Classic Interviews : Paul Simon
By Stuart Grundy, December 1974 "http://www.medialab.chalmers.se/guitar/images/simon20.gif" alt="paul simon picture">
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL - TOGETHER AND ALONE was the strange title of Stuart Grundy's 1975 portrait of the two men who had been the world's most successful musical double act. The duo had split up five years earlier.
'The interviews with both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were recorded in December 1974 in Paul's manager's office ' recalls Stuart. 'It was around East 60th Street in New York. I like to think that actually getting Art to come into Paul's office for the interviews played some part in getting them back together to record 'My Little Town'. We had proposed doing a major series on Simon and Garfunkel but Paul wanted to include their work as individuals. Hence the title of the series.
'Paul's a great genius but he's difficult to talk to in an interview situation. He was also slightly worried about being involved with a series which was to sum up a career which he felt was far from over. He was familiar with the BBC from when he'd lived in the UK and knew that if we were doing the series it had to be absolutely correct so he was very careful to get all the details right.
'I remember being very concerned about the level of background noise while we were recording - from sirens in the street and so on - but listening to the original tape again at one point you can clearly hear 'Still Crazy' being played in the next room. What probably seemed like a nuisance at the time was to turn out to be one of his biggest solo hits.'
GRUNDY: Ever since the early days of Simon and Garfunkel, you've been generally regarded as a 'perfectionist' in the studio.
SIMON: I must say in defence of Simon and Garfunkel - people often called us 'perfectionists', but we were not looking for perfection. We were looking for some kind of magic in the music and sometimes it just took us a long time to find it, you know, but we were not out to make a perfect record. We just developed our ideas slowly and changed our minds a lot and had the opportunity to spend enormous quantities of studio time on our work because we were selling a sufficient amount of records, so that Columbia Records was reluctant to stop our patterns of work because they were successful.
GRUNDY: But it could also be argued that you were really perhaps for the first time treating the business of making rock 'n' roll or pop music, or whatever you like to call it, as an art form. You were building up, as one would paint a picture.
SIMON: Well that's so. We were building up as you would paint a picture. 1'11 tell you another thing that counted. We were all so perfectly happy in the studio, all of us - me and Artie and [producer] Roy Halee - that I think we were content to spend plenty of time there. We sort of dragged our whole lives into the studio. People came to visit us in the studio, and we saw people and we ate in the studio. It was a very enjoyable way of passing our time. I think that that also contributed to the fact that we spent a lot of time there, because we were enjoying ourselves.
GRUNDY: And of course you've been able to continue that luxury, in a sense, by not only spending more time on making records but allowing more time perhaps between albums too, to get material together.
SIMON: Well it takes me a certain amount of time to write. I'm not very prolific. As soon as I have enough work to do, then I begin.
GRUNDY: When you say you're not very prolific, does that mean that you don't sit down and say: right, for the next two hours I'm going to write?
SIMON: Well I sometimes do that, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I end up with anything. Or I could end up with one line, or I could end up with something that I throw out. Just looking over the past, certainly I've produced less than ten songs a year initially. I think I've only written about seventy songs or so altogether since Simon and Garfunkel's Wednesday Morning album. Including everything, it's maybe seventy songs.
GRUNDY: What, do you mean to say that you've recorded and published everything that you've written, or have you thrown away quite a lot of material?
SIMON: There might be two or three songs, maybe, that I haven't done. I think every song that I've written, with the exception of one song, has been recorded. And that one song was supposed to be the twelfth song on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. And we had such a big fight over it.
GRUNDY: What, you and Artie, you mean?
SIMON: Yeah. We had such a fight over this song. He didn't want to do it, and I wanted to do it. He wanted to do a Bach cantata. He wanted to do all the eight voices himself, and I didn't want to. And I wanted to do this song that I wrote called 'Cuba Si, Nixon No' and Artie didn't want to do it. I looked at it again about two years ago and in retrospect Artie may have been right.
GRUNDY: So you're talking obviously about differences or a difference. Had you tended to have a lot of differences in the studio or on the level at which you had to decide what you were going to wind up with?
SIMON: Well let me say that we had many more points of agreement than we had points of difference, but we did differ, and the bigger we got, the more insistent we got that each one of us should have his way. So it became more difficult to resolve points of difference, whereas in the earlier days we found compromises a bit easier.
GRUNDY: Most of the best partnerships - and obviously you did have for a long time a very successful partnership - most of the best partnerships result from complementary pieces that you add. Would it be possible for you to stand back from the two of you and say what you felt were your relative strengths and weaknesses?
SIMON: Artie always seemed to really like my songs, which made it easy to work with him. I always felt that they were good because he always told me that they were good, so it was a positive way to begin work. And the voices blended well, we'd been singing since we were thirteen so we really knew each other's voice. And we'd been friends for that long so we didn't have too many problems in compromising. It really wasn't until the differences in our tastes became more ingrained that the problems arose. Then we were both capable of being very stubborn people. So it worked for a long time and probably would have worked for a longer period of time had not the movies come in to . . . to add an additional strain to an already complex and strained relationship.
GRUNDY: So in a sense The Graduate, whilst it ....
SIMON: It wasn't The Graduate, it was Catch 22. [Filming for Catch 22, in which Garfunkel appeared, overran, which meant he could not attend the recording of parts of Bridge Over Troubled Water.]
I believe that it's inevitable that partnerships break up, particularly these kind of partnerships. And I believe that they would have broken up anyway. But perhaps later, maybe a year or two later. But maybe it's really lucky that it did break up. To break up with Bridge Over Troubled Water being our greatest success. It was a good way to end, rather than to have come up with another record that would have been, I'm sure, less successful than Bridge Over Troubled Water, and then break up and it's not really quite the same.
But it was weird, it was a weird partnership, I will say that. There was something, some kind of understanding that we had between us that really made it a good partnership when it was swinging. We understood each other very well, because we knew each other for so long that we were able to talk in a virtual shorthand. And our senses of humour were the same - we just about taught each other our sense of humour in fact. So really that partnership had some really good days on a personal level, and they far outweighed the bad days at the end. That's my opinion. I'm sure that's Artie's opinion too. Although at the time I was really angry, I really was.
GRUNDY : Can you look at your own songs and use the word 'affection' in relation to your own material?
SIMON: Well some songs don't embarrass me, let me put it that way. That's about the best I can say to you.
GRUNDY: Well most people who are in any creative area find it very difficult because they're hypercritical, they find it difficult to think that they've done a good job.
SIMON: That's sort of me. I don't very often think I've done a good job. And I don't like the majority of what I do. I shouldn't say I don't like it, but I'm not satisfied with almost everything that I do. I don't consider myself to be a major talent and so the only solace I can take is to hope that I'm growing. So if I'm disappointed in what I do, I can rationalise it by saying, well 1'11 do it better some time in the future. It's pointless to be critical of your stuff once it's done, really. So I don't spend a lot of time going over it and agonising over it because once it's done, you just leave it and move on to whatever else you're doing. Even if you don't like it, it's of no importance once it's finished. You did it, you did your best and you walk on and that's it.
GRUNDY: Is there anything that you haven't looked back on and said, 'I could have done that a hell of a lot better?'
SIMON: Oh, there are things that I did as well as I was capable of doing and I feel pleased with them. There are several things that fall into that category. I think 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was a very good song and I think Artie sang it beautifully. I think he did really a great, a very soulful job to come out of a white singer. He sang it white, but soulful, and that's very hard to hear today. And I think 'The Boxer' was a really nice record. I like to listen to that record. And I think 'American Tune' is a nice song. And I think I've written several: . . nice songs. But I don't think I've written any great songs.
GRUNDY: The separation of you and Artie was, in a sense, a release and a new beginning because you were starting afresh.
SIMON: Well that's an aspect of it, yes. It was dangerous again, to a certain degree, to go and start all over again as just me. I was nervous . . . it's good to be nervous. After all those years of automatic success, you don't get nervous any more. It's really necessary to be nervous and be a little bit frightened. You try to work at your best and be afraid that even if you don't really do it as well as you can, that people won't like it or they won't listen to you. It kind of pumps the adrenalin into you and you really get down there and try.
GRUNDY: Has there ever been a situation where you felt there had been pressure, either from the record company or from fans?
SIMON: No, the record company don't bother me at all. They stay out of my way and whenever the record is finished, they take it. And as for fans, I don't feel any pressure from fans. But I'm always in some kind of state of emotional turmoil or something. I mean, I would not describe myself as happy-go-lucky. I feel under a lot of pressure all the time. That's not to say that I'm not happy. However, a good case could be made . . . [LAUGHS] that I'm not.
GRUNDY: Is this a pressure for you to continue to prove yourself?
SIMON: I really couldn't explain it. I wish I knew. I've a song on a new album - in fact maybe 1'11 call the album it - called 'Still Crazy After All These Years'.
GRUNDY: Now you're working on solo albums, I wonder if you could look at the different paths that you and Artie have taken musically since the split. In what way do you think you took off and then he took off? In what directions?
S I MO N: Well the main difference between us is that I was writing songs for Simon and Garfunkel and I'm [now] writing songs for me. It's hard for me to say. Both Roy and Artie liked things to be cleaner than I did, more precise, more lush, they liked ballads. I like ballads too, but Artie is a particularly fine ballad singer, a much better ballad singer than I am. So he really does tend to emphasise ballads. I try and mix up my stuff, ballads and up-tempos. And the rest comes down to simply a manifestation of our individual tastes, in him choosing what he wants to sing and in me choosing what I want to write, which of course I then sing.
GRUNDY: It would be very easy for you to drop out of music altogether, actually.
SIMON I think it would be very difficult. Why do you say that?
GRUNDY: Well, I would have thought that certainly financially you don't need to continue.
SIMON: I'm not in it for the money. I like music. I love to write music. I love music. I don't think it's possible for me to . . . I can't imagine myself not playing or singing or writing. I would have to do something musical. It would just drive me crazy if I didn't.
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