I have a special affinity for Paul Simon
for oh-so-many reasons… but if I had to pick my top 3 they would look something like this:
Something about that guy’s writing style goes right to my heart and makes it breathe a big sigh of relief. Like, seriously. He’ll turn the perfect phrase and my whole body relaxes. It’s pretty incredible.
Secondly, the rhythms he uses fit very naturally in my body, which makes them feel very instantly like home for me.
Mr. P.S. also has a very special place in the heart of Sit Kitty Sit. Our Post-Show Playlist includes a handful of his songs including my all time lyrical favorite “Cool Cool River” which seriously has some of the best lyrics In. The. World.
“…and the rage, the rage of love turns inward to become prayers of devotion
these prayers are the constant road across the wilderness
these prayers are the memory of God”
I’m just going to pause and let you soak that in for a second.
Yes. Yes indeed. (falls on floor with hand on heart)
So when we were headed east to start our long tour, He suddenly brings up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Brilliant! It hadn’t even crossed my mind. But do we have time?
He pulls it up on his phone. When I look over, He’s grinning.
“What?” I ask
“You won’t believe this,” He says. “They have a Paul Simon exhibit. It just opened.”
“No way. Well then we have to go don’t we.”
“It was meant to be,” He says. Smiles.
The exhibit wasn’t large, but Mr. P.S. himself participated in the telling of the story. Besides the standard timeline stuff you expect, the majority of the exhibit focused on the songwriting. My absolute favorite part was seeing his lyric sheets and reading his personal take on the songwriting process. It was focused on his most popular songs, of course, so no Cool Cool River songsheet for me to gaze at lovingly. (It did have the lyric sheets from “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and several others that I also love a lot.)
I was curious to see if his process is anything like mine.
And the answer is both yes and no.
The yes part is that lyrical lines will just pop into his head and he has no idea what they mean. That happens to me all the freaking time. I don’t know how to describe it. Your mind is just blank, or preoccupied, and then suddenly there’s this whole sentence there.
No idea where it came from. It’s not associated to anything, but it has a kind of poetry and rhythm to it, so you know it’s a lyric.
My guess is that this isn’t entirely uncommon. (Songwriters? Is it? Leave comments and let me know)
But here’s how we’re different. Mr P.S. says for him the music always comes first. Unless it’s a rhythmic song and then the rhythm comes first.
Not me!!! For me it all comes together – music and lyrics born at the same time.
Of course there are exceptions. It’s not a solid rule, but I would say 85% of the time that’s how they’re born.
Once in a while I’ll have a piece of music that doesn’t want to fit into anything that will stick around for years, but more typically I’ll have a stack of lyrics waiting to be used for something.
What I really found fascinating was that I didn’t look at Mr. P.S. like some huge star up on some pedestal I could never reach, or a level I could never achieve. It was more like a peer that you truly admire and wanted to pick their brain. I was genuinely surprised at this reaction. Seeing the video footage from his Concert in the Park, and the smoking jacket he got for hosting Saturday Night
Live 5 times – it was like finding a box of mementos you had forgotten about where you keep saying “Oh my GOD! Do you remember that? That was incredible!” It helped me to reflect how his music has affected my life for so, so long. I hope I get to run into him someday and say thank you.
In the after, I had to help myself to the piano in the lobby. Because, piano.