Paul Simon – circa 2000
“Four in the morning / Crapped out, yawning / Longing my life away” – ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ (Paul Simon)
There’s nothing left inside him. American singer-songwriter Paul Simon is just about at his lowest ebb. Any creative artist experiences moments when inspiration seems unavailable. At this point in 1984, Paul Simon feels creatively bankrupt. His self-confidence is dented following a disappointing reception to his last album and he really doesn’t know if he can go on. Inspiration arrives in an unlikely form: a battered cassette tape from a foreign country.
Paul Frederic Simon is born 13 October 1941 in Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A. He is the son of Louis and Belle Simon. Both of his parents are academics – Louis is an educator and Belle is an English teacher. However Louis Simon also has a little jazz combo. It is this combination of music and literacy that informs Paul Simon’s adult career. Paul has a younger brother, Eddie (born 14 December 1945). The boys are brought up ‘in a middle-class residential district of New York.’
Paul Simon meets Art Garfunkel in elementary school. When they are barely into their teens, the boys begin singing together. Paul learns to play guitar. Though he is left-handed in all other ways, Paul Simon plays guitar right-handed. In the mid-1950s rock ‘n’ roll arrives and the boys are caught up in the spirit of it. Paul Simon is particularly intrigued by ‘the sweet moans and cries of black doo wop ballads.’ Simon will always think back to the sound from “around the age that I was 13 to 15…everything that I heard then and absorbed so thoroughly and completely.”
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel do more than just listen to early rock ‘n’ roll. They also record it themselves. Using the name Tom And Jerry they make their first recording. Tom Graph is Art Garfunkel’s pseudonym and Jerry Landis is the alias for Paul Simon. Big Records issues ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ (US no. 49) in 1957, the debut single by Tom And Jerry. This song is a hit and it seems like the duo are on their way. What happens over the next few years is not as glamorous.
The activities of Paul Simon over the years from 1958 to 1964 are many and varied. While continuing his education, he records – with very little success – in a baffling array of guises. On 19 March 1958 Tom And Jerry release a follow-up single, ‘Our Song’. In the same month (March 1958), ‘True Or False’ backed with ‘Teen Age Idol’ is released by True Taylor – who is really Paul Simon. Tom And Jerry put out another single in 1958, ‘That’s My Story’. Paul Simon graduates from Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, New York, and goes to Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY). At his new place of education, Paul Simon undertakes a Bachelor of Arts in English. As Jerry Landis (one half of the Tom And Jerry team), Simon releases ‘Anna Belle’ b/w ‘Loneliness’ in 1959. Sometime around here, Paul Simon also works with ‘semi-professional groups’ such as The Passions and The Mystics. ‘Don’t Take The Stars’ is a 1959 single by The Mystics. Also in 1959, Paul Simon becomes involved with a group called The Cosines. This is a studio collective that cuts demos for songwriters. The Cosines includes Carole Klein – who later becomes the famous singer-songwriter Carole King. In 1960 ‘Just A Boy’ is issued by Jerry Landis, ‘All Through The Night’ by The Mystics, and ‘Swanee’ by Jerry Landis. In 1961 come two more Jerry Landis singles, ‘I Wish I Weren’t In Love’ and ‘Play Me A Sad Song’. In 1961 Amy Records releases ‘Motorcycle’ b/w ‘I Don’t Believe Them’ by Tico & The Triumphs. This is an alias for Paul Simon ‘with a handful of vocalists’. After obtaining his B.A. in English, Simon studies Law. In 1962 Tom And Jerry record another single, ‘Surrender, Please Surrender’. The year 1962 also brings ‘Express Train’ by Tico & The Triumphs, ‘Cry Little Boy’ by Tico & The Triumphs, ‘The Lone Teen Ranger’ (US no. 97) by Jerry Landis, and ‘Cards Of Love’ by Tico & The Triumphs. ‘I’m Lonesome’ in 1963 is the last Tom And Jerry single. Under the name of Paul Kane, Simon records ‘He Was My Brother’ in 1964.
In early 1964 Paul Simon drops out of his Law studies. Although Simon started out as an Everly Brothers inspired rock singer, by this point he has shifted with the times to embrace folk music. With an acoustic guitar for company, Paul Simon leaves the U.S.A. and travels to Great Britain. He begins performing in folk clubs and travelling about England. On 12 April 1964 he meets Kathleen Mary Chitty, a secretary from Essex. Paul Simon falls in love with Kathy. Simon gets to know U.K. folk music performers like Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy. Just as he absorbed doo wop as a teenager, Paul Simon soaks up the folk music of the British Isles. Judith Piepe champions his work on the local scene.
Meantime, back in the U.S.A., the Paul Kane recording ‘He Was My Brother’ draws some interest from Columbia Records. When Paul Simon returns to the U.S. he reunites with Art Garfunkel. ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.’ (1964) (US no. 30, UK no. 24) is released in October. This full-length album on Columbia is attributed to Simon And Garfunkel, using their real names instead of the Tom And Jerry tag. The album is made up ‘partly of Simon’s own songs, and partly of standard folk material.’ It uses only Paul Simon’s acoustic guitar for accompaniment to the duo’s voices. It is also ‘less than successful’ in commercial terms.
Paul Simon returns to the U.K. He makes his first solo album, ‘The Paul Simon Songbook’ (1965), released in August. Judith Piepe appears on the cover with Simon as a thank you for her work on his behalf. Like the previous year’s album with Art Garfunkel, this disc (produced by Reginald Warburton and Stanley West) is a hushed, intimate, folk music album. Paul Simon reunites with Kathy Chitty and tours through England and Europe promoting his album. In Paris in 1965 he shares a bill with a folk music collective from Peru, Los Incas.
In Paul Simon’s absence, in the U.S.A. electric instruments are added to ‘The Sound Of Silence’, a track that appears on both ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.’ and ‘The Paul Simon Songbook’. This brings Simon And Garfunkel into line with the emergent folk rock hybrid sound. Suddenly, the song takes off and mass success beckons to the duo. Paul Simon is summoned back to the U.S.A. His departure ends his relationship with Kathy Chitty. A shy girl, she wants no part of the fame and fortune for which her beau seems destined.
From 1965 to 1969 Simon And Garfunkel are hugely popular. The duo release the albums ‘The Sounds Of Silence’ (1966) (US no. 21, UK no. 13), ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme’ (1966) (US no. 4, UK no. 13, AUS no. 14) and ‘Bookends’ (1968) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3). Among their most famous songs are 1966’s ‘The Sounds Of Silence’ (US no. 1) and ‘I Am A Rock’ (US no. 3, UK no. 17) and 1968’s ‘Mrs Robinson’ (US no. 1, UK no. 4, AUS no. 4).
In late autumn 1969 Paul Simon marries Peggy Harper. They have a son, Harper James Simon (born September 1972), presumably named after his mother’s maiden name.
Simon And Garfunkel record one more album, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (1970) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), before severing their partnership. However, as a pointer to the future, this disc includes a handful of tracks that see the duo assimilating other musical styles and cultures. The title track, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), is a gospel music piece in the style of The Swan Silvertones. Los Incas, the Peruvian folk group Paul Simon met in 1965, are brought in for ‘El Condor Pasa’ (US no. 18), a folk music tune from Peru for which Simon has drafted new English lyrics. ‘Cecelia’ (US no. 4) rattles with African percussion rhythms.
With the duo of Simon And Garfunkel brought to a close, Paul Simon presses on into the future as a solo artist, though the shadow of the duo hangs heavy over him.
What separates the music of Simon And Garfunkel from that of Paul Simon? The most obvious answer is the absence of Art Garfunkel’s high harmonies, but the truth is a bit more complicated. Simon And Garfunkel are usually characterised as a folk rock duo. Broadly, Paul Simon could be described as a folk rock artist but that may be a little too confining. Simon’s real talent is as a sort of musical sponge. He absorbs music from other cultures or ethnic groups and produces something that is more accessible to his predominantly white, middle-class audience. This is the same trait that Simon displayed earlier in his career with doo wop, English folk music and then, on Simon And Garfunkel’s final album, gospel, Peruvian folk, and African rhythms. Simon’s approach is also informed by his academic family history and leanings. There is a certain cerebral, professorial quality to the process. This is not to belittle Simon’s considerable accomplishments. It opens up new vistas for his audience and delivers fresh listeners to his sources of inspiration.
In the dawning days of Tom And Jerry, Simon And Garfunkel co-wrote the songs, but this did not last for long. Paul Simon was virtually the solo composer of Simon And Garfunkel’s songs and, naturally, he also writes almost everything in his solo career too. “When I began making my own albums, the songs became funkier,” says Paul Simon. However popular they may have been, Simon And Garfunkel albums always seemed a bit fussy, a bit frilly. To say Paul Simon’s solo work is earthy would be an exaggeration, but it is more direct than his 1960s catalogue. This is true not only in musical terms, but in his lyrics as well. Where his 1960s lyrics had a tendency towards poetic pretension, his language becomes simpler and more colloquial in later years.
Paul Simon does not employ a regular band. Special players are often utilised to impart the flavour of a particular ethnic or cultural sound. Simon’s default position tends to be to use some of the best session musicians available, people who – though not specifically his band – are skilled enough to quickly lay down the tracks required. In the early 1970s, Simon uses the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section: Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Pete Carr (guitar), Barry Beckett (keyboards), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums). From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, the focus shifts to a collective of New York session musicians sometimes known as Stuff: Hugh McCracken (guitar), Richard Tee (piano), Tony Levin (bass), Steve Gadd (drums) and Ralph McDonald (percussion). Paul Simon acts as the producer of all his own solo albums unless otherwise indicated.
Paul Simon’s first solo album of the post-Simon And Garfunkel era is ‘Paul Simon’ (1972) (US no. 4, UK no. 1, AUS no. 5). This is co-produced by Paul Simon and Roy Halee, the latter co-produced the last two Simon And Garfunkel albums with the duo. In comparison to the more ornate settings favoured by Simon And Garfunkel, this is ‘a spare, lean production.’ The best known track may be ‘Mother And Child Reunion’ (US no. 4, UK no. 5, AUS no. 5). Paul Simon explains where he got the idea for the song: “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion, it’s chicken and eggs, and I said, ‘I gotta use that one.’” In the song, Simon assures, “No, I would not give you false hope / On this strange and mournful day / But the mother and child reunion / Is only a motion away.” Despite its Chinese inspiration, ‘Mother And Child Reunion’ is, musically, a Jamaican song. Simon is one of the first white recording artists to make use of the swaying, spidery rhythms of the reggae music native to that Caribbean island. He rarely receives credit for this despite many others following in his path. The song is recorded at Leslie Kong’s Dynamic Sounds studio in Kingston, Jamaica. ‘Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard’ (US no. 22, UK no. 15, AUS no. 40) is described as ‘one of the quirkiest songs of the year’, but that’s largely because its rhythms, from New York’s Puerto Rican community, are unfamiliar to mainstream pop listeners. Airto Moreira provides the authentic – if eccentric – percussion to this tale of teenage hijinks: “The Mama look down and spit on the ground / Every time my name gets mentioned / The Papa said, ‘Oy, if I get that boy / I’m gonna stick him in the house of detention.’” For those left dizzy by such fare, ‘Duncan’ (US no. 58) offers a more traditional acoustic folk story-song for balance.
The ‘more ambitious follow-up’, May’s ‘There Goes Rhymin’ Simon’ (1973) (US no. 2, UK no. 4, AUS no. 7), has a diverse list of producers befitting its diverse contents. Credit is shared between Paul Simon, Phil Ramone, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and Paul Samwell-Smith. The bouncy ‘Kodachrome’ (US no. 2, AUS no. 20) creates a legal hiccup when Kodak demands copyright protection since the song is titled after a brand of film used in cameras. The song’s nostalgic flick through the past is kick-started by Paul Simon’s tart observation, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school / It’s a wonder I can think at all.” Mardi Gras is a New Orleans street parade and Paul Simon’s ‘Take Me To The Mardi Gras’ (UK no. 7) is appropriately infused with the Crescent City’s distinctive, rolling blend of Cajun music, jazz and rock. The invitation “Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras / Let the music wash your soul” is hard to resist. The Reverend Claude Jeter of The Swan Silvertones (the gospel group that inspired ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’) lends his vocals to this tune, his backing seeming so light and airy as to be an angelic manifestation. The Onward Brass Band plays the song out like a rain of confetti and streamers. Paul Simon claims that, “Gospel quartets were the completion of my education that doo wop started.” Here, the gospel act The Dixie Hummingbirds lend their distinctive vocal support to ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’ (UK no. 39, AUS no. 19). However this is no stately, refined affair. It is a bumptious, funny portrait of facing up to the devil and congress alike, buoyed by the love of the narrator’s mother. ‘Something So Right’ is a thoughtful, if troubled, piece. The album’s most traditional folk moment may be ‘American Tune’ (US no. 35), a sweeping – yet spartan – meditation on the state of the union. Ironically, the song was recorded in London, England.
On 6 May 1973 Paul Simon begins his first concert tour without Art Garfunkel since the duo split. For part of the show, he is accompanied by Urubamba, a Latin American quartet. In another section, Simon is joined by the gospel group The Jesse Dixon Singers. The proceedings are captured for posterity on the album ‘Paul Simon In Concert: Live Rhymin’’ (1974) (US no. 33, AUS no. 20).
Paul Simon’s marriage to Peggy Harper ends in divorce in 1975 and that break-up informs the content of Simon’s next album.
‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ (1975) (US no. 1, UK no. 6, AUS no. 39) is co-produced by Paul Simon and Phil Ramone. It is, perhaps, a less experimental album and there is a sense that Paul Simon is licking his wounds. The sad, but resigned, title track, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ (US no. 40), revolves around Barry Beckett’s electric piano. ‘Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover’ (US no. 1, UK no. 23) is a freakish hit. The chorus began as a rhyme to amuse the singer’s son, Harper (then aged 3): “Just slip out the back, Jack / Make a new plan, Stan.” Steve Gadd’s drum roll throughout the song adds another element that shouldn’t make sense, yet it all fits together somehow. “Yesterday it was my birthday / I hung one more year on the line / I should be depressed, my life’s a mess / But I’m havin’ a good time,” Simon testifies (a little unconvincingly) in ‘Have A Good Time’. The chronicle of a faded love affair, ‘I Do It For Your Love’, adds to the sense of loss. Perhaps the most telling stroke of all though is that Paul Simon reaches back into the past for solace, reuniting with his old friend, Art Garfunkel, for one track, ‘My Little Town’ (US no. 9, AUS no. 1).
From 1976 to 1978 Paul Simon is in a romantic relationship with the actress Shelley Duval.
‘Greatest Hits, Etc.’ (1977) (US no. 18, UK no. 3, AUS no. 22) is a compilation album from Paul Simon’s solo career. It includes two new songs co-produced by Simon and Phil Ramone. One is the quite good ‘Stranded In A Limousine’, but the other is Paul Simon’s best individual song from his solo career. ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ (US no. 5, UK no. 36) ruminates over life and the inevitable forces that drag backwards against attempts to move forward. “God only knows / God makes his plan / The information’s unavailable to the mortal man,” sings Simon. On paper, this may sound maudlin, but in practice there is a sweet sort of serenity even in the midst of futility. Helping rescue the tune from despair is Ralph McDonald’s clunking percussion and the backing vocals by gospel group The Oak Ridge Boys. It is only these harmonies that make this part of Simon’s general pan-cultural vision. He has certainly put together bolder experiments. Yet this tinge of exotica still enlivens a folky melody, which is buoyed by a heartfelt and intelligent lyric, and makes this, in combination, Paul Simon’s stand-out moment.
Paul Simon begins dating actress Carrie Fisher in 1977.
Paul Simon moves to the Warner Brothers record label beginning with his next album.
‘One Trick Pony’ (1980) (US no. 12, UK no. 17, AUS no. 15) is, again, co-produced by Paul Simon and Phil Ramone. It is the soundtrack to the film, ‘One Trick Pony’ (1980). Simon writes the film and takes the starring role of Jonah Levin, ‘a fading one-hit wonder.’ The movie is described as ‘semi-autobiographical.’ Of course, Paul Simon was never a ‘One Trick Pony’ (US no. 40), but enough of his own life and times bleeds into the character to give it an air of truthfulness. The sparkling ‘Late In The Evening’ (US no. 6, UK no. 58) is a pulsating salsa number. It’s impossible not to see Simon’s own youth in the lines, “And I heard the sound / Of a cappella groups, yeah / Singing late in the evening / And all the girls out on the stoops, yeah.” Similarly, the boys “Carrying soft guitars in cardboard cases” from ‘Jonah’ speaks of Simon’s early 1960s folk troubadour days. ‘Ace In The Hole’ gives his band a good workout. ‘One Trick Pony’ – the album – is probably more satisfying than ‘One Trick Pony’ – the film. The movie has an odd gaggle of guest-stars. Gloomy rock star Lou Reed plays a record producer and appearing as themselves are soul duo Sam And Dave, quirky new wave act The B-52’s, and folk rockers The Lovin’ Spoonful. The movie receives ‘mixed reviews’ and is a ‘commercial failure.’
Although Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have sporadically worked together again briefly since their split in 1970, their next get-together may be the most significant. The duo gives a free concert In New York’s Central Park on 19 September 1981. Plans are made for them to record a new album, ‘Think Too Much’, but the relationship falls apart again before that happens. Although Simon And Garfunkel continue to occasionally reunite for shows or tours, it never becomes a lasting arrangement.
In August 1983 Paul Simon marries his girlfriend, actress Carrie Fisher.
‘Hearts And Bones’ (1983) (US no. 35, UK no. 34, AUS no. 99) in November is salvaged from the abandoned ‘Think Too Much’ project. The album is produced by Paul Simon, Roy Halee, Russ Titelman and Lenny Waronker. Simon describes the title track, ‘Hearts And Bones’, as “One of my best songs. It took a long time to write and it was very true.” An acoustic ballad somewhat at odds with its own rhythm, the song charts the journey of “One and one half wandering Jews” (Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher) as they journey through Mexico on “The arc of a love affair.” Simon’s academic instincts and his musical interests come together in ‘Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War’. Rene Magritte is a famed Belgian surrealist artist. The lengthy song title is lifted straight from a photo caption. In this gentle tune, Simon imagines the Belgian couple coming to America and hearing the doo wop groups that are dear to Simon’s own heart. He chants the names of the groups like an incantation: “The Penguins / The Moonglows / The Orioles / And The Five Satins.” This album Is home to such tracks as ‘The Late Great Johnny Ace’, ‘Train In the Distance’ and ‘Song About The Moon’. The public, perhaps disappointed at the lack of a lasting Simon And Garfunkel reunion, gives ‘Hearts And Bones’ a relatively muted reception. Paul Simon ‘faces a sobering career crisis.’
Adding to his woes, Paul Simon’s brief marriage to Carrie Fisher ends in July 1984 after less than twelve months. Despite divorcing, Simon and Fisher continue to date for some years, eventually breaking up entirely in 1991.
Paul Simon is in a pretty bad place. Personally, professionally and musically things seem to be going wrong for him. The process of turning things around begins when his friend Heidi Berg gives him a cassette tape from South Africa. It is reputedly titled ‘Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits Volume II [that is 2 in roman numerals]’. This is ‘township jive’ – or mbaquanga – made by the natives of Soweto. One of the tracks is an instrumental called ‘Gumboota’ by The Boyoyo Boys. Although in some parts of the world gumboots is the name for wet weather footwear or Wellingtons, in South Africa, gumboots are heavy boots favoured by miners and railroad workers. Something in this music resonates with Paul Simon, echoing doo wop music, gospel quartets, and complex, foreign rhythms.
‘Graceland’ (1986) (US no. 3, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), Paul Simon’s best album, is the result of his fascination with South African music. Some of the disc is recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, with local musicians like Chikapa ‘Ray’ Phiri (guitar), Baghiti Khumalo (bass), Forere Motloheloa (accordion) and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a ten-piece male vocal group led by Joseph Shabalala. Recording in South Africa is controversial. From 1948 to 1994 that country practices apartheid, a form of racial segregation that curtails the rights of the black majority. Disapproving foreign countries – such as the U.S.A. – impose trade embargoes and sanctions. Paul Simon says that, by recording in South Africa, “I did not set out to make a political statement. I was making a cultural statement with political implications…It provoked a really interesting political discussion.” Simon also experiments with a new style of songwriting. “I thought, ‘I have enough songwriting technique that I can reverse this process…I’ll just make the [music rhythm] tracks I really like and then I’ll write…the words…’” Thus, ‘You Can Call Me Al’ (US no. 23, UK no. 4, AUS no. 2) pits a quirky brass section against a rubbery bass rhythm while Simon sketches disconnected word images like, “He is a foreign man / He is surrounded by the sound / The sound / Cattle in the marketplace.” Accordionist Forere Motloheloa is co-credited with the music for ‘Boy In The Bubble’ (US no. 86, UK no. 26), a song that looks at modern technology with an equal mixture of dread and wonder: “Medicine is magical and magical is art / There go the boy in the bubble / And the baby with the baboon heart.” David Vetter (21 September 1971 – 22 February 1984) was a U.S. born child who, due to severe combined immunodeficiency, lived his brief life in a plastic bubble to protect him from germs. Stephanie Fae Beauclair (14 October 1984 – 15 November 1984) suffered hypoplastic left heart syndrome and was, controversially, the first recipient of a xenotransplant, a baboon’s heart was implanted in place of her own defective organ. Joseph Shabalala gets a co-credit for the introduction to ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’ (UK no. 77) on which Paul Simon sings a cappella with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Instruments join in and a sprightly tale unfolds of love between a poor boy and a rich girl. Simon also works with The Boyoyo Boys for his own version of ‘Gumboots’. Although the South African pieces justifiably attract the most attention, sections of ‘Graceland’ are also recorded in Lafayette, Louisiana; London, England; and with Chicano band Los Lobos in East Los Angeles, California. The title track, ‘Graceland’ (US no. 81, UK no. 98), ties all the albums diverse threads together. Although it uses South African musicians, it also features vocal harmonies from The Everly Brothers, the duo who inspired Tom And Jerry back in 1957. Similarly, the story of the song is about a pilgrimage to ‘Graceland’, the mansion that was home to 1950s king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley, yet it also evokes a kind of spiritual grace-land, a place for healing spirits. This album, in a sense, heals Paul Simon’s spirit. “It was an exceptional experience,” he remarks. “It was recognised on [both] a popular and critical level.”
‘The Rhythm Of The Saints’ (1990) (US no. 4, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) aims to repeat the success of ‘Graceland’. It takes two years to conceive and a million dollars to make. The main difference from its predecessor is that this album is more focussed on South America. ‘The Obvious Child’ (US no. 92, UK no. 15) is recorded with Olodum, a ten-piece percussion ensemble. They provide a boxy clatter that underpins Paul Simon’s doubts: “Well I’m accustomed to a smooth ride / Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost his bite…Why deny the obvious child?” ‘The Cool Cool River’ has its rhythms recorded on location in Salvador, Brazil, while Paul Simon completes the vocals in New York. “Yes boss, the government handshake / Yes boss, the crusher of language,” runs part of the lyric. The musical arrangement is eccentric with unexpected blasts of horns.
On 30 May 1992 Paul Simon marries fellow singer and musician Edie Brickell. The couple have three children: Adrian (born December 1992), Lulu (born April 1995) and Gabriel (born May 1988).
Paul Simon’s next project takes a while to reach fruition. ‘The Capeman’ takes five years to work-up from an idea into a musical that runs on Broadway in 1997. A collaboration with poet Derek Walcott, it is inspired by a murder that follows a fight between teenagers in the late 1950s. ‘Songs From The Capeman’ (1997) (US no. 42, UK no. 83) is an album of the show’s compositions co-written by Simon and Walcott. The highlights are the acoustic, home-spun ‘Trailways Bus’ and ‘Bernadette’, a song that sounds like a lost 1950s vocal group transplanted to the present.
‘You’re The One’ (2000) (US no. 19, UK no. 20) finds Paul Simon grappling with his advancing years on tracks like ‘Old’. ‘Surprise’ (2006) (US no. 14, UK no. 4, AUS no. 73) attempts to place a more modern, synthetic patina over Simon’s work. ‘So Beautiful Or So What’ (2011) (US no. 4, UK no. 6, AUS no. 73), co-produced by Paul Simon and Phil Ramone, is Paul Simon’s first recording on the Hear Music label. A number of the songs refer to God, mortality, religion and getting older. ‘Rewrite’ considers what might have been.
‘Stranger To Stranger’ (2016) (US no. 3, UK no. 1, AUS no. 24) is co-produced by Paul Simon and Roy Halee and issued by Concord Records. It is a rather experimental album featuring some custom-made instruments. Paul Simon’s son Adrian turns him on to Italian electronic dance music artist Clap! Clap! who works with Simon on three songs, including the (non-charting) single, ‘Wristband’. This is an amusing piece about the narrator being accidentally locked out of his own gig and being denied admission without the titular wristband. It’s a rhythm and blues song and highly percussive with some brass and piano accordion added in the latter stages.
Paul Simon concluded, “I wouldn’t change anything, even the mistakes, because you never know what you’re changing. Change it for what? Things turned out pretty well. I really can’t complain about much…I’m very lucky. [Being a musician] was what I wanted to be when I was 12 and I remained that person in a lot of ways.” Even when his muse seemed to have deserted him, as in the period leading up to ‘Graceland’, Paul Simon kept his ears open. This willingness to embrace new sounds and influences kept him going. Yet it was always linked to his first loves – doo wop, rock ‘n’ roll, folk – so Paul Simon never lost his own identity. That sound always remained inside him as his bedrock. ‘Starting with the sounds that intrigued him at 13, [Paul Simon] created music in which poetry, rock ‘n’ roll and the folk traditions of three continents collided and fused into an international style.’ He is ‘one of the most successful and respected songwriters of the second half of the twentieth century.’
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Paul Simon’ by Stephen Holden (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 319, 320, 322, 323
- Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 20 January 2014
- allmusic.com, ‘Paul Simon’ by Mark Deming as at 17 March 2014
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 209, 211
- wikipedia.org as at 20 January 2014, 4 January 2017
- Internet movie database imdb.com as at 18 March 2014
- ‘PBS News Hour’ (U.S. television program, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Network) – Paul Simon interview conducted by Jeffrey Brown (25 June 2011)
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 37, 197, 214, 317, 318
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 193
- ‘Simon And Garfunkel – 20 Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Glenn A. Baker (Sony Music Productions Pty. Ltd., 1991) p. 3, 6, 8, 9, 11
- brainyquote.com as at 20 January 2014
- ‘Paul Simon – Greatest Hits: Shining Like A National Guitar’ – Sleeve notes by Pete Doggett (Warner Bros. Records Inc., 2000) p. 2, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 24
- whosdatedwho.com as at 20 January 2014
- songfacts.com as at 23 March 2014
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 47
- ‘David Letterman Show’ (U.S. television program) – Paul Simon interview conducted by David Letterman (10 September 1986)
Song lyrics copyright Paul Simon / BMI
Last revised 12 January 2017