answered I realized that I’d finally put it in some sort of cogent package; I don’t have the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of this:

Politics is a lot like rock and roll in that, at the most basic level, it’s about selling yourself, or at least a version of yourself, that you’ve created for a specific purpose. Even if there are only minor differences, my persona as Rob Russell the musician is different from my persona as Rob Russell the politician (e.g. one wears/wore an earring and one doesn’t), and it’s a persona that’s designed to “sell” a particular idea. One thing I realized when I was conducting a political campaign is what a half-assed salesman of myself I had been as a musician. I worked harder to sell myself as a politician than I ever did as a musician, and that was because I believed 100% in the ideas that I was espousing — it wasn’t art I was trying to sell, something personal or self-aggrandizing, but a belief that life could be better for the people in my home district. And I realized that if I was to ever take myself seriously as an ‘artist’ again, I should have at least the same amount of dedication and sense of purpose that I had as a politician — that is, if I ever hoped to succeed.

All that being said, other similarities betwen the two paths are the facts that they both include long days/nights on the road, lots of bad/junk food, moments (and sometimes days) of hopelessness as well as incredible (and unsustainable) highs, and many many many instances of speaking/performing in front of people who were not likely to “buy” what you are selling, may it be a rock and roll song or progressive political ideas.

Here are the lyrics:

Gee, but it’s great to be back home,
Home is where I want to be.
I’ve been on the road so long my friend,
And if you came along
I know you wouldn’t disagree.

It’s the same old story
Everywhere I go,
I get slandered,
Libeled,
I hear words I never heard
In the Bible.
And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine,
Two steps away from the county line,
Just trying to keep my customers satisfied,
Satisfied.

Deputy Sheriff said to me,
“Tell me what you come here for, boy?
You better get your bags and flee.
You’re in trouble boy,
And now you’re heading into more.”

It’s the same old story
Everywhere I go,
I get slandered,
Libeled,
I hear words I never heard
In the Bible.
And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine,
Two steps away from the county line,
Just trying to keep my customers satisfied,
Satisfied.

Wo, oh oh, wo oh oh oh …

It’s the same old story — yeah

And I’m so tired, I’m oh, so tired

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