Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)

The Cinch Review

Paul Simon with Mark Steyn

Recently contributed by someone to YouTube is a one-hour TV interview with Paul Simon, conducted by Mark Steyn in the 1980s (embedded below). [UPDATE: The video has since been deleted from YouTube. An audio recording of the show can be found at Mark Steyn’s website: Part One and Part Two.] Some of us who are fans of Mark Steyn’s sharp-witted topical commentary are amused by the references he occasionally makes to his apparently glamorous former life as a globe-trotting hob-knobber with musical luminati. “As Paul Simon once said to me,” he’ll insert as an aside in some piece on how utterly depraved and beyond-hope the Western world has become; on other occasions it might be: “as I once said to Frank Sinatra …”

Well, there’s now at least video evidence of his proximity to Paul Simon at one particular time, and an extended time at that, talking to him at his home on Long Island and driving around Queens with him visiting Simon’s childhood haunts. And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.

But you don’t see very much of Mark Steyn, because the show is actually focused on Paul Simon, who, judging by the conversation, had most recently released the Graceland album. Although about twenty-five years have passed since this interview, it is a superbly intimate portrait of Simon the artist. Steyn knows music and the art of song in particular, and he is a perceptive and sensitive interviewer. I especially appreciate the time spent on songs from the Hearts & Bones album as I harbor a special love for that record and believe that “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” likely still stands as Simon’s most perfect song and recording. And I say that as a serious fan who believes that every Paul Simon album (post-Simon & Garfunkel) contains multiple doozies. Continue reading “Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)”

Paul Simon’s “American Tune” is German

The Cinch Review

At the Palm Sunday service this morning in the church we attend, we sang a hymn called “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” and I was reminded of something I’d first noticed only a few years ago (because I am not someone who grew up singing these tremendous old Protestant hymns): the melody of this song was appropriated note for note by Paul Simon for his song “American Tune,” from his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.

Researching it a little more, one finds that this melody is attributed originally to one Hans Leo Hassler, who somewhere circa 1600 composed it for a love song called “Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret.” The Lutheran Book of Worship titles the melody as “Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen.” Later J.S. Bach used both the melody and the religious poem that had by then been married with it in his St. Matthew’s Passion.

I don’t know, honestly, where Paul Simon heard it, and I don’t know if he’s ever discussed this in an interview. Perhaps if he heard the hymn, sung in English and out of any context with Bach, he may have thought it to be an American Protestant hymn.

Or maybe he was quite comfortable with the irony of using a German melody for a song titled “American Tune.” Paul Simon’s song—thanks not least to this melody—is a lovely and poignant one. In his head as he wrote it may have been political issues of the time that were causing him angst, but the finished song has neither political nor topical references, and this is why it’s as good a song today as it was then. It sounds like a strange and sad elegy for an America that has all but collapsed beneath tragic and hard times. Continue reading “Paul Simon’s “American Tune” is German”

Bob Dylan: the welder of gates – and more from Paul Simon press conference

The Cinch Review

Paul Simon talked to the press yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel, in advance of a concert tonight in Ramat Gan stadium. There is what appears to be a gently-edited twenty-minute clip available on YouTube (and embedded below the text here). It’s a pretty low-key, friendly chat, but interesting enough if you—like me—admire Simon a lot as a songwriter and musician. Simon talks about himself as a secular Jew and refers to his puzzlement at being sometimes expected to opine on behalf of Jews in general, especially with regard to Israeli/Palestinian issues. (Simon deliberately avoids commenting specifically on any political issues; of-course as soon as his gig in Tel Aviv was announced he would have begun coming under pressure to cancel it from those who advocate “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” against Israel. Clearly he did not cancel it.) Simon talks about the music on his current album and about playing live, and about how he’s taken to preserving the quality of his singing voice through a somewhat ascetic regimen by avoiding smoking, alcohol, coffee and more. (You would have to say that it seems to be working: he turns 70 this year, and still sounds like he did when he was 22.) Continue reading “Bob Dylan: the welder of gates – and more from Paul Simon press conference”