Look at the assortment of instruments that Paul Simon brings on stage with him. It’s like the contents of a small music store or antique shop. And how many of them come out for one low-key ballad? That’s just Paul Simon’s way. He incorporates exotic things from all over the world and makes is sound natural. But, of course, you could stuff all wind chimes and flutes and talking drums in the world onto your record and it wouldn’t mean anything if you don’t have songs that are touching. Simon wrote all the songs alone with an acoustic guitar, and anything else added on in the studio is just sprinkles on what’s really hearts-and-bones songwriting. We come to Paul Simon for his thoughts about life, and if there’s a little flute on the side, that’s nice.
First of all, Paul Simon has really grown into an adorable old man. He looks like he probably plays dominoes outside of the deli every afternoon. He looks like one of his own characters, because if he hasn’t yet written a song about an old man who plays dominoes outside the deli, he’s going to soon. Secondly, there is, as always, Paul Simon’s writing, which has only ripened with age. His songs, at this point, are as full and satisfying as a good short story. His writing has always been both literate and literary, but now it’s without the distraction of youthful angst, which screams me! me! me! instead of observing the world fully. I love really good observational writing, and Paul Simon writes about people and moments and feelings that feel real, outside of the usual concerns of pop. Pop songwriting is essentially hormonal, geared to appeal to young people who are screaming to be seen. Mature writing is about seeing what’s not screaming for attention, and not every songwriter, even very gifted ones, ever learns that.
One thing about Paul Simon hasn’t changed; he still loves New York City. It may just be his lifelong muse. As much as he likes to safari, he always comes back to those familiar images of city streets. Now he’s a white haired old man with nothing left to prove and nothing to do but observe the eternal flow around him. There may be a shout-out to Jay-Z just to mark us in the present, but the cityscape hasn’t changed much either. Billboards and buildings may come and go, but the city’s role as the quintessential American pilgrimage place hasn’t wavered. It’s still all things to all people, and for Paul Simon, it’s home.