Simon Still Rhymin’ After All These Years


Lately I’ve been writing here about musical artists whose work provides lasting satisfaction. Few if any have done so for me of late like Paul Simon.

I’ve been listening to and appreciating Simon since the 1960s and his work with Art Garfunkel. They remain one of the finest acts from the folk-rock movement, opening up that genre into not merely pop music but also presaging world music with the Peruvian folk track “El Condor Pasa” on their final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Sure, a few of Simon’s early songs aren’t as great as others; “I Am A Rock” on the Sounds of Silence LP seemed so profound to my lonely adolescent self but now sounds clunky. However, “The Boxer” and “The Only Living Boy in New York’ remain utterly sublime.

In 1981 I was fortunate enough to be working for the PR firm that did publicity for Simon & Garfunkel’s reunion concert in Central Park – an amazing show as both a concert performance and an event. The resulting album is my go-to recording when I want to hear some S&G, and also one of my favorite “road trip albums” for long drives in the car (double albums and live records like that one make up many of them).

Simon’s solo debut proved that his future without Garfunkel would remain bright indeed, and I all but wore the disc out from multiple plays after it was released in January 1972. Again, he was on the cutting edge of international ethnic influences with the reggae of “Mother and Child Reunion” and the Brazilian groove and percussion within “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”

There is, of course, his 1986 Graceland album, one of the finest pop music albums ever made. And another one I always have along with me for those long drives.

Simon’s solo career, distinguished as it is, has both its peaks and valleys. His album and movie One Trick Pony and Broadway play The Capeman and its Songs from record are best left aside. But both Hearts and Bones and The Rhythm of the Saints are excellent albums, and his most recent string of studio LPs – Surprise, So Beautiful or So What and Stranger to Stranger – all have their wonderful moments.

But as with S&G, where I go when I want to hear Simon is, again, live recordings: His Concert in the Park (1991). Live in New York City (2012) and this year’s The Concert in Hyde Park (with guests Jimmy Cliff, Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and a reunion of the Graceland band. They all feature incredible backing bands and wondrously infectious grooves. Simon’s abilities at delivering songs as a singer have matured and deepened into sublime mastery. His deft lyricism impresses me time and again, and he has a gloriously rich catalog of songs.

But for all his gifts, he’s not a perfect being. And I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up one thing that my friend Hudson Marquez – founder of the Ant Farm art collective, who created the iconic Cadillac Ranch installation – brings up on Facebook whenever Simon is mentioned. He never paid nor gave songwriting credit to the band Los Lobos (Hudson’s friends and one of my favorite bands) for playing on and composing the melody for the Graceland track, “All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints.” It was a sleazy oversight and still can and should be remedied.

Populist Picks

Book: The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George – A magnificent work of historical fiction that brings the notorious English king and his times alive and humanizes him. It’s an absorbing page-turner at close to 1,000 pages that reads like a movie.

Book: The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case by Sam Roberts – The longtime New York Times writer delves into the still controversial Cold War spy affair to spotlight the role played by Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass, in the case, and how it led to her unjust execution.

Documentary Film: The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution – This examination of both the successes and excesses of the 1960s radical African-American political organization made by Netflix has special relevance today with the resurgence of racism in America. It’s a very revealing object lesson in how something so right to begin with can go so wrong.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2017

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