Paul Simon, Then and Now: Celebrating His 70th Birthday

“Time Hurries on,” sings Paul Simon in this early Simon and Garfunkel performance, “and the leaves that are green turn to brown.” The clip is from a 1966 Dutch television program, “Twien.”  The duo were performing songs from their second album, Sounds of Silence. “The Leaves That Are Green” is one you don’t hear much these days, perhaps because the song’s author has, like the leaves of October, most certainly changed.

Today is Simon’s 70th birthday. He was born into a family of Jewish immigrants on October 13, 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. His father was a bassist and bandleader, and his mother, a school teacher, was also trained in music. The family soon moved to Queens, New York, where Simon would meet another kid in the neighborhood, Art Garfunkel. The two shared a passion for music, and before long Simon was writing songs for them to sing around the neighborhood. They released their first record, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” while still in high school.The song made it to number 49 on the pop charts.

Over the next half century, both with Garfunkel and on his own, Simon would continually reinvent himself, absorbing a wide range of influences while holding tight to a songwriter’s commitment to craft. The New York Times, in its profile of Simon, sums it up this way:

His music stays restrained, ever tasteful. He sings gently in his own meticulous productions, and his songs can share radio formats with the most soothing soft-rock. But the thread running through Mr. Simon’s songs is estrangement. From “I Am a Rock” to “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” to “You Can Call Me Al” to the cranky reflections on his 2006 album “Surprise,” he has sung about being alienated, misplaced, restless, disillusioned. Moments of solace or satisfaction are far outnumbered by misgivings and regrets. The material comforts that he recognizes are his–as a wealthy man, as a pop success, as an American in a wider world–don’t bring him peace of mind. Neither does the finicky craftsmanship that has always marked his music.

You can hear that restlessness and alienation in the following track from his new studio album, So Beautiful or So What, where we find the 70-year-old playfully contemplating “The Afterlife”:

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