I could have picked any one of a hundred songs by Paul Simon to write about; he is, without question, one of the best songwriters of his generation (or any other). Not only is he incredibly prolific, but he's also incredibly creative--while some songwriters end up sounding the same over the years,* Paul Simon always sounds like himself, but never sounds the same. His songs aren't brothers--they're cousins to each other.

So, I could have picked any one of them. "Graceland." "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover." "Bridge Over Troubled Water." "You Can Call Me Al."

You get the picture.

But right now I'm loving "Late In The Evening" best for primarily two reasons: (1) the samba beat, because seriously, what's better than a pop song with a samba beat? Name one thing (that's not a food). There's no way to listen to "Late In The Evening" without doing a little bounce in your chair. It's impossible, like putting on mascara without opening your mouth.**

The second reason I love "Late In The Evening" is because of the lyrics. Simon always has great lyrics--he's one of the few songwriters that has a great mix of lyrics and musicality. Where Elton John is good musically, but has someone else write his lyrics, and Paul McCartney without Lennon is often lyrically lame, Paul Simon combines the best of both worlds--his music is infectious, but his lyrics are what really make the songs stunning.

Here's the first verse from "Late In The Evening":

First thing I remember, I was lying in my bed;
I couldn't have been no more than one or two.
And I remember there's a radio coming from the room next door;
my mother laughed the way some ladies do.
Well, it's late in the evening, and the music's seeping through.
Now, I'm considerably younger than Paul Simon. And I grew up in Wisconsin, not New York City. And I'm not a musician in any sense of the world, unless you count high school choir, which I don't. But that verse is so natural, so perfect, that it feels like my own memory of childhood. On one hand, it paints a very specific picture, one that is not my life. And on the other hand, I remember lying in bed listening to the adults having a party downstairs, playing music, my mother laughing. I may not have been one or two, and I may not have been in New York, and I may not be Paul Simon, but this song is about me. It's specificity makes it universal.

[horn break]

Also, there's a horn break. I'm sorry, but that's just cool.

The rest of the verses paint images just as bright. They are not as universal, because I don't play guitar (or smoke marijuana--don't do drugs, kids!), but I can see them just as vividly as if I has been there, standing in the audience in that funky bar, watching Paul Simon play.

But then Simon pushes it even further, from his love of music to his love of a woman. All of the prior three verses are about how music shapes his memories, but the last verse is about how he loves this girl even more than he loves music, and because we already know how much he loves music, that comparison means something in the context of the song. It's more than just "ooh, I really love you a lot," it's a measuring stick by which the girl comes out ahead of everything. And that makes the song not only catchy and fun, but also moving. And a song that can move you is always a good song.


* I'm looking at you, Mr. McCartney.

** Gentlemen, ask your ladies.


I'm very pleased to see Mr. Simon make an appearance in your musical postings as I think he is a tremendously talented musician and songwriter. Although I knew of him growing up, the Mrs. really got me hooked on the Graceland album, which is actually better than everybody says and since everybody says it's really good, that means it is really great.

I'm partial to the lyrics in Slip Slidin' Away. Just beautiful when you're in the right mood.

You may not know this so I'll share a little story with you and hope that I remembered it correctly. Believe it or not, most people don't really understand what the song Graceland is about, they think it's about going to see the home of Elvis when, of course, it's actually about something else entirely. Now, I can understand some people not really getting it as most people don't think about lyrics too hard. But Willie Nelson was doing an album of cover songs and one of the producers told him he ought to sing Graceland on the album. Willie listened to it and just didn't get it. I think he called up Paul Simon and Paul explained to Willie what the song was really about and Willie fell in love with the song and used it on the album. I just find it amusing that even other artists don't often get the meaning of certain songs.

Friday, January 9, 2009 at 11:20:00 AM EST  

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