Paul Simon has supplied the soundtrack for many baby-boomer lives. Simon’s lyrics are consistently wise, spiritual and witty. Simon’s sensational new “Seven Psalms” is my new Jewish High Holidays’ theme music.
Thank G-d Paul Simon dropped out of Brooklyn Law School 60 years ago. Returning to music, Simon reunited with Art Garfunkel, who’d been a renowned teen singer at Queens’ synagogues. They ditched their teen showbiz names and boldly used their own ethnic surnames.
When “The Graduate” won the Academy Award for Best Picture (1967), Simon & Garfunkel shared glory. Simon wrote “The Sound of Silence” at age 22. Four years later, for producer Mike Nichols, Simon wrote “Mrs. Robinson.”
In 1969, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” was inspired by gospel, and some supernatural power that shocked Simon. Bridge was sung to perfection by Garfunkel and then, Aretha Franklin.
Dave Gunders, a superb song-writing Colorado musician, considers Simon his role model. We attended Simon’s remarkable concert on Oct. 26, 2011, in Broomfield.
The lyrics are worship-worthy. So is the acoustic music, almost entirely performed by Simon. I hear an aging Jewish man wrestling with what happens next.
Simon’s confrontation with mortality is fascinating, and inspiring. On Yom Kippur, Jews pray they’ll be favored in this year’s soon-to-be sealed Book of Life. As Simon prayerfully sings, “A simple truth — surviving.”
Even Simon’s melancholy can be humorous. “Good morning, Mr. Indignation,” Simon starts one section. After that, Simon sings “All rise to the occasion, or all sink into despair. In my professional opinion, we’re better off not going there.” Despite his fame and fortune, Simon reveals,“I’m no more satisfied than you are.”
The baby-boomer rabbi at my synagogue made me laugh on Rosh Hashanah, confessing, “I know I’m going to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.“
“Seven Psalms” begins with Simon revealing, “I’ve been thinking about the great migration,” as Simon’s contemporaries pass away. We recognize that death may be imminent, or far away. Some believe that’s determined on each Yom Kippur.
The Day of Atonement is disquieting as Jews make their case for “a simple truth — surviving.” “Mother and Child Reunion” was another inspired Simon song with his provocative verse informing us that “on that strange and mournful day, a mother and child reunion is only a motion away.”
In “Seven Psalms,” Simon proclaims, “And in that time of prayer and waiting, where doubt and reason dwell, a jury sat deliberating, all is lost, or all is well.” We already know the famous singer once believed he “would not be convicted by a jury of my peers.”
Fast forward to now, Simon feels his life slip-sliding away as he turns 83 in three weeks. He’s not ready to die, explaining “My hand’s steady. My mind is still clear” toward the end of “Seven Psalms.”
Simon, enjoying his third decade with his third wife, gifted singer Edie Brickell, tells us in “Seven Psalms” that “nothing dies of too much love.” Simon met Brickell on the SNL set 35 years ago when she and the New Bohemians performed.
Simon’s much younger wife, mother of three Simon children, sings the haunting last lines of “Seven Psalms,” “Life is a meteor, Let your eyes roam. Heaven is beautiful. It’s almost like home. Children! Get ready, It’s time to come home.”
“You Can Call me Al,” a somewhat silly “Graceland” song, introduces a protagonist with a “shot at redemption” before ending up in a “cartoon graveyard.” The song ends with Simon seemingly hallucinating, “He looks around, around; He sees angels in the architecture, Spinning in infinity, He says, ‘Amen and Hallelujah!’”
Psalm 27 is traditionally associated by Jews with the disquieting Days of Awe. We learn in the time of trouble, we will “hide in His pavilion; and he shall set us high upon a rock.” Simon once sang that, “I am a Rock” confessing to hiding, and that “I am all alone.”
“We’re all naked, there’s nothing to hide,” Simon sings in “Seven Psalms.” That’s classic Yom Kippur pleading.
Paul Simon denies being religious. But we can all hear futility in Simon’s more than 50 attempts to leave his loving relationship with G-d. Paul Simon’s not getting away very far. He’s still wrestling, writing and singing.
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