A tribute to Paul Simon

“Can you imagine us years from today/ Sharing a park bench quietly/ How terribly strange to be 70,” laments Paul Simon on his enduring ode to companionship “Old Friends/Bookends”, and the insightful singer reached a ripe 70 on Friday.

While contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, are all – quite rightly – lauded for their groundbreaking songwriting, the diminutive genius from Newark, New Jersey never seems to get quite enough due. He is slammed, in some quarters, for being too successful, too commercial, and too mainstream. When, in fact, Paul Simon’s nimble, idiosyncratic, experimental and habitually droll (“Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia/ Up in my bedroom [making love]/ I got up to wash my face/ When I come back to bed/ Someone’s taken my place on “Cecilia”) lyrics have always been a cut above the ordinary; his storytelling songs are full of smart, adroit observations in the vain of American authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Carson McCullers and Sinclair Lewis.

His voice has also been accused of being too weedy, and lacking Art Garfunkel’s powerful, high-register, soulful oomph, but that argument’s never felt convincing. Simon’s soft, lilting intelligent voice invests lines such as “He said Dolores, I live in fear/ My love for you’s so overpowering, I’m afraid that I will disappear” in “Slip Sliding Away” with unmatchable sense of melancholy and tenderness.

Unfortunately, the gorgeous “Slip Sliding Away”, along with a great many of his most exquisite songs (“Me And Julio Down by The Schoolyard”, “El Condor Pasa” and the heart-rending “I Do It for Your Love”) do not feature on the upcoming Songwriter, a new two-disc, 32-song collection (released 24 October) chronicling five decades of Simon’s songs. But the album does include a live performance of “The Sound of Silence”, live at New York’s Webster Hall this year, a performance of “The Boxer” in Central Park and the sumptuous “Something So Right”, from 1976’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.

Although a lot of Simon’s best songs focus on his beloved New York City – “The Boxer” (“Where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me/ Bleeding me, going home”) and “The Only Living Boy in New York” - his material, which spans 50 years, actually embraces all of America: the melancholic rambling through the nation’s heartlands on “Homeward Bound” and the sassiness and sexiness of the American South in “Come on Take Me to the Mardi Gras”.

For many (me included) the easiest entry point into Paul Simon’s music is through Simon and Garfunkel’s pop gems and Radio 2 staples such “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “The Boxer”, plus “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs Robinson”, which both enhanced Mike Nichols’s The Graduate. Or his staggeringly successful, Grammy-award winning Graceland album, which was recorded in South Africa in 1986, and featured exiled South Africans Hugh Masakela and Miriam Makeba and the wondrous male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It also included the hits “Cal Me Al”, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and the witty “I Know What I Know”.

But a solo Paul Simon, free of Garfunkel’s mournful warble, really came into his own in the early and mid Seventies with some sensational material, and his first dabblings with world music - starting with the stirring, Jamaican-inspired, reggae-drenched “Mother and Child Reunion”, from his eponymous 1972 album Paul Simon. This was swiftly followed by the sublime “Me and Julio by the Schoolyard” from the same album, and the gospel-flavoured “Loves Me Like a Rock” from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. The artist perhaps, though, reached his songwriting zenith with the exquisite “Still Crazy After All These Years” (1975) where he plaintively pleads: “I’m not the kind of man/ Who tends to socialise/ I seem to lean on/ Old familiar ways.” In truth, this ever-changing, ever-challenging artist has done anything but “lean on old familiar ways”, and the recently “re-discovered” 1983 album Hearts and Bones, featuring the perky “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War” (which features on Songwriter), is yet another example of his full, vigorous engagement with music.

Happy birthday, Paul.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week