Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Paul Simon

The obvious choice of who to write about first falls to Paul Simon. If I had to name someone that was my favorite (which I would never officially do) it would be him. The story goes that my brother Jeff and I would "Flip Out" (another post) regularly around noon when we were 4-7 years old and at my Aunt's house. Aunt Rhoda solved this by showing me how to work the cassette player. I listened to Simon & Garfunkle's Greatest Hits for hours on end with enormous headphones...Jeff was placated with never-seen-at-home sugar cereal. I know every chord, lyric and harmony on that album, I still listen to it now, and while it is true that our firstborn son is named Simon, I will reiterate that I am not officially saying he is my favorite.

My Dad saw Simon and Garfunkle perform at UW in the late 60's. It was three hours of two voices and one guitar...the best concert he has seen to this day. If one can, for a moment look past the crisp harmonies, playful melodies and timeless songwriting mastery of Paul may notice that he is an incredible guitar player. Paul may be the best guitar player in the world, that is not known as one. Not even making Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists of all time in '03 (I know because I looked when it came out). I think his subtlety steals away most of his deserved credit. He rarely flashes his capabilities for the greater good of the song...listen to American Tune (1973) to hear what I mean.  This is one of the abilities I admire most about him, he never overdoes anything...he understands the less is more principle fully. Oh...if your still not convinced on the guitar skills listen to his version of Anji (1966).

Paul Simon grew up in the studio, watching his Dad record big band music, and from an early age was surrounded by pros (his brother Ed was pretty accomplished as well).   He always played with the best...and not just with Garfunkle, but with Linda Ronstad, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Gillian Welch, Dion, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Annie Lennox, Lou Reed and on and on.  But it wasn't just other icons, his studio roots drew him to great players.  Steve Gadd on drums (matching Paul's incredible subtlety) is one of my favorites.  Gadd's drums on 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (1976)  is legendary in the drum world.  I "Performed" this for a drum final in college...its a lot harder then it looks!  He played with random, but crazy talented people like harmonica player Toots Thielemans on a mostly unknown but brilliant song called I Do It for Your Love (1976). Instrumentation on all of his records is always interesting...and often groundbreaking.  He was the first to bring Reggae into the mainstream with his song Mother and Child Reunion (1972).  He collaborated with the Peruvian pipes of Urubamba on El Condor Pasa (1970).  Recorded most of the Graceland album in South Africa, working with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and bassist Bakithi Kumulo who is amazing on You Can Call me Al (1986). Recorded Tenderness (1973), perhaps my favorite song of his, in a Doo Wop style.  Throw in a dixieland style on Loves Me Like A Rock (1973), and a zydeco version of That Was Your Mother (1986) and you grasp the richness of Paul Simon's music, and sneak in a slight appreciation of world music as you go.

As a song writer, Paul Simon is at his best.

Cathy I'm lost I said though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America.

(America, 1968)

I'm not sure how it is done, again and again, but Paul Simon is able to communicate deep truths, and reference universal human experience effortlessly and artfully.  Born and raised in Brooklyn, he also is deeply rooted as an American.  His music often references American cities and states (and yes an occasional reference to London where he lived for a few years) while incorporating uniquely American music: blues and jazz of course, but also black gospel, southern gospel, big band and soul.  More importantly he seems committed to the concept, and the idea of America.

The Mississippi Delta was shining                              We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
Like a National guitar,                                                 We come on the ship that sailed the moon
I am following the river                                               We come in the age's most uncertain hours
Down the highway                                                       and sing an American tune
Through the cradle of the civil war.                            
(American Tune, 1973) 
... Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland
(Graceland, 1986)

Paul Simon is the full musical package, and while he is certainly not infallible...his songs are probably my single largest influence as a musician and have been steadily loved since my childhood.

Thanks Paul.

Discography of Studio Albums

Simon & Garfunkle:
1964 - Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
1966 - Sounds of Silence
1966 - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
1968 - Bookends
1970 - Bridge Over Troubled Water

Paul Simon:
1972 - Paul Simon
1973 - There Goes Rhymin' Simon
1975 - Still Crazy After All These Years
1980 - One Trick Pony (Soundtrack)
1983 - Hearts and Bones
1986 - Graceland
1990 - The Rhythm of the Saints
1997 - Songs From the Capeman 
2000 - You're the One
2006 - Surprise

These are just his studio albums.  He is also on countless compilations, live recordings and greatest hits as well.   


Anonymous said...

enjoyed your post. good stuff. made me realize I should appreciate S&Gs music more than I have. the youtube videos led me to these, too:;youtube/NMnw7CcWO7E and;youtube/FRWU2DysF30. amazing.
- Steve W.

Rebekah said...

loved reading this Chris - and smile imaging you sitting with those huge headphones at Rhoda's falling in love with music at such a young age!