The neck of my Guitar
Paul Simon, 'Old' or Born at the Right Time? (December 2000) The Forward - NYC

By ANDREW SILOW-CARROLL Attempts to claim ´” or deny ´” Paul Simon a place as
a Jewish artist usually rely on close reading of fairly scant textual and
biographical evidence. There's the 1983 Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert in
Tel Aviv, when Mr. Simon told the crowd how glad he was to be there and wiped a
tear from his eye; the Jewish ceremony when he married his second wife, Carrie
Fisher; the song, "Silent Eyes," and its references to Jerusalem. On his new
album, "You're the One" (Warner Brothers), "The Teacher" includes an oblique
reference to Moses ("There once was a teacher of great renown/Whose words were
like the tablets of stone"); at the same time, the new single "Old" talks of
Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed, but no Jewish prophet. Asked once whether a "Jewish
consciousness has anything to do with your abilities as a songwriter," he
replied: "I don't know that there's a connection, no."

Of course, tallying the Jewishness of so recognizable a Jew as Mr. Simon is a
little like interrogating Madonna on whether or not she's a Catholic. Between
his Forest Hills upbringing ("I was only a child of the city/My parents were
children of immigrant stock," he sings on "The Teacher"), his long-time home on
the Upper West Side and a fan base that would be decimated if someone were to
sneak anthrax into the coffee urns at Zabar's, Mr. Simon is safely a member of
the tribe. He may not keep kosher, but it is his words and melodies, and not
the Lubavitcher rebbe's, that tend to get played whenever I'm in the company of
two or more Jews and one of them has a guitar.

In fact, part of the thrill of seeing Mr. Simon in concert, as I did Saturday
night at Manhattan's Beacon Theater, is to hear songs I long came to identify
with synagogue youth group and kibbutz campfires being played and sung by the
man who wrote them. Touring in support of the new album, he nevertheless
included a generous helping of his greatest hits from his days with Art
Garfunkel, including "The Boxer," "Homeward Bound" and "Mrs. Robinson." I am
(just) too young to remember when these songs first came out (my first memory
of a Simon song is dancing in an elementary-school History of Music pageant to
his 1972 solo hit "Me and J´¯lio Down by the Schoolyard"). But I could
appreciate the bittersweet ecstasy of audience members - "born at the right
time," as a Simon lyric once put it ´” for whom the 58-year-old Mr. Simon has
been a generational bellwether.

That role makes Mr. Simon an easy target; as Eric Weisbard wrote recently in
The Village Voice, "Simon epitomizes those baby boomers who after the '60s
pulled their lives into shape, earned a good living, and grew ever more smug in
the process, but still feel like spiritual seekers in their inner hearts, which
they pour out with irritating regularity." But that doesn't make his music any
less powerful, or his ability to remain relevant any less remarkable. There
aren't many performers who can draw from a personal songbook that includes folk
classics of the 1960s, rock and gospel hits of the 1970s ("One Man's Ceiling Is
Another Man's Floor," "Kodachrome") and hugely influential world music
recordings from the 1980s and 1990s (from the "Graceland" and "Rhythm of the
Saints" albums). I was only disappointed that Mr. Simon and his 11-piece band
didn't play a single song from his 1998 Broadway musical "The Capeman"; the
show may have crashed and burned, but much of the doo-wop and salsa-inspired
music was exquisite.

I suppose you could argue that Mr. Simon isn't "Jewish" at all, but merely a
child of "immigrant stock" and a "spiritual seeker" channeling and shaping the
cultural trends that streamed in and out of New York City for the past 40
years. Which is, in the sense of Lenny Bruce, a definition of Jewishness with
which many of us might learn to live.

See also these last articles

Simon, Garfunkel Reunite After 10 Years (Feb. 23, 2003) Newsday.com - 0000-00-00 posted by unknown

Online interview about the Capeman (January 27th, 1998) The Book Report - 0000-00-00 posted by unknown

Paul Simon: Rhymin' Simon (Feb. 2003) Independent Digital - 0000-00-00 posted by unknown