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Finding Simon And Garfunkel's 'America' In Saginaw, Mich.

In 1968, Simon and Garfunkel released the bittersweet song "America" -- a tune about a man leaving Saginaw, Mich., to seek his fortunes elsewhere. This past week, a reporter at The Saginaw News noticed lyrics from that song spray-painted on vacant buildings all over town.

Some of the paint on the walls of these abandoned factories is the work of Eric Schantz, a mural painter from the area. He told NPR that the paint is an attempt to disguise the fact that his city is boarded up.

"A few years ago, me and my friends, being artists and painters, we decided to go around the city and start painting the boarded-up buildings and storefronts," Schantz says. "That ended up building into kind of an underground, grass-roots group called Paint Saginaw."

Schantz says that he is disheartened by the state of Saginaw, a city that fell apart after General Motors closed its factories in the area.

"In a blighted city like Saginaw, it's kind of depressing when you drive through and all you see is boarded-up buildings and plywood everywhere," Schantz says. So the group decided that they would put Paul Simon's lyrics onto the plywood.

" 'America' has become a homesick song for Saginawians," Schantz says. "The city was once vastly populated, a couple hundred thousand -- and now it's below 50,000. People left to go find their America, to pursue their American dream.  And when they left, they never really came back, 'cause there wasn't really much to come back to. And the emphasis on 'hitchhiking' to get out of here is kinda like people saying that they'll do just about anything to leave."

Schantz did leave Saginaw, when he went to college in Kansas City. He returned, however, missing the town that he grew up in, and looking to help.

"I used to sit in my dorm room at least once a week and play 'America' by Simon and Garfunkel, just because that line, 'Leaving Saginaw to go look for America,' I was just, like, 'Well, this is what I'm doing.' I wasn't planning on coming back, and fate landed me back here. And I figured that, 'Well, I'm here for a reason, and I'll find my purpose.' And I think that's become making public art."

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