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Paul Simon Speaks,… But Not To Us


Paul Simon


I have followed Paul Simon’s career since… forever, or at least since his big come back with Art Garfunkel in the 80’s. I have seen him many times in concert, even went to his epic concert in Central Park in 1991. At 74, he is barely slowing down, with a new upcoming album, a tour, and a stop at the Hollywood Bowl in LA. Noisey has just published an interesting interview with Paul, covering great points about art, creation and legacy.

A recurrent Simon question concerns his South African adventure and his appropriation of the culture and music. Was that stealing? Simon has always found the question irrelevant, and he explains a bit more: ‘It doesn’t work. It can’t be done. You can’t steal … Here’s what my friend [renowned jazz trumpeter] Wynton Marsalis told me, which his father told him: ‘Music is not a competition. It’s an idea’. So you can’t steal someone’s idea, it’s out there. Everyone participates in the idea, you can enhance that idea, you can look at it from another angle, people may say ‘I prefer the way you look at it’, ‘No I don’t like the way you look at it’… But the idea is there.’

Simon is not even big on copyright law: ‘This discussion about ‘You stole this or that’ is a waste of time, it’s not true. Either you collaborate in a way that makes something people like, something that’s enjoyable, or you don’t.’

He is certainly a songwriter with a recognizable style, you immediately know it when you listen to a Paul Simon song, even with the African guitars and the Brazilian percussion, there is no question about it. But why not some drastic change in the upcoming material, why not a collaboration with some young pop blood? Paul has a very direct and honest answer: ‘It would look like I was wearing ripped jeans or something. It’s not your style. You can’t own everything. You could be in good taste and still be hip with something to say, but you can’t be young if you’re not. You’ve got to be who you are. You can be healthy and you can be smart – but if you’re 70, you can’t be 20.’

But does Paul like anything new and young? Well, not really:

‘Basically what’s happening on the big pop level is not very smart. That’s what I think. It doesn’t seem very insightful. I listen to it and I say, ‘People have thought that before, very well in fact, and now you’re saying it – and it’s cool for you – because you’ve never heard it before.’ But actually, you’re late to the party. I know it’s impossible for you to think that because your age makes you think that you are the party. But the fact is, there’s a whole lot you don’t know. Most of the time it takes you quite a while before you realize you don’t know anything.’

It’s not totally surprising, Paul has no love at all for the Taylor Swift-Beyonce-Katy Perry-Justin Bieber generation, I just wonder what he thinks about his friend Paul McCartney’s collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna. As for social media, Paul shows his age, but who cares? Certainly not him!

‘I don’t even know how you get there. I wouldn’t know how to get on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a generational thing. I think, ‘Maybe I should learn that,’ then I think I’m not interested. A lot of people sell music and fame through it, but I’m not following it. I’m still of an age that says you make a really great record and then you put it out.’

The interview closes with Prince’s death and the idea of legacy, something Paul doesn’t care about at all: ‘I’m not that interested in my legacy. I didn’t do this so everyone would applaud for me when I’m dead. I did it because I was really interested in solving a musical problem, because I selfishly was getting a lot of pleasure out of doing this. I’m glad of the fact other people like it, and say thank you. I didn’t do it for you, but I’m glad you like it. So when I think about Prince’s legacy, I think the truth is next week it won’t be a story. And I doubt that he would even care.’

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