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A Little Less Crazy After All These Years

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Paul Simon at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1980.  

The making of So Beautiful actually began with a process he’d abandoned during the production of Graceland—sitting down with a guitar, rather than building up from the drums. His favorite moment on his previous album, 2006’s Surprise, was a chord progression in “Everything About It Is a Love Song,” and he wanted to revisit the idea of writing based on harmony rather than rhythm.

“It’s good to break habits, and a twenty-year habit is probably one it’s time to break,” he says. “I also think that it was a little bit of avoidance. It was easier to have drums come at me and react, bounce off the rhythm, than to face the blank page with just the guitar. So I thought it was a good idea to try to overcome that.”

He wrote three ballads this way, then started mixing things up again. The funky foundation of several songs comes from a hand-built ­cigar-box guitar he bought from a Mississippi blues musician known as Super Chikan. Marrying samples from the thirties and forties to new rhythms resulted in what he ­describes as “a very pleasurable sensation of something being old and new at the same time.”

Perhaps it is this merger of different eras and cultures on So Beautiful that has caused many to compare the album to Graceland. (A deluxe edition of the older album is being reissued this summer, along with other titles from the Simon solo catalogue.) Simon acknowledges that project as a high point in his career, but remains a bit puzzled by its ongoing popularity. “There’s something about it that’s enduring,” he says. “Parents tell me that their 3-year-olds love Graceland, and when it comes on, they get up and dance. So that has happened to me twice in my career—with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and Graceland. It’s very unusual, and I’m grateful for it, but to a certain degree I don’t really feel like I own it.

“If there’s such a thing as immortality, then maybe there’s a little bit of immortality attached to that,” he continues. “But I don’t know what it actually means after you’re dead that your song is immortal. It’s like Woody Allen said: I appreciate living on in the hearts of my fans, but I would rather live on in my apartment.”


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