Simon energized by new connections
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 23, 2006 12:00 AM
It has been two decades since American songwriting icon Paul Simon turned much of the world onto African music with Graceland and six years since he released an album of new material.
The terrorist attacks on America, Simon´s 60th birthday and a long-overdue reunion with his 1960s singing partner, Art Garfunkel, came and went after the release of 2000´s You´re the One, which made only a ripple in the music industry.
Now, Simon has released Surprise, a smart, refreshing CD that finds him exploring new territory with another icon, electronic-music pioneer Brian Eno, and giving voice to listeners who are taking stock of their lives. advertisement
Simon will perform much of Surprise as well as such million-selling hits as Cecilia and Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard when he visits the Valley on Wednesday.
The singer, who rose to fame as the songwriting and guitar-playing half of Simon & Garfunkel and scored a string of solo hits in the ´70s and ´80s, sounds pleased with the reception he´s getting at age 64.
´I´m a little bit surprised at the amount of screaming and stuff that´s going on,´ Simon says.
He acknowledges that his time of writing pop hits ´is gone, and rightfully so,´ but he´s excited to see concertgoers ranging from teenagers to his own generation reacting to his new music.
That fan connection to such tunes as the funky Outrageous, the gentle Father and Daughter and the bittersweet Everything About It Is a Love Song is what keeps Simon energized.
´I don´t really care what age likes what I do,´ he says. ´I care whether anybody likes what I do, whether it means something to them.
´So I would be just as happy if a 50-year-old followed what I was thinking and feeling (on the new songs) . . . than if a 25-year-old wanted to get up and dance to (1986´s) Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.´
His partnership with Eno, renowned for avant-garde solo work as well as projects with David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2, has allowed Simon to put a modern edge on his signature polyrhythms, hummable melodies and wordplay.
´I was interested in (Eno´s) electronic ambience, his sense of space and timing,´ says Simon, who became friends with the keyboardist-producer in 2003. ´When we met and talked about it intellectually, we were in agreement about a lot of things.´
Eno is credited with ´sonic landscape´ on the album as well as co-writing two songs. His presence is felt from the album´s opening chords.
Processed guitar and synthesizer prove a good match in How Can You Live in the Northeast? for Simon´s gentle vocals, which hint at a need for tolerance: ´How can you be a Christian, how can you be a Jew, how can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?´
Eno´s keyboard noodling adds dreaminess to Outrageous, which finds a feisty Simon commenting on the march of time (´I´m painting my hair the color of mud´) and asking the touchy question, ´Who´s gonna love you when your looks are gone?´
´I think it´s a question that people ask themselves,´ says Simon, who has three children with his wife of 14 years, singer Edie Brickell. ´The culture is so superficial that when the surface starts to deteriorate, you wonder whether your whole value has diminished. But I think the answer to that is no. The people who love you don´t care that much what you look like.´
Simon also veers from safe territory in Wartime Prayers, written as the United States prepared to invade Iraq. Backed by piano and acoustic guitar, he sends his message ´in every language spoken, for every family scattered and broken.´
´It seemed to me that the big story about wars is the human suffering and how widespread that suffering is - not just the immediate victims who are killed or wounded, but the families and extended families and how many generations it takes to heal,´ he says.
Music was the big healer in ending a longstanding rift between Simon and Garfunkel, who have known each other since they were 11.
After releasing such influential folk-pop albums as Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), Bookends (1968) and Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), the two broke up and went through periods of barely speaking.
Their most recent reunion came in 2003 after the pair received a lifetime-achievement Grammy award. A world tour followed.
´We hadn´t spoken in 10 years, and then we repaired the relationship pretty easily, which is exactly the way we were when we were kids,´ Simon recalls. ´We used to get in big fights, and then we´d say, ´Aw, let´s drop the whole thing.´
´And that´s what we did with this, which was really needed because it was starting to get into some treacherous waters.´
Simon, who has no immediate plans for more work with Garfunkel, says, ´I´m still friends with Artie and I still see Artie.´
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