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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