Simon, Paul (1941—)

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Simon, Paul (1941—)

As one half of the 1960s folk-rock team, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon's place in pop music history as a first rate songwriter was sealed. But after Simon's split with his partner in 1970, this Newark, New Jersey-born musician went on to not only distinguish himself as a veteran songwriter with a substantial body of work, but as a performer who experimented with a variety of musical genres. Throughout his career as a solo artist, Simon has incorporated salsa, jazz, reggae, gospel, doo-wop, Caribbean, South African, and Brazilian music into his finely crafted pop songs. One of his most well-known works, the Grammy-winning album Graceland, drew both protest and praise for his use of South African musicians during the height of the Apartheid regime in the 1980s. Paul Simon's music-making method is also interesting for the questions of cultural identity and appropriation that it raises.

Although Simon had experimented with a variety of styles that strayed from Simon and Garfunkel's poetic folk-rock formula when he was part of that duo ("Cecilia" and "El Condor Pasa," for example), Simon's first post-breakup solo record was more eclectic. The Latino music influence was evident on that self-titled album's cut "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," and the Caribbean-flavored song "Mother and Child Reunion," which was recorded in Jamaica. His even more varied second album, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, was recorded at the Muscle Shoals studio, where dozens of classic soul records were made. It contained a Dixieland number, "Mardi Gras," mixed in with songs such as "Tenderness" and "Loves Me Like a Rock," which featured the gospel-like vocals of the Dixie Hummingbirds. The rest of his albums followed this precedent (excepting the more sober 1975 album, Still Crazy After All These Years), with each one charting new musical paths that Simon explored, culminating in 1986's Grammy-winning world music fusion album, Graceland.

Graceland is an interesting album because not only is it chock full of Simon's consistently good pop songs, but it has also sparked many debates surrounding the political and cultural implications of a white American working with black South Africans under the Apart-heid regime. While the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and other native musicians contributed to the "sound" of the songs, Graceland's songwriting credits were exclusively his. This is significant from an intellectual property vantagepoint, but also from the standpoint of identity politics. Simon could legally "capture" indigenous forms of music and make them his own and, as a famous white American artist, he also had the power to mediate the representation of black South Africans. The critical discourse that surrounds Graceland can also apply both to a critique of Simon's frequent use of "exotic" music throughout his career and to the Western music industry's and Western consumers' relationship with World Music.

Throughout his solo career, Simon occasionally rejoined Garfunkel, once for a George McGovern fund-raiser for the 1972 election and later during a free Central Park concert for an estimated half-million fans. Further, Garfunkel intermittently joined Simon on stage as a guest at his concerts and the two worked together on the single "My Little Town," which was featured both on Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years and Garfunkel's Breakaway albums.

—Kembrew McLeod

Further Reading:

Humphries, Patrick. The Boy in the Bubble: A Biography of Paul Simon. London, New English Library, 1990.

The Paul Simon Companion: Four Decades of Commentary. New York, London, 1997.