It´s a heartwarming snippet on YouTube from 1976: folk legend Paul Simon singing ´Bingo´ on ´Sesame Street,´ backed by his then-4-year-old son Harper.
But the cute clip now needles the adult offspring, who ´” on his long-overdue self-issued debut, ´Harper Simon´ ´” wants to be accepted on his own musical merits.
´I hadn´t thought about that video in ages, and nobody ever mentioned it until this year,´ says Harper, 37. ´Now somebody put it up on YouTube for everyone to see, and that´s OK. But I´ve spent a lot of time just trying to be in a supportive role in one project or another, reticent to use my name and have a solo career ´” I had a lot of anxiety about it.´
Why did the singer ´” who plays The City on Wednesday ´” wait so long to step into the spotlight?
Long story, he says. Raised by Paul when his mom, Peggy Harper, moved to Nashville, Tenn., Simon couldn´t shake his heritage. By his teens, he was playing guitar on his father´s ´Graceland´ tour, and he duly enrolled in Boston´s Berklee College of Music.
´Then I tried to go solo in my early 20s, but I was too young and it just didn´t work, which was somewhat traumatic,´ he says. ´So I thought ´˜Fine ´” if I can just play guitar and write, I´d be perfectly happy in this world.´ I´d be happy if I could just be Keith Richards.´
Simon wound up in London, strumming for a popular combo called Menlo Park. For four years, he stayed in the sideman shadows, releasing two EPs and even cutting a full band album.
When the group fell apart and its disc got shelved, he found courage enough to be a frontman at 33. The task proved daunting. ´I had no idea how much work it would be, just getting all my skills up to par,´ he says.
The album was worth the wait. On country-tinged tracks like ´Tennessee´ and ´Shooting Star´ (recorded with legendary Nashville session musicians), Simon has his father´s fingerpopping sense of rhythm and bright folksy phraseology, complementing his own edgier sound.
´That´s probably my DNA at work there,´ he says. ´You can´t try too hard to be somebody else ´” you just have to be who you are.´
Yet Simon´s wisest songwriting lesson wasn´t family-taught; he learned it through trial and error.
He says, ´Just make sure that what you´re saying is true ´” that every word is economical and honest. Otherwise, you´ve got to go around all year, singing some horrible lyric. And it´ll drive you crazy.´