Paul Simon at Rollins: Well, he wrote a Broadway musical once
Another non-theater post, but bear with me:
When a poet and a pop musician come together, it´s not always the poet who proves to be cerebral.
That was the case last night when Billy Collins and Paul Simon showed up at Rollins. Collins was quick with the quips, and Simon the one who didn´t play to the crowd.
Not surprisingly, nobody at Rollins´ packed Knowles Memorial Chapel seemed to mind. The place was full of very happy baby-boomers -- mostly Rollins professors, administrators, staff and spouses -- and a lot of students who weren´t around back in 1975 when Simon and Garfunkel played the second episode of Saturday Night Live.
The two celebs were at Rollins Wednesday for part of the Winter Park Institute, a new program that tries to bring together the college, the community and big-deal scholars. Collins, the ex-poet laureate who has been a part of a number of the Institute´s events, is the big-deal scholar (and, as you may have read here, he´s about to become a faculty member at Rollins). But Simon -- who was continuing a conversation he and Collins had last winter at New York´s 92nd Street Y lecture series -- is the one who seems to be in a permanently pensive state.
So Collins joked about hearing the Edgewater High School band last week playing ´You Can Call Me Al.´ And a pokerfaced Simon countered that that information doesn´t interest him very much. He was more inclined to muse through an answer to Collins´ questions about how he writes a song.
Collins said his own writing begins with ... not very much. ´I think of boredom as a prelude to creativity,´ he said.
´The part of creating that I don´t like is the boredom part,´ Simon said. ´I just sort of collect words or phrases and put them in a book. Three fourths of them aren´t interesting. But the others are interesting, and they have a certain rhythm to them. The creative process goes on all around you, and it doesn´t cohere until later.´
Simon showed what he meant: He picked up a guitar and played a new song, a quiet one that began with the line ´God and his only son paid a courtesy call on earth one Sunday morning´ and ended up, many complicated thoughts later, with ´Thank God I found you.´ Then he proceeded to parse the whole thing -- explaining where each thought came from and how the melody hovered around a certain couple of notes.
´Seldom do I feel inspired,´ he said. ´I´m interested -- but most of the time when I hear music that´s interesting, I immediately start to think, ´Well, what would I do with that?´ Which immediately lets out being inspired, because you´re going to work.´
He talked about the kinds of music he´s thinking about now -- an Indian drummer, the teacher of one of the drummers in his band, whom Simon recorded when the man was in New York a year ago and whose work Simon is now improvising against; a Kenyan musician Simon heard last summer, who played with a guitar and a drum made of a goat skin and bottle caps. ´That sound is in my head, too,´ Simon said.
As it seems, are many other sounds -- doo wop, gospel and rockabilly from the ´50s, British pop from the ´60s, and on and on.
´I´m going to make up those sounds and then think what words will sit in those sounds and take advantage of the fact that people will open their hearts to those sounds. If that sound is appealing, you´re really going to listen to what the words have to say.´
A lot of talk for an hour and a half, although Simon obliged Collins with a request and sang an unamplified ´Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.´
Afterward, the requisite standing O, and one more quip from Collins to a singer-songwriter who doesn´t need to bother to work the crowd.
´You make me look like a cool guy,´ Collins said.