GRAMMY GREAT STILL DELIVERS THE GOODS
MORE than 50 years ago Paul Simon made a life changing decision not only for himself, but for the music world. Like many kids in Queens, New York, Simon honed his skills at stick-ball and general neighbourhood tomfoolery. But unlike the other children, Simon was lucky enough to find his calling as a songwriter from the age of 13.
‘‘If I could go back and talk to that kid I would say – nice instinct – thanks a lot,’’ he says, laughing. ‘‘He gave me something that I’ve loved my whole life.’’
He’s clearly not the only one. With 12 Grammy Awards to his name and countless recordings, the music world – and its geography – would be a vastly different if Simon hadn’t come along.
‘‘I was a 13-year-old who decided he wanted to write songs,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s great because I never had to think about what I wanted to do in my life. I’m really fortunate that I’m doing what I wanted to do since I was a young kid.’’
Currently touring Australia – his first shows here since his Old Friends tour with musical collaborator Art Garfunkel in 2009 – Simon, 71, says he’s not tired of singing his hits, some of them almost 50 years old.
‘‘It can go in and out. That’s why I don’t tour a lot. Usually I’m fine if it’s played right and the rhythm is right, then it’s alive,’’ he says.
‘‘If you’re being a cover band of your own stuff, it isn’t fun. Once you’re bored something is wrong and you have to recognise that quickly. ‘‘Musicians shouldn’t be bored.’’ The same applies to his studio efforts. ‘‘Every time I make a record I’m going to a place I’m interested in,’’ he says.
‘‘If you keep moving and following the music and where it takes you it’s an endless process that can take a lifetime. There’s no limit to where the music can take you. If you stay in the same place – it would drive me crazy. I don’t do that.’’
The first evidence of Simon breaking away came in 1965, when he released folk album Songbook in the UK. He says the record gave him a chance to write for himself but unlike other breakthrough changes he made later in his career, he soon found out that this period of time belonged to his work with Garfunkel.
‘‘ Songbook was coming out of the English folk scene and it was basically about what was going on in my life,’’ Simon says.
‘‘From there, Simon and Garfunkel happened. It took off so rapidly. We were pop stars. That was interesting for a while to be a pop star, then we did Bridge Over Troubled Water and it wasn’t about being a pop star anymore. It was about where I wanted to go.
‘‘Writing those big ballads – Sounds of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water – in my 20s, I had no idea where they came from,’’ he says.
‘‘I had no idea they would last. All I was thinking was ‘I‘d like to travel to this country and try this’. I then moved from scene to scene and it was a natural development leading to a jump into Graceland.’’
While many artists take cues from Simon and utilise music from a variety of cultures, Simon recommends they immerse themselves in them, not simply borrow. ‘‘It’s worth it. There’s so much to learn,’’ Simon says. ‘‘I could go to another culture and make another fusion record like Graceland but it was the people who played on it – they were the masters. I learnt so much from what they were doing. I had to do so much listening to find out what’s going on.’’
Simon has released more than a dozen albums since leaving Simon and Garfunkel, five of which topped charts around the world. He says he’s looking to switching things up on his next record, the follow up to 2011’s So Beautiful So What.
‘‘I think it’s going to be an EP of about five tracks,’’ he says.
‘‘I’ve written one song which I’m really proud of. It’s a ballad with some really intricate guitar. I have some more ideas but I think releasing something smaller will work. I don’t know if an album is the way. Once again – it’s (the sound) different altogether for me again.’’ Vintage Simon? ‘‘I guess so,’’ he says, laughing.
Paul Simon plays the Byron Bay Bluesfest on Easter Monday.
What’s on, Wilco, Page 30-31
I’m with them: Paul Simon on stage at last week’s Timbre Rock & Roots Festival in Singapore.