A Titan of the Bourgeoisie
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.