STEPHEN SMITH: Paul Simon Shares Lyrics In New Book
On Nov. 18, singer-songwriter Paul Simon appeared on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" to pitch his new book, "Lyrics 1964-2008" (Simon & Schuster, 409 pages, $35).
It was the typical Stephen Colbert interview -- manic, satirical, hilarious -- and Simon was his old cynical and slightly caustic self.
Colbert made a joke regarding Simon's unpretentious title for the book, suggesting a more sophisticated title might be appropriate. And Simon replied, "That's why you're you and I'm not you." (View the entire segment at www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/210692/november-1.)
The interview recalled Simon's appearance -- could it be 35 years ago? -- on "The Dick Cavett Show." Cavett asked Simon if he thought he could throw a baseball better than David Eisenhower.
"I imagine there are a lot of things I can do better than David Eisenhower," Simon replied.
The world has rolled over a thousand times since Simon wrote "The Sounds of Silence," but he's managed to outlast most of his pop-music contemporaries, with the possible exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and Bob Dylan, who long ago published anthologies of their lyrics.
Still, Simon's decision to enter the world of publishing is only his latest incursion into a related genre. He has written, produced, and starred in movies -- "One Trick Pony" was an interesting experiment -- and he co-wrote the Broadway musical, "The Capeman," with Derek Walcott. Regardless of his failed attempts in other disciplines, his eclecticism has guided pop music for the last four decades. There's hardly a musical form in which Simon hasn't dabbled with great success.
My assumption is that many of you know at least a few of Simon's lyrics by heart -- how about "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"? -- but "American Tune," which Simon performed live on the "Colbert Report," is certainly appropriate to the frightening times in which we find ourselves.
Many's the time I've been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I'm alright, I'm alright
I'm just weary to my bones
Still, you don't expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home.
The lyrics go on to comment on our current collective condition: "I don't know a soul who's not been battered/I don't have a friend who feels at ease/I don't know a dream that's not been shattered/Or driven to its knees."
As the song's persona -- you can imagine it's Simon -- wonders what's gone wrong with America, the song's bridge takes the listener into a dream where the speaker sees his soul rising unexpectedly. "I dreamed I was flying/And high above my eyes could clearly see/The Statue of Liberty/Sailing away to sea."
And if you're especially hungry for profound allusions, here are my favorite lines: "We come on the ship they call the Mayflower/We come on the ship that sailed the moon/We come in the age's most uncertain hours/And sing an American tune."
What's truly disquieting about "American Tune" is that it was released on Simon's early '70s "There Goes Rhymin' Simon." And after all these years, the song's prophetic observations seem about to be fulfilled: "Oh, and it's alright, it's all right/You can't be forever blessed/ Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day/And I'm trying to get some rest/That's all I'm trying to get some rest."
Is Paul Simon a poet or just a scribbler of song lyrics?
Let's just say that the house of poetry has many mansions.
Contact Stephen Smith at email@example.com.
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