Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Paul Simon

Can you imagine us years from today, 
       sharing a park bench quietly? 
How terribly strange to be seventy. . . .
                        From “Old Friends” by Paul Simon

On October 13, 2011, singer/song-writer Paul Simon turns seventy.

When I was in college, I couldn't get enough of Simon & Garfunkel. I remember listening to the song “Old Friends” and to that haunting line. . . .

How terribly strange to be seventy.

What would it be like, I wondered, “years from today,” to find myself 70 years old? Unthinkable to a kid who can’t even imagine what it would be like to graduate, get a job, and live on my own—much less make it to three score and ten. I wonder what was going through Simon’s mind when he wrote those words so many years ago.

So, how did Paul Simon wind up as a topic in a blog about myth and story? Because Simon’s songs also tell stories.

We get a keyhole peek at some fascinating characters in songs like "Dangling Conversations," "The Boxer," or "America." And in some way I don’t quite understand, these glimpses into other people’s lives help us find a new perspective on our own.

For example, when I eavesdrop on the dysfunctional couple in "Dangling Conversations," I recognize both myself and those disconnected dialogues, complete with “superficial sighs.” I take this song, this story, as a warning. I don’t want to have meaningless conversations or relationships that are “verses out of rhythm, couplets out of rhyme.”

“The Boxer” shows us a young man who left home to find his fortune in New York City, only to struggle and fail. He “carries the reminders of ev’ry glove that laid him down,” and he longs to leave the city--and yet “the fighter still remains.” Why does he stay? Maybe he can’t afford the bus ticket out of town. Maybe he’s afraid to leave the only life he knows. Maybe he has lost all hope. These unanswered questions linger and intrigue us.

In “America,” the unnamed narrator and his girlfriend Kathy, board a Greyhound “to look for America,” but we get the feeling they are really looking for themselves. All we know is that he hitchhiked four days from Saginaw, and he is on a journey. When Kathy falls asleep, he confesses that he is “lost” and “empty and aching.” He is “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,” and now we see that all of these faceless travelers are on a journey—the same journey that lies at the heart of myth and of your story and mine.

Paul Simon is a gifted lyricist—part poet, part prophet, part storyteller. In 2006, Time Magazine chose Simon as one of 100 people who have helped shape the world. I only know that his music and his lyrics have helped shape my world. And no, I don’t always share his political or philosophical convictions. But I do appreciate his artistry. He has set the bar higher for all song writers, and he has given us lyrics that keep us thinking, long after the music stops.

I don’t know what Paul Simon is doing on his birthday, but somehow I don’t think he’ll be “sharing a park bench quietly” (unless he’s posing for publicity pix). He’ll be singing and playing his guitar and writing and composing and living a life that’s better and richer in many ways from the youthful days when he wrote “Old Friends.” 

His creative journey has taken him around the world to many different cultures and musical styles, and I hope someday it will lead him to a place where “there’s a reason to believe / We all will be received.” Going to "Graceland." Homeward bound.

EPILOGUE:  What's your favorite Paul Simon song--and why?

1 comment:

  1. The Sounds of Silence - guess it just seems peaceful and I like silence!