If only I could remember the first time a song created a scene so vivid that I suddenly found myself in an unknown place populated with unknown people. “Norwegian Wood” may hold the honor. The song debuted in December 1965 with the release of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album. I turned 15 that month and listened to the album over and over during Christmas break. Usually I was sprawled on the living room floor next to the stereo speakers with my two brothers as we played Monopoly. (Oh how the memory of that scene now flares!) Maybe the sexual tension of “Norwegian Wood” kindled the imagination of the hormone-inflamed teenage me. More likely it was the song’s spare, mysterious setting and ambiguity of the man and woman’s encounter. The mind is left to fill in big blanks, including the meaning of the last two lines: “So I lit a fire, isn’t it good Norwegian Wood?”
Why think of “Norwegian Wood” today? Another song led me there, Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” whose lyrics are more visually and narratively evocative than any I can recall. And why remember “America” now? I stumbled upon a video of the Swedish sister duo, First Aid Kit, performing it — with Paul Simon in the front row. In the simplest yet most elegant of gestures, the 71-year-old Simon bestows upon Johanna and Klara Söderberg, 22 and 19, an artist’s blessing like no other. The moment is as poignant as the song itself.