When I’m asked about my own influences, as if it can all be brought down to one or two people… (there are musicians, writers, historical moments and movements, close buddies, girlfriends, family; my kids, who very much influence my sleeping habits lately..!). It does make me go blank a little, just a little. But, in truth, when it comes to songwriters, I tend to keep coming back around to Paul Simon, over and over.
Even though he is without a doubt, hugely famous and successful, I really believe, he is still strangely underrated.
He and Joni Mitchell, having emerged from the dust of similar 1960s folk roadways, are two of the few still standing, to have the whole package, in that they seem to encompass the entirety of virtuoso songwriting ability. Both have that knowledge about how music works, the skills to bend it into effortless eddies of sound, but also to create musical intrigue, as we stare upward at their work, as if stargazing; marveling at the fluid movement of chord progressions, voicings, harmonies, and sublime key changes. They effortlessly evoke emotions, as their multiple hits move all around us like those sailing stars, or like streamers; quieter than fireworks, but eye-catching nonetheless.
Now, in fairness, many musicians know how to do this. But what many other musicians don’t know, is how to also tell a captivating story. Paul Simon, (and Mitchell) is a virtuoso with the pen as much as he is with stringed instruments. We all want to know more about Mrs. Robinson, or Julio, The Boy in the Bubble with the Babbling Heart, or if Simon, or we ourselves, will manage to cross the Bridge Over Troubled Waters (Yes, he wrote that one too).
You can take the music from a Paul Simon song, and still be left with something quite substantial. You can take out the story and still be left agog, and deeply moved. Simon is in a very small club of people of whom this can be said. The simplicity is wrapped in complexity, the complexity wrapped in comforting simplicity; the lean poetry and magic of popular sing-along tunes that can be boiled down to campfire standards… Whatever your favorite genre, I challenge you to take apart a Paul Simon song, the man is utterly, completely, undeniable.
Happy 80th birthday, maestro Paul Simon.
– Mark Dignam