Who were you thinking it could have been? Dylan? Springsteen? Mellencamp? Did Paul Simon cross your mind? Probably not.
The bulk of people I’ve crossed paths with—even those with music infused in their DNA—only know maybe a song or two of his: His abnormally early career pinnacle “The Sound Of Silence,” and his unforgettable video collaboration with Chevy Chase, “You Can Call Me Al.” Maybe there’s also the lingering knowledge of his glorious harmonies with Art Garfunkel. But everything else? Most people say, “Meh, not a fan.”
Not to say we should compare genius, but he does have a bit more merit to his name than the likes of the other influential songwriters of that time. He’s been inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame not once, but twice. He’s also won Album Of The Year at the Grammys two-and-a-half times (the half being with Art Garfunkel for Bridge Over Troubled Water.) Not to mention how he boldly hired South African musicians for an album released in a time when apartheid had the U.S. boycotting South Africa.
But is constant merit by the industry the only reason we should acknowledge one of New York’s favorite sons? Regrettably, I don’t think the interest in Paul’s solo work is wide enough for people to really drink in the poignancy he includes in lyrics from across all eras of his career. OK, so maybe not every song of his is directly relatable, but does every song have to be? Take 1973’s “American Tune,” for example. It’s literally a lament told from the perspective of a homesick working class man, who is admitting how tired, confused, and outworked he feels. He even “dreams he was dying” halfway through the song, just before crooning the last line, which, if you’re employed, could be perhaps the most relatable lyric in American music history: “Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day, and I’m tryin’ to get some rest.”
Too deep? Try “Adios Hermanos,” from his far less-successful Broadway musical written with Derek Walcott, “The Capeman”. Some of the dialogue recited through song might as well be an uncomfortable reminder of how white people—in this case, judges and governmental authority—may have seen a Puerto Rican killer in 1960, and probably even today in some cases.
“Well the ‘Spanish boys’ had their day in court/And now it was time for some fucking law and order/‘The electric chair, for the greasy pair,’/Said the judge to the court reporter,” Simon sings.
“The Capeman” leads to the next reason Simon should be more valued and respected: his variety of style and genre. He’s messed around with gospel, (“Loves Me Like A Rock”) harder rock (“How Can You Live In The Northeast?”) electronica (“Street Angel”), and as stated before, Broadway. That doesn’t mean that he abandoned his original acoustic guitar with vocals style, though. Excluding a select few, each one of Simon’s albums traditionally contains at least one acoustic-based song, going all the way back to 1973’s “Everything Put Together Falls Apart,” leading up to 2018’s revamp of “Questions For The Angels."
And whatever acoustic guitar is included, he’s almost guaranteed to be the one who composed and performed everything to do with it. He’s an astoundingly gifted guitarist, and does it all with his “traveller’s pick,” which is just an abnormally sharp thumb fingernail. Also, for a guy who’ll be in his 80s at the end of the decade, his voice has held up pretty damn well. Maybe there’s a little quiver here and there, but I daresay that right now, his voice is more powerful than Art Garfunkel’s currently is.
So, why does Paul’s influence feel so snubbed? Could it be that his songs are too boring for those who want to rock out, or feel melancholy about reality? Is it because he sounded better with a honey-voiced guy sporting an afro next to him? Well, whatever the reason may be, it would still probably be in our best interest not to let 50-plus years of love songs and African influence fade away.
Bob Dylan was given a Nobel Prize in Literature for his influence. We can only hope that Simon’s bulging list of accolades has room for a Nobel of his own.
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