Eliot and Robert Frost to improve his use of language. Too middle of the road for some, and therefore la’cking i_n power, his songs are nonetheless thoughtful and meticulously crafted with almost academic precision. He has even written an essay on song-writing techniques concerning the effects of verbal imagery, modulations of key and unusual time signatures. This from the man who had his very first (minor) hit in 1957 when he and Art Garfunkel, as ‘Tom and Jerry’, released the Everly brothers inspired, ‘Hey Schoolgirl’. (Simon’s solo follow-up, entitled ‘I Want To Be The Lipstick On Your Collar’, unsurprisingly ﬂopped).
His scrupulous care and acute business sense were hardly of the essence of the 608, and although Bob Dylan provided the inspiration for his first album with Art Garfunkel in 1964, Wednesday Morning 3am, and he later often shared the bill with such protest singers, he was never of their ilk. He did drop out of law school to ‘hang out’ in the Greenwich Village folk revivalist scene, but found that with his middle-class Queen’s background he was lacking in the necessary ‘cred’. He therefore wandered over to England, a time he remembers as the happiest in his life, and found that ‘just having an American accent at a folk club cloaked you in authenticity’. There he penned ‘Homeward Bound’ and thus immortalised the draughty platform at Widnes station in Cheshire, an event so momentous, it was commemorated with a plaque, since nicked. Back in America, Dylan’s producer was busy overlaying, (without Simon’s permission), the acoustically accompanied ‘Sounds Of Silence’ track on the unsuccessful Wednesday Morning album with an electric band. Folk rock was with us and ‘Sounds Of Silence’ rocketed, to become the biggest American hit of 1965.
From 1966 to 1970, the dulcet tones of Simon and Garfunkel; melodious, sweetly harmonised and acceptable to Middle America, were phenomenally successful, with four of their albums occupying the top five chart positions in 1968. Money, always of interest to Simon, rolled in but at the height of their success with Bridge Over
Troubled Water. they split, somewhat acrimoniously. Simon felt Art was being distracted by acting ambitions and felt pressured by him to produce more conservative songs, (a taste Garfunkel has since confirmed with such sugary confections as ‘Bright Eyes‘). Simon pursued his solo career, picking up numerous awards with albums like Paul Simon, There Goes Rh ymin’ Simon and Still Crazy After/ill These Years but then his fortunes plummeted, along with his first marriage. One-Trick Pony, the film he wrote, produced and scored, ﬂopped, and as the film concerned the struggles of an ageing pop star becoming irrelevant, many detected a certain irony. Reforming with Garfunkel in 1981 for a triumphant concert in Central Park attended by 500,000 people, he ‘passively backed into a reunion tour’. People ﬂocked to re-live the summer of love but critically it was a failure and the pair argued everything. The ‘comeback’ album Hearts And Bones ended up solo after a bitter break, and being a sickly thing with a
Simon and Garfunkel feel but no Garfunkel, it also ﬂopped. Nowadays, the two are reportedly on better terms after Simon turned up to offer his condolences on the death of Art’s father, and intend to stay that way by never working together again.
It took the enormously successful and immaculately produced Graceland to revive his fortunes in 1987 despite the political furore it evoked. Hearing a tape ofblack Soweto ‘township jive’, Gumboots: Accordian Hits VolumeZ, Simon decided to go to Johannesburg to record with some of the musicians, thus breaking, in spirit ifnot technically, the UN cultural boycott of South Africa and incurring the wrath ofthe ANC and the anti-apartheid movement. His justifications seemed naive, ifwell intentioned, as he announced that music was above politics. The local newspapers in Zimbabwe dubbed the tour ‘Disgraceland’ but Simon is always quick to point out that the tour culminated in the biggest multi-racial event ever, and that some found it laughable that white campaigners were picketing outside whilst exiled black activists like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela were raising their fists and having a great time inside. Musically, his gentle tenor voice laid over the pulsating African rhythms was a strange combination but most found it new, interesting and pleasant, even if the African music seemed stripped of some of its vitality in this sophisticated setting.
He was also accused ofcultural imperialism, of revitalising his ﬂagging career on the backs of black musicians, but he had begun what has become known as World Music, and headed offin the wake of David Byrne to Brazil in search of musicians for Rhythm Of The Saints. There does seem to be something distasteful about a very wealthy white person jetting off to the Third World and fronting the hired local musicians but there can be no doubting Simon’s genuine love of World Music. Ethnic instruments feature in all his albums, even the earliest, and he has always displayed eclectic taste, exploring Jamaican reggae, cajun, Peruvian folk music and black gospel. As other artists follow suit, shaking instruments made out of armadillos and trying to find leg room on the groaning stage, the novelty of World Music has worn off, but it continues to be Simon’s greatest inspiration and has earned him great critical acclaim as well as a new audience, a new generation, of fans. His current ‘Born At The Right Time’ tour is another sell out, and even if morose by nature, he has all the trappings of success for comfort. Laden with awards for his music and production, he has sold a phenomenal 46 million records in his 35-year career and has so many gold discs, you could probably call him Midas.
‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ may not be quite the same without Art, but the cigarette lighters and the candles are still whipped out as the first strains are heard. And in Glasgow, even those possessed ofa rampant 90$ cynicism will probably find themselves singing along. All together now: ‘When you’re weary. . .’
Paul Simon plays Glasgow SECC 0n 3June.
In his lengthy career Paul Simon’s songs have ranged from the sublime to the frankly dire. Tom Lappin picks out a few of
' the highlights, and some
efforts that would be better forgotten.
I Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) A friend of mine, tough as nails, anda member of several hardline Trotskyist groups, once confessed that this reduced her to tears, so moving was the pledge made in the chorus. Countless cover versions, an onset of healthy cynicism, and ballad fatigue
. have however dated this badly.
Nowadays it sounds like the sort of thing Demis Roussos would attempt.
I Mrs Robinson (1968) Now this is another story. God plays rhythm guitar as Dustin Hoffman rushes to the church in The Graduate, and that lyric about ‘Joe DiMaggio’ opens the song out to say something about the whole of America, like, you know . . . A timeless classic.
I America (1968) Bookends was the closest Simon and Garfunkel ever got to political, and ‘America’ was a wonderful evocation of romance and self-discovery. This sold more Greyhound bus tickets than any promotional campaign ever managed, and grubby adolescents in Bolton or Dundee yearned for the New Jersey Turnpike.
I MotherAnd Child Reunion (1972) Alright, own up, who sold Paul the ticket to Jamaica? He came back with those reggae rhythms buzzing around his head. and swiftly inﬂicted them on the rest of us. A serious
; bummer as everyone was saying
: in 1972. Paul was sportinga
natty Afro and a Tom Selleck ’tache at the time. but then wasn’t everybody?
I Have A Good Time (1975) Not if you listened to this you wouldn’t. Lazy, bluesy
self-indulgence of the worst sort, 1 from the distinctly maudlin Still
Crazy after all These Years album, a collection of anthems for ageing hippies.
I Graceland (1986) The title
.I track from the politically
controversial but artistically triumphant album is Simon at his finest, delivering an inviting, but puzzling anecdotal lyric ,1 about ‘the child ofhis first marriage”, over a sublime % backing oftingling African 3 township guitar and a ’ country-mile beat. Even Elvis tapped a t0e.