Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Terribly Strange; Paul Simon is 70

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"Can you imagine us years from today?
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be 70."

Paul Simon
"Old Friends" (1968)

I have many memories of my mother, and one of the most lasting, I think, will always be her admiration for Paul Simon's music.

Mom was brought up in the Depression, and it nurtured a frugal side to her nature. When I was a child, she was not inclined to spend money recklessly (for example, when I was little, I remember that, for awhile, she gave me powdered milk because it was cheaper to add water than buy bottled milk at the store). Spending money on records was, for the most part, too reckless for her when she had two growing children to feed and clothe.

But she bought most of Simon and Garfunkel's albums, anyway, and she introduced my brother and me to their enduring harmonies.

When my brother and I were older, Simon and Garfunkel, who had split up several years earlier, reunited and went on tour. On a memorable August night only a few days before Mom's birthday, the whole family went to see them when they played in the Cotton Bowl here in Dallas.

It was Mom's kind of show, and I am glad I could share it with her. It is a memory that shines brightly for me now.

Mom's been gone for more than 15 years so, needless to say, we were all a lot younger in those days. And I know that time waits for no man.

Nevertheless, it's a bit stunning to think that Paul Simon is 70 today. Time, it turns out, doesn't march by. It sprints.

How "terribly strange" it is, as Simon wrote in his song "Old Friends" in 1968.

I observed back in the spring that Bob Dylan turned 70 in May, but somehow that seemed different to me. There was no TV in my home until I was in grade school so I have no memory of public figures who, prior to the time when our family did acquire a TV, were familiar to people who had one — except from the photos and films I have seen.

I don't recall the young Bob Dylan who burst onto the scene. The Dylan I knew always seemed older to me than Paul Simon — and not just by months, either.

Maybe it was because Paul Simon always came across as more naive — in his songs and his appearance. Dylan was a much more hardened realist, and he always seemed to look the part. Simon was a dreamer and a romantic. Even in middle age, he looked like a young boy.

His hair is gray now, but his face still has that youthful quality to it. In the attached video, Simon sings on last month's 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks — and, if you ignore the color of the hair peeking out beneath his baseball cap, he looks and sounds like he did 40 years ago.

When I think of Paul Simon after his split with Art Garfunkel, I often think of his performance on the early Saturday Night Live wearing a turkey outfit for Thanksgiving and singing "Still Crazy After All These Years." He was the same old trusting, even gullible, starry–eyed dreamer he'd always been.

But I also think of the music my mother played on the family stereo when my brother and I were little. In hindsight, it is clear to me why the music appealed to Mom the way it did. Simon's songs were optimistic and sentimental, expressing hope, joy, sorrow, uncertainty, regret. Perhaps more than any other singer/songwriter of his generation, he sang of the wide range of human experience.

He spoke to — and for — millions. He continues to inspire today.

Happy birthday, Paul Simon.