When I was a teenager and just learning to love rock and roll, my parents’ musical collection was disappointing. Everyone else’s parents had liked the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or some other cool band from the 60s. The only album that my parents had that was cool was Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme. Simon and Garfunkel were cool. When I hear “I am a Rock” I still think of Cathy sitting on the floor in our friend Liz’s living room when we were all in high school. It was hot and we were all wearing shorts. Cathy was seated facing the stereo so that the music would pour over her.
But I didn’t really like Paul Simon’s solo work as much as I liked the Simon and Garfukel’s teen pop work for a long time. I tried for years to figure out what “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard” was about. Did the narrator knock up some girl? Did he kiss a boy? Finally one of my friends disappointed me by saying “With Paul Simon it’s always about rhythm. He figures the rhythm out first and then writes the lyrics.” I accepted that (sadly, because I’m all about the lyrics.)
But, having studied literature, I remember that it’s acceptable to think about things other than what the author meant when studying his or her words. What I have found, and what has made me like Paul Simon’s solo work more as I’ve gotten older is that he sings about growing up—not the growing up that’s done from age 12 to age 18, but the part that’s done from age 18 to age 90. Most of the pop songs and ballads I liked (and still like) as a kid are love songs. But Paul Simon can write interesting songs about what happened after the Uptown Girl hooked up with her Downtown Man.
Fat Charley the archangel files for a divorce. You are the burden of my generation I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floot. And my personal favorite I don’t expected to be treated like a fool no more-I don’t expect to sleep through the nights.
It may be true that Paul Simon starts out with rhythm and then comes up with lyrics-as a side project but he has done an admirable job of writing up and singing about some of the less interesting, uncomfortable parts of life that come after the prom the wedding. What if after a while it turns out that you and your prom date aren't in love anymore (It's just a habit like saccharine) or even if you do still love each other, there are still bills to be paid and annoying neighbors to be dealt with. As such, I’ve come to appreciate his solo work more as I’ve grown older. As I’ve dealt with the unglamorous bumps and bruises of becoming a grown up (for real!) it’s been comforting to have his tenor voice in the background telling me to have a good time because it’s alright.