“I was born before my father and my children before me”
Paul Simon is feeling very philosophical about life. He sees good news coming out of the jungle. He sees human generations moving forward in warm waves. These are, still, the days of miracle and wonder. And I admire anyone who can still take that view, having lived for some seventy-odd years. I find it difficult to take any comfort in the ongoing pageant of life as it unfolds around me. I see intergenerational trauma spreading itself in epigenetic waves, I see every child doomed to grow up repeating his father’s worst mistakes. I see vast jungles and all of the life and culture within them bulldozed in pursuit of one tiny frog. But I don’t have the perspective of all that many years, and if old people can look at the big picture and find it comforting, well, I suppose they know something young people don’t.
You’ve got to hand it to Paul Simon. Just, hand it to him. On every level. He’s pretty amazing for an old guy. Which might sound glib, but he’s one of a very few artists whose late-life work has entered the play rotation, with no caveats, right alongside the early stuff. In fact, I’ve been listening to his post-2000’s material more than the 70’s albums. Graceland will remain an undisputed masterpiece, but I’ve always felt that the post-Garfunkel years kind of sagged a little. Sure, there were hits, a lot of hits, really great hits. But it felt like Simon needed time to really find a strong voice as a solo artist. And he’s found it as an old geezer, which suits him just fine. Someone needs to meditate on age and mortality, and Paul Simon’s the guy to do it. This song may not be about Paul Simon facing the idea of death, but it’s totally about facing the idea of death. It’s about passing peacefully and with grace to a better state of being. Maybe it’s not meant to literally evoke Christian heaven, though Christian-heaven-believers will surely find it evocative, but it’s certainly about finding peace and grace, if only in the sense of leaving petty concerns to the young and learning not to worry so damn much. I imagine that somebody, somewhere has already asked for this to be played at their funeral.
Paul Simon is in the middle of a late in life revival. He’s enjoying a string of acclaimed and well selling albums, ever since You’re the One marked his comeback in 2000. He’s proof than when your career isn’t based on cockstrutting, the perspective of well earned wisdom can be one hell of a lot more interesting than than of growing pains. It’s also worth noting that Paul Simon, unlike nearly every single one of his contemporaries, never really had a low point. His career low was one flopped musical in the 90’s. He had his partnership with Garfunkel in the 60’s, established himself as a solo artist in the 70’s, and he did some of his most successful and important work in the 80’s. The failure of his Capeman project was a rare humiliation, but he bounced back from it quickly enough. Simon has been as consistent throughout the decades as any artist, which is remarkable, given that most artists have been granted a full decade or two of sucking to balance out their highs.
Yes, Paul Simon, like many of his peers, is indeed old. Not many of his peers, though, accept with quite this much good humor. He always knew how to get a wry little chuckle out of serious things, and of course now he can laugh about being an old man – he never carried the burden of being a sex symbol. He’s still exactly the same lovable dweeb he’s always been. Putting it in perspective doesn’t hurt, either. The Koran is old! The Bible is old! So many great wonders are old. Old is natural and old is something we should be grateful for, if we achieve it. We need to not think of it as a humiliating punishment for failing to stay young. I want to be old and fabulous and laugh at my stupid younger self and no longer care about the dumb shit that young people care about. Say goodbye to the downsides of youth and beauty, maybe grow into some wisdom, fucking enjoy being alive.