Over the years many songs have been written about the varied experience of life on the road. Many examples come to mind including Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” (“Out on the road for forty days, last night in Little Rock, put me in a haze”), Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band” (“Take me to the hotel baggage gone oh well”), Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” (“I said the audience was heavenly but the traveling was hell.”). And of course there’s the desolation, quiet fury and desperation of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” (“And you always seem outnumbered. You don’t dare make a stand”). But none capture the loneliness of touring as well as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound”.
Bear in mind that this song was recorded somewhat hastily after “The Sounds of Silence” became a surprise smash hit in early 1966 without either Simon’s or Garfunkel’s knowledge. They had split up by then, Garfunkel having returned to college and Simon touring England as a solo folk artist. Needless to say, they reunited in a hurry.
So who was he writing it for and where was he when he wrote it? The first question is easier. After moving to England in 1964 in the wake of the failure of Simon and Garfunkel’s acoustic folk album “Wednesday Morning, 3.A.M.” Simon met Kathy Chitty at his very first club date he played, the Hermit Club in Brentwood Essex. Chitty, who was only 17, worked there part-time selling tickets. A picture of her can be found on the cover of the solo acoustic album Simon recorded while in England, “The Paul Simon Song Book”. Simon and Chitty fell for one another
Kathy was in London when Simon wrote the song but where was Simon? In a railway station, of course. But which one? That’s debatable. But in an interview with SongTalk magazine in 1990 Simon recalled, “That was written in Liverpool when I was traveling. What I like about that is that it has a very clear memory of Liverpool station and the streets of Liverpool and the club I played at and me at age 22. It’s like a snapshot, a photograph of a long time ago… “. So Simon claimed Liverpool. Garfunkel thought it was in the vicinity of Manchester. However, if you go to the rail station at Widnes in Cheshire county in the northwest of England you’ll find a plaque commemorating the song displayed on the Liverpool bound platform. Simon once said of the Widnes railway station that if you ever saw it you would understand why he’d been so eager to quickly return to London.
And so Simon wrote these memorable lines:
“Every day’s an endless stream of cigarettes and magazines.
And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories.”
Although he longed to be back with Kathy in London their relationship was fated not to last. Together they revisited America touring mostly by bus. Kathy went back to England by herself with Simon following a few weeks later. Simon then came back to America when “The Sound of Silence” hit #1 on the U.S. charts but Kathy, a shy girl by nature, didn’t want to have anything to do with Simon’s new-found fame. They soon parted ways.