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A Titan of the Bourgeoisie

February 11, 2010
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I have walked out of two Paul Simon concerts.  In their 1999 summer tour, he and Bob Dylan split the bill.  From night to night, they alternated the order of their performances; one would play a set, the other would come out for a few duets, then the other would finish the show.  I caught two shows a few days apart.  Dylan opened both times.  As usual, Dylan’s sets were somewhat austere; he’d play his songs, introduce the band, and that would be that. 

Simon is kind of a ham onstage.  He stopped playing guitar mid-verse to make sweeping hand gestures.  Between songs, he’s ramble about how this or that was beautiful.  He was every bit the personality behind lyrics like “hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’/I’ve come to watch your flowers growin'”.  Juxtaposed with Dylan’s piercing severity, Simon was too much.

His recordings are something else entirely.  While some uncalled-for goofiness slips in (see the abovementioned lamppost or the entirety of “You Can Call Me Al”),  at his best, Paul Simon is brilliant. 

I’ve long joked that at birth, every white person should be issued a pair of khakis and a copy of Graceland.  While it’s funny to insist that being white – or, god forbid, middle class –  is somehow a critique of an artist’s gravitas, Paul Simon’s work is very much rooted in both conditions, and it’s a huge mistake to underestimate him.

Mrs. Robinson, Graceland (in this link, Simon performs it with Willie Nelson), and The Obvious Child, are songs that skillfully convey the concerns of middle class life approaching the end of the millennium.  It’s gorgous and thoughtful stuff I am glad to know.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2010 11:58 pm

    you’re dead wrong about “Call Me Al.”

    “Why am I soft in the middle / the rest of my life is so hard” could have written been for/about the lot of us.

  2. Barry permalink*
    February 12, 2010 7:56 am

    You’re right about that. In fact, I concede the verses. The chorus and the overall sound suck nuts, but the lyrics in the verses are good.

  3. Jim permalink
    February 12, 2010 1:57 pm

    I see nothing wrong with the way Simon performs on stage. I’d rather watch him have some fun than some of today’s new stars who act like it’s such a bother to actually have to play for 5 minutes.

    • Barry permalink*
      February 12, 2010 2:02 pm

      Totally fair; his live performances just aren’t my cup of meat. What new stars are you talking about?

  4. Irv permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:31 pm

    Barry – shut up with your inane critique of paul simon ..
    you’ve “long joked” ? as if we care ?
    you’ve walked out of two paul simon concerts ? you’re an idiot

    • Barry permalink*
      February 12, 2010 5:45 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Irv. Perhaps there are other blogs you’d prefer. Ideally, they will be written in slightly simpler English, as you clearly didn’t understand this one.

  5. bubba ray permalink
    February 13, 2010 12:22 am

    i was able to see bob dylan and paul simon in salt lake city. bob was much better, if bob had been on first i would never have sat through all of paul.

    • Barry permalink*
      February 13, 2010 12:26 am

      Part of the problem on that tour was the vastly different aesthetic of each performer’s music. Dyaln’s band always keeps it locked in and super tight, while Simon’s band was pretty loose. It just wasn’t for me.

  6. Robert Billy permalink
    February 13, 2010 9:45 pm

    I always thought “You Can Call Me Al” was akin to KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up”. I’d be curious what other people think…

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