Paul Simon’s 80th Birthday

Paul Simon, New York City, 1989 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Happy Birthday, Paul Simon. The singer-songwriter turns 80 years old today.

Here is his rendition of Allen’s haunting “New Stanzas For Amazing Grace”

Here’s a selection of Simon’s own songs

& some  Paul Simon videos

The Sound of Silence – 1966 and 2009 – Josh Jones for Open Culture notices the difference

Paul Simon on “The Sound of Silence” – (from an interview in 2019 with David Rubenstein) – “.. I didn’t know.  What I did think was that this was the best of the songs that I had written at that point. Whatever your creative process is it comes through you and it’s yours but it’s almost like you didn’t write it. I didn’t know at that point, because I was twenty-two years old, that such a thing could happen. As years passed I began to recognize that that was an unusual and inspirational kind of occurrence.”

and here‘s an extraordinary rendition of ‘The Boxer”  live in Paris 2013 (compare with the 1965 recorded version and a recent solo acoustic version offered only last year)

Paul Simon tells the story of how he wrote “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – (Josh Jones, again, for Open Culture, traces the story here)

Simon was one of the few artists to be inducted twice into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame (once, in 1990, as part of the legendary duo, Simon & Garfunkel, and, the second time, in 2001, for his solo work). He is the recipient of 12 Grammys. In 2003 he was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, he was presented with The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize For Popular Song (the celebration can be viewed here). More recently. in 2019. he was presented with the Smithsonian National Museum of History’s Great Americans medal ” For his global humanitarianism and environmentalism, for his commitment to the well-being of America’s most vulnerable children, for building a bridge across generations with a sound that is as current as it is timeless, for his masterful lyricism and songcraft, which in one simple stanza can challenge, comfort, inspire and compel us to action, (and) for his unwavering belief in the freedom of expression and the dignity of all peoples”

Steven Hyden‘s  piece for The Ringer (from 2018), “Paul Simon vs. The World” is well worth reading.

As indeed is Paul Zollo two-part piece for American Songwriter (from 2020) – here and here

Ted Mills focuses on his 1968 hit, “Mrs Robinson”  (the first rock song to win a Grammy for Record of the Year.) – (seen here in performance at the Simon & Garfunkel concert in 1985 at Central Park)

Here’s Paul Simon on more of his songs

from the classic 1972 Rolling Stone interview with Jon Landau – “Simon and Garfunkel had a peculiar type of groupie. We had the poetic groupies. The girls that followed us around weren’t necessarily looking to sleep with us as much as they were looking to read their poetry or discuss literature or play their own songs.”

from a 1986 interview  (responding to the question as to whether Bob Dylan and he were “rock poets”) – “Well, it was a very popular reference “‘rock poets” in the “Sixties’. At the time I didn’t really feel that it applied. And in fact I still don’t think that it applies. It wasn’t really poetry but it was lyric writing that was cognizant of the use of language in a way that could be poetic... Still, the man idea was to get smooth lyrics that would flow with the melody, but, if you could do that with language and imagery that was richer than had been previously the norm, well that became something that we were interested in and something that we liked and there was a stretch in that direction. Because it was the first time that people were stretching in that direction the excesses of that thought process or movement became…you know, ‘the valleys of your mind” type of lyrics and so they became cliched and they were silly. But it was an attempt to make the language of song closer to the language of poetry.”

from a 2011 interview with the Orange County Register  –  “Well, the words for me always come last. And in a certain sense, they do magically come to me, because I really don´t know where some of the most memorable lines I´ve ever written came from. They just come. I can´t explain that. I could explain to you why a Sotho rhythm is a rhythm I really like. I´ve studied it enough. But I can’t say why the lyrics come. That´s just a gift.

Well, the raw material comes out – and a lot of it I discard. And then I take some and I say, ´That´s good,´ and then I start to polish it and chip away, and make it right, or decide this is a better word than that word. But that´s what the process is for the words. The music, I don´t know, it depends.”

More thoughtful consideration here – “Paul Simon Offers Some Advice About Song Writing” from George Martin’s 1983 volume, Making Music.

Simon’s unedited candid 1986 interview:

Simon, four years previously, on David Letterman:

More recently, here’s Simon in 2012 with Wynton Marsalis
In 2012 interviewed by music journalist Jan Gradvall at the 2012 Polar Music Talks in Stockholm, Sweden

2015  Alec Baldwin interview
2018 with Christiane Amanpour on CNN  – here and here

In 2018, he announced his retirement from large-scale touring –  “I love making music, my voice is still strong, and my band is a tight, extraordinary group of gifted musicians. I think about music constantly. Sadly, we lost our lead guitarist and my friend of 30 years, Vincent N’guini, who died last December. His loss is not the only reason I’ve decided to stop touring, but it is a contributing factor. Mostly, though, I feel the travel and time away from my wife and family takes a toll that detracts from the joy of playing. I’d like to leave with a big Thank You to the many folks around the world who’ve come out to watch me play over the last 50 years..” – while reserving the right to do occasional one-off special events -“I anticipate doing the occasional performance in a (hopefully) acoustically pristine hall, and to donate those earnings to various philanthropic organizations, particularly those whose objective is to save the planet, ecologically’

Performances like these ones – from 2019, in Hawaii for The Auwahi Forest Restoration Project and  The Auwahi Forest Restoration Project  (Here’s Simon interviewed at that time for Hawaii radio) 

He was scheduled to headline this year (August) at New York’s “We Love NYC – The Homecoming Concert” in  Central Park (which unfortunately had to be curtailed due to dangerous and inclement weather). He was, however, able to perform at the Global Citizen Festival (at the same location) at the end of last month

Here’s video of Paul Simon in concert – three live concerts  – from  1992,  2006, and, most recently, a private concert for Greens Farms Academy, Connecticut, 2014

and from London’s Hyde Park in 2017,  a fitting send-off and tip of the hat for the future   – “Still Crazy After All These Years


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