×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

At age 70, Paul Simon’s still rhymin’

Seminal singer-songwriter works on compiliation, tour

The calendar may have caught up with the man who 43 years ago ruminated in song on the strangeness of finding himself 70, but Paul Simon isn’t slowing down.

At an age at which most performers are content to rest on their laurels, or in Simon’s case his considerable publishing royalties, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer still pursues the pace of a young singer-songwriter looking to build a legacy.

Simon is touring in support of this year’s Hear Music/Concord Records release “So Beautiful or So What,” with the 24-date fall leg of his U.S. trek arriving Oct. 19 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in L.A.

On Oct. 24, Columbia Legacy, now the home of Simon’s entire back catalog, will issue a compilation, “Songwriter.” The two-CD, 32-track set is a retrospective with a difference: a Simon-curated selection focusing on his cleffing.

In the wings is a 25th-anni documentary on Simon’s bestselling 1986 opus “Graceland” — one of two Simon solo albums to win Grammy’s album of the year, set to bow on A&E early next year.

Simon notes that “So Beautiful or So What,” which bowed at No. 4 on the U.S. album chart in April and has sold 250,000 to date, was something of a return to form after years of rhythmic experimentation — the African and Afro-Brazilian sounds of “Graceland” and “Rhythm of the Saints” (1990), the doo-wop and Latin music of “Songs From the Capeman” (1997), the understated world music eclecticism of “You’re the One” (2000) and the sonically adventurous Brian Eno collaboration “Surprise” (2006).

“I purposely didn’t want to start with a rhythmic premise,” Simon says. “I wanted to go and write the way I used to write years ago, with just a guitar. I’d been doing the other for 20-some-odd years, and I knew how to do it, and was used to it. I wanted to break out of that particular style and go back to other things that I do. I knew it was going to be uncomfortable and difficult to sit in the room just by myself, which was a good reason to do that. I just wanted to be uncomfortable.”

The result is a bracing, frequently wry song cycle, co-produced by Simon and longtime collaborator Phil Ramone. The album features offbeat instrumentation (ranging from African kora to New Orleans jazz clarinet) and samples (from preacher Rev. J.M. Gates, gospel’s Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet and bluesman Sonny Terry). Many of the musing compositions are distinctly spiritual in nature; on three tracks — “The Afterlife,” “Love and Hard Times” and “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light” — God is a central character

“It just happened,” Simon says. “There’s been a lot of speculation, especially in Christian blogs and writing, that God was speaking through me, and I was unaware. Certainly I’m not a Christian. I’m not actually a religious person at all. But (it’s) in a lot of my songs, and has been throughout the years.”

Simon’s highly personal look back at his song catalog on “Songwriter” largely eschews his writing for Simon & Garfunkel: Live solo performances of “The Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer” and, somewhat surprisingly, Aretha Franklin’s 1971 recording of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — rather than the original, famous for Garfunkel’s soaring vocal — represent his work for the duo.

“It’s a songwriter album,” Simon says. “I wanted to get in as many of these (solo) album tracks that deserved to get in as I could, so I cut Simon & Garfunkel back quite a bit — probably more than in all fairness (those songs) deserved. Again, because I wanted to keep the emphasis on the song, I chose the Aretha, which I think is just as good as the Simon & the Garfunkel (version) … I thought it was extraordinary.”

Some of Simon’s major hits — “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Slip Slidin’ Away” — fell by the wayside on “Songwriter” in favor of lesser-known compositions.

“I was trying to combine songs that were well-known with songs that I thought were really interesting but essentially overlooked, or others that were kind of semi-hits,” Simon says. “?’Hearts and Bones’ was a semi-hit; fans of mine would all know that. ‘Peace Like a River’ is a semi-hit; indie bands covered it. Other songs like ‘Tenderness’ or ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War,’ some of the songs from ‘Surprise,’ they’re really not known.

” ‘Darling Lorraine’ (from ‘You’re the One’) was another song that I thought, when I wrote it, was one of the best songs I wrote. I thought that song was a leap for me as a songwriter. … The story evolved as I was writing it. I didn’t even know that she died until (the narrator) said, ‘I’m sick to death of you, Lorraine.’ As soon as I wrote that, I said, ‘Oh, my God, she’s gonna die now.’ It was a very good story-song about a relationship. It had a lot of jokes in it, too, which I like.”

The “Graceland” doc, helmed by Joe Berlinger, director of the “Paradise Lost” documentaries about the West Memphis Three murder case, focuses on a defining moment in Simon’s career — the controversial genesis of the album in South Africa during the waning years of apartheid. The album was made despite a U.N. boycott against South Africa, and wound up broadening the worldwide appreciation of the many forms of black South African music.

“We went back to South Africa at the end of July,” says Simon. “I had a little brief reunion concert with all of the guys. Everyone’s alive except for (singer) Miriam (Makeba). We played in front of an audience, with very little rehearsal. Everybody was interviewed. They interviewed a lot of people from the (African National Congress), people who were opposed to us in the beginning. We also went to the musicians who played, and Roy Halee, who was the engineer. We all talked about where it came from and how people see it now. It’s really the artistic story of ‘Graceland’ and the political story of ‘Graceland,’ 25 years later.”

Simon says there’s talk of a “Graceland” reunion tour in 2012. “I’ll start to bring a little bit more ‘Graceland’ back (into my set), and get (it) into shape.”

Reflecting on his current state of creative hyperactivity, Simon demurs when it is suggested — as annotator Tom Moon does on “Songwriter” — that he is a restless individual.

I’m a curious person,” he says. “I’m interested. It’s not restlessness that grabs me. It’s something that’s interesting. … I’m going backwards in time, and I’m going forwards in time, because I’m rethinking structure all the time, because I’ve been writing songs for so long that I’m good at it.”

More Music

  • BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to

    BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to Be Produced by Management Firm's New Shingle, ModestTV

    The BBC has confirmed its Little Mix talent show, which the pop band’s management firm, Modest!, will produce through a new banner, ModestTV. “Little Mix The Search” will be exec produced by Andrea Hamilton, who has partnered with the management outfit to launch the new operation. Her entertainment show credits include “The Voice” and “Strictly [...]

  • NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15:

    Midland Turns L.A.'s Dormant Palomino Club Into a Honky-Tonk Brigadoon

    Would it be too much to ask Midland to give up its burgeoning-country-star status and move west to become the humble house band at a newly reopened Palomino club in L.A.? It doesn’t seem a lot to beseech for a good cause, however unlucrative it might be for the group’s fortunes and fame. The famed [...]

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 16:

    Idina Menzel, Bebe Rexha Take the Stage for Justin Tranter's 'Beyond' Benefit Concert

    We’re here, we’re queer and we’re writing your favorite songs was the theme of Beyond, the third annual benefit concert that Justin Tranter and his CAA agent, Jenna Adler, organized to benefit GLAAD at the Sunset Room in Hollywood on Wednesday night (Oct. 16). Beyond a music showcase, its mission is to highlight the annual [...]

  • Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Arrivals,

    Vivendi's Third Quarter Results Up Nearly 17%, UMG Still Rising

    Vivendi saw its third quarter revenues increase by 16.7% to €3.97 billion ($4.4 billion) compared with the third quarter of 2018, once again boosted by the growth of Universal Music Group, while Canal Plus Group remained stable. For the first nine months of 2019, Vivendi’s revenues reached €11.3 billion ($12.5 billion), an increase of 14.6% [...]

  • Parliament-Funkadelic and George ClintonIEBA Annual Conference,

    George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Sheila E. to Perform in ‘Grammy Salute’ Airing Friday

    Parliament-Funkadelic stars George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, along with Sheila E. and many others, perform in the “Grammy Salute to Music Legends” airing as part of PBS’ “Great Performances” series Friday night. The show, the fourth annual all-star concert offering a primetime spotlight for the Academy’s 2019 Special Merit Awards recipients, premieres nationwide Friday, Oct. [...]

  • Lola Marsh

    Ping Pong Sets the Beat in Hypnotic, Green Screen-Ambitious Lola Marsh Video (Watch)

    Forrest Gump has nothing on Lola Marsh. The Tel Aviv-based twosome of vocalist Yael Shoshana Cohen and multi-instrumentalist Gil Landau transform into ping pong rivals in the video for “Only for a Moment.” The indie-pop jam combines Cohen’s Lana Del Rey-esque vocals over an upbeat blend of snaps, claps, shakers, and a driving melody courtesy [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content