Rewrite

Lyrics, 1964-2008, the new collection of Paul Simon’s song lyrics, has been released. The handsome book contains almost everything Simon has written these past 45 years, from the earliest Simon & Garfunkel attempts at capital-T truth to the Broadway lines of The Capeman to the elliptical lines that have characterized his most recent efforts. It even includes a handful of unreleased material, including a One-Trick Pony outtake (“Slow Man”) and two new songs, “Love and Hard Times” and “Rewrite.”

Paul Simon performs at Barnes & Noble, November 13, 2008

Paul Simon performs at Barnes & Noble, November 13, 2008

The book includes a few photos, some new to circulation, and some of Simon’s handwritten lyrics, though they only offer the slightest peep into his creative process. Some, like “Look at That” on page 332, clearly show a work in progress, while others, such as “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” on page 113, offer little more than Simon’s carefully printed notes, presumably for typewritten transcription.

All in all, leafing through Lyrics was more enjoyable than I had expected. In a recent interview (certainly during the last three or four years), Simon made an smug remark, that “nobody cares about” his words anymore, so much that he seems nowadays to derive much more enjoyment from the process of making music, leaving the words to the last, solitary step – and even then, bringing Derek Walcott or Brian Eno along for the occasional collaboration. While his music has grown increasingly complex, Simon has honed his economic approach to lyric-writing. Unlike Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, who will compose eighty verses and dispose of 74, Simon keeps the words to a minimum. “Another Galaxy,” a gem off of 2006′s sadly neglected Surprise, consists of two verses and a chorus, yet it captures all the important details of the life of its character, a runaway bride draw to the lesser of two sadnesses.

That Paul Simon has grown from the clichéd “poet and a one-man band” to a composer of the highest order is revealed both through his musical recordings and his filling, nutritious lyrics. The two newest songs, unchracteristically issued on paper first (one hopes proper recordings will soon follow), testify to Simon’s place at the upper reaches of popular music, and solidify his status as a major American writer.

In celebration (and in order to undo the work of some seemingly unassuming spammers), this site has had its own rewrite. You may notice a few recent posts have gone missing; they are victims of the endless war on malware that plages website operators everywhere. I hope a fresh design and some new content will adequately compensate.

To kick things off, here’s a haunting, acoustic performance of Simon’s latest completed work, “Love and Hard Times,” performed at Barnes & Noble in New York on November 13th.