Paul Simon: Genius or Wanker?

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Paul Simon: Genius or Wanker?

Genius.
35
64%
Wanker.
20
36%
 
Total votes: 55

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Postby sloopjohnc » 04 Jul 2007, 05:53

I liked when he played that one on one against Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins behind Me and Julio Down in the Schoolyard on SNL.

5' 4" against 6' 7". That was funny.
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Postby bixhenry » 04 Jul 2007, 06:29

Quac O. wrote:
take5_d_shorterer wrote:
Quac O. wrote:Paul Simon unquestionably is -- or at least was, if we consider that these things can fade over time -- a songwriting genius. Or at least such a craftsman as to be indistinguishable from it.

I think what this may illustrate is that we have different ideas about how close to genius craft can get.

Simon clearly has craft. His meter scans well when it's supposed to, and his melodies are well-constructed, but I don't find myself thinking, "whoah, what the hell was that?"

"America" is a song where I'm just in awe of the whole thing. I don't know how much of it is the arrangement (and how much of that Simon had to do with), but it is an awesomely evocative song. Even the parts where he is namechecking things -- a technique which can be obnoxious -- are evocative to me. I can smell the gas station they stopped off at.

Looking at his canon is like looking at McCartney's: he could do an entire concert of nothing but million-sellers and massively influential tracks.

See, for me, McCartney is much greater performer and songwriter. "Can You Take Me Back?" suggests whole other levels of meaning I've never seen in Simon's work; "Maybe I'm Amazed" (especially the guitar playing) is grittier than anything Simon would be capable of even in his dreams.

But Paul Simon is a different kind of artist. He is from the singer-songwriter tradition rather than the rocker tradition. I don't think he ever sweated it out in nightclubs. This surely informed his music. But he has some facets that McCartney doesn't. For one, his lyrics are uniformly well done. Sometimes, they are overdone, but you can sit down to listen to an S&G or Paul Simon record and know that he's made them just as he wants them. Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry, Leonard Cohen, and John Lennon are all this way too. I never worry that they are going to say something they didn't intend to. McCartney, on the other hand, you have to worry about. When I listen to a new Paul McCartney song, I'm sitting there waiting for him to say something that sound wrong. If he doesn't, I'm overjoyed. There is a tension there. With Paul Simon (who I don't listen much to, so that could have something to do with it too), I never worry. Simon I think also knows what he's doing. He's not going to forget his lyrics onstage because he knows the logic of his songs inside and out. This is what amazes me about people like Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne -- they have so many words to remember, but they never mix up the verses or draw a blank. I think it's because they have the skill of entertaining a crowd all on their own, with just a guitar, and they know the internal logical of their songs. People that came up through rock groups mix things up all the time.

I don't know if it matters whether Paul Simon can do a gritty guitar sound a la "Maybe I'm Amazed" because he does other things. I'm sure that was just an example and what you mean is that Simon rarely surprises you, while McCartney still occasionally does. I guess I still think he's a genius -- perhaps I just define it a bit differently -- and if you were inclined to spend as much time thinking about Paul Simon as you do about Paul McCartney, that is if you liked his music more, you would probably discover strange and deep things there too. A lot of what we see in things has to do with our sight, rather than what's actually there. I guarantee Paul McCartney was not thinking half the things you hear when he was doing "Can You Take Me Back". I bet he was thinking "groovy blues soul tune" and that's it. But it's evocative because your mind caroms off it. My mind bounces around when I hear "America".


This is so beautifully and correctly expressed, IMO.

With all due respect, Ken, I think you're engaging in the use of false dichotomy with respect to Simon vs. Drake and Simon's vs. McCartney's guitar playing , as well as presupposition that Simon wishes he were Drake both as a guitarist and as a songwriter.

Regarding the Drake issue, I'd venture to guess that, like most folks, Simon was ignorant of Drake during his lifetime, and as evidenced by Simon's musical palette during the early '70s, was utilizing a far different musical approach. PS was much more musically eclectic and less enamored of the 'bedsitting, comtemplative solo acoustic guitar w/vocals' template that Drake used pretty extensively from start to finish (orchestrations and piano/backing vocals/percussion excepted) - though PS's own prowess on acoustic guitar - and not inconsiderable at that - was almost exclusively in this domain. In other words, though PS was influenced by the Jansch/Graham school of acoustic guitar like Drake was, his musical settings far transcended that influence, more so than Nick Drake.

(By the way, when I met Joe Boyd at a book-signing event for White Bicycles a few months ago, he said that Nick Drake's guitar playing was absolutely the most consistently accurate musicality that he had the pleasure of recording, saying, 'his technique and tone were spot-on perfect every time, simply astonishing').

I know a lot of people are put off by Simon's remote, 'collegiate' or cerebral vibe, but the guy has produced so many classics, both with Garfunkel and solo, that he has to be considered an all-time great, if not 'genius'. I'm as much of a Nick Drake fan as anyone here, but I don't think Paul Simon is losing any nights' sleep comparing his musical legacy to Nick Drake's - it stands on its own merits, and who really knows whose legacy will matter more in the ensuing decades?
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Postby sloopjohnc » 04 Jul 2007, 06:39

Well. . . I can't write as long or as eloquently as some, but I think, like most Americans---and especially being a New Yorker-----Simon had many more influences going on than his English folk-pop compatriots: doo-wop, latin, etc.

Folk was just his way of expressing it best.

Graceland was simply another extension of those diverse influences.
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Postby Muskrat » 04 Jul 2007, 06:56

I'm conflicted between the Paul Simon who carefully constructs songs (who I respect immensely, even if he does seem to take himself a little too seriously sometimes) and the Paul Simon who lets musicians jam until he hears something he likes, then builds a song around that -- which strikes me as lazy, at best; stealing, at worse.


And it's not his fault, but I'm still waiting for someone to collect or at least fully document his early, doo-wop years and other stuff he was doing before he became PAUL SIMON.


Not just Motorcycle, The Lone Teen Ranger, etc. but stuff like this.
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Postby toomanyhatz » 04 Jul 2007, 07:04

You all need to go listen to Hearts and Bones right now. Simon's most underrated work.

I find some of Simon with Garfunkel overly collegiate, and some of his solo stuff as a bit dull. He's had his failures. But when he hits it just right- and for me it probably happens more during his solo career- he's one of the greats. It doesn't matter if he only gets to those heights periodically- he gets there. That's the important thing. I don't approve of him personally all the time- he certainly has taken credit for the work of others- but he also has music that can stand fully on its own.
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Postby The Write Profile » 04 Jul 2007, 08:17

toomanyhatz wrote:You all need to go listen to Hearts and Bones right now. Simon's most underrated work.

I find some of Simon with Garfunkel overly collegiate, and some of his solo stuff as a bit dull. He's had his failures. But when he hits it just right [....] he's one of the greats. It doesn't matter if he only gets to those heights periodically- he gets there. That's the important thing. I don't approve of him personally all the time- he certainly has taken credit for the work of others- but he also has music that can stand fully on its own.


I think this very close to my opionion, really. I don't care for a large swathes of his solo work, but there's something really concise, clear-headed and ultimately moving about his best material in either guise. Getting back to Bookends, it's in the woozy reportage of "Save the Life of this Child," the allegorical "America," which manages to be haunting while just holding back enough without being overegged, mainly down to the nuance of the final verse, or even the way that "Old Friends" just holds itself above it all, not least to the way the melody just glides. You can often hear the sheer craft of it, but that doesn't detract from the poise and grace of it all. And the record really holds together, too- its brevity works in its advantage as there's no creaky passages.

But then there's the Simon that overthinks things and lets you know it and that stuff's just infuriating. Fortunately, it's only represented by "At the Zoo" in Bookends -- I've outlined most of my problems with that song above, but I think the killer in the song is the fact he has to spell everything out and gets nearly tongue-tied as a result. In a way, it's not very far from that Simon and the egregious, hamfisted pastiches and 'narrative songs' of Billy Joel. Then again, as far as I know, it's not Paul Simon's fault that Billy Joel exists.
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Postby Zeke » 04 Jul 2007, 09:08

king feeb wrote:so perhaps he's a "wenius".



That sounds about right.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 04 Jul 2007, 16:03

Quac O. wrote:I don't know if it matters whether Paul Simon can do a gritty guitar sound a la "Maybe I'm Amazed" because he does other things. I'm sure that was just an example and what you mean is that Simon rarely surprises you, while McCartney still occasionally does.


The rest of your post requires a longer response, but I wanted to reply to this part as soon as possible. For me, it's not so much that McCartney surprises me. It's that McCartney sometimes passes what Seamus Heaney calls the "envy test", that is, wish I'd written that one, which is what Heaney said about Robert Frost's "Home Burial". Paul Simon rarely if ever evokes that response from me.

"America" may illustrate the differences in our opinions. Here are the words:

"let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together"
"i’ve got some real estate here in my bag"
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and mrs. wagner pies
And we walked off to look for america
"kathy," I said as we boarded a greyhound in pittsburgh
"michigan seems like a dream to me now"
It took me four days to hitchhike from saginaw
I’ve gone to look for america

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said "be careful his bowtie is really a camera"

"toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat"
"we smoked the last one an hour ago"
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

"kathy, I’m lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the new jersey turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for america
All gone to look for america
All gone to look for america


This strikes you as being incredibly evocative, but it reminds me of that Doonesbury cartoon in which Mike D. is trying to hitch a ride. He meets a trucker and says, "Mr. Trucker, I'm looking for America," to which the trucker says, "I am, too. I haven't found it yet, but with any luck I'll find it around the next corner." Mike is ecstatic. Meanwhile, the thought balloon above the trucker says, "with any luck, I'll have gas money from here to Detroit."

**

I understand the attraction of the open road and how young people want to search for a particular version of America that has been linked to that, but I think it is so much more complex than anything that is going on in Simon's song.

The story that I like is at the end of one of the Rabbit series by Updike in which Rabbit "takes to the open road" and rides around in his car for a bit, then realizes that he has absolutely no idea of where to go, and then he heads back home.

To me, there's so much more in that story than there is in Simon's tune.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 04 Jul 2007, 16:20

bixhenry wrote:
With all due respect, Ken, I think you're engaging in the use of false dichotomy with respect to Simon vs. Drake and Simon's vs. McCartney's guitar playing , as well as presupposition that Simon wishes he were Drake both as a guitarist and as a songwriter.

Regarding the Drake issue, I'd venture to guess that, like most folks, Simon was ignorant of Drake during his lifetime


Bix,

One thing I want to clarify is that I'm comparing Simon to Drake or McCartney in my own head in order to explain to other people what I find lacking about Simon. I don't know what goes on in Simon's head, and my guess is that you're right. There is a good chance he really didn't know much about Drake and that Drake has never been an influence.

My point is that soon after I heard Drake, what I thought was that this is along a superficially similar path of material as what Simon was doing--acoustic-based, quiet music--and it outranks it. The singing is better, much better; the songwriting is much less sentimental and much sharper; the guitar playing is in another league. Simon is a competent finger-styled acoustic guitarist, but his idea of the fretboard isn't that imaginative. Drake was thinking in very different terms. His musical ideas are just much more imaginative to me. "River Man" is the example that comes to mind. People generally say it's in 5/4, but I think of it almost in 10/4. It really feels like groups of 10 or some higher multiple of 5, and Drake's use of this odd meter is brilliant.

Most other people evoke 5 by putting togethr 3 and 2, but Drake evokes 5 or 10 by letting it be 5 or 10, and it makes sense to me within the song. The rhythms of the natural world are often not based around small integers like 2 and 3. If you listen to a river or the wind, it might have something quite different. What is a songwriter to do when you have to have some structure? One solution, and a solution I had never thought of before, was to use an unusual meter such as 10/4.

This tune is the most natural sounding use of 5/4 I have ever heard. It doesn't sound like a compositional technique. It doesn't even sound like an homage to Balkan dance rhythms. It sounds like a composer listening very closely to nature.

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Postby Very Stable Baron » 04 Jul 2007, 19:08

CountCulturalImperialist wrote:
before a quick edit, Buddha-B. Rex wrote:What a silly thing to say. Worse than slavery?


CULTURAL imperialism. way to take it out of context, there, nitz.

wiki can start you off as you persue this blind spot in your education.[/condescending] :wink:

Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture or language of one nation into another. It is usually the case that the former is a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter is a smaller, less affluent one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. The term is usually used in a pejorative sense, usually in conjunction with a call to reject foreign influence.


bold mine


CountCulturalImperialist wrote:to address your secondary point, organic trading of influences (elvis, the beatles, yr country example) is NOT cultural imperialism. i object to the unnatural, zombie-like grafting of an indigenous music onto a more dominant musical form.


This is a distinction without a difference and utterly nonsensical. The only thing that can possibly justify it is irrational personal preference, which I wholeheartedly support.

The notion of the Beatles being influenced by the Everly Brothers and Elvis who was influenced by the blues and country being somehow more "organic" and, therefore, preferable to Paul Simon digging some African records and deciding to check that out -- which is apparently "cultural imperialism" is ridiculous. Talk about artificial. How is one "artificial" and one "organic?" I call bullshit.

There also seems to be some unspoken assumption that by making a record that (admittedly self-consciously) incorporates some sort of South African flavor automatically enters one into a pissing match with Fela fucking Kuti is also absurd.
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Postby Count Machuki » 04 Jul 2007, 19:17

Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture or language of one nation into another. It is usually the case that the former is a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter is a smaller, less affluent one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. The term is usually used in a pejorative sense, usually in conjunction with a call to reject foreign influence.

Empires throughout history have been established using war and physical compulsion (military imperialism). In the long term, populations have tended to be absorbed into the dominant culture, or acquire its attributes indirectly.

Cultural imperialism is a form of cultural influence distinguished from other forms by the use of force, such as military or economic force. Cultural influence is a process that goes on at all times between all cultures that have contact with each other. For instance, African musical traditions influenced African American music, which in turn influenced American popular music — but cultural imperialism has nothing to do with that transmission. Similarly, the rise in the popularity of Yoga (from India) in Western nations has never relied on any kind of force. Similarly, people from poorer or less powerful states, nations and cultures often freely adapt cultural practices and artifacts from more powerful, wealthier societies without any force necessarily being applied. When people freely adopt cultural artifacts and practices of other cultures the use of the pejorative phrase "cultural imperialism" becomes problematic. When force is absent from cultural influence, use of the term "cultural imperialism" can easily become a debating tactic involving latent bigotry, xenophobia and nationalism — emotional responses to cultural influence that are also present to some degree at all times between all cultures that have contact with each other.

Cultural Imperialism is also very different from other imperialistic ways, in the sense that no military or economic intervention is needed to be able to influence countries. When this is the case, the user of the term may need to be prepared to justify why this pejorative term is used rather than the more neutral "cultural influence" or even "cultural dominance", or run the risk of using empty rhetoric or worse, malicious demagoguery, rather than making a substantive point.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_imperialism
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Postby Very Stable Baron » 04 Jul 2007, 19:21

That's not what I'm talking about.
I understand so-called "cultural imperialism" and I know the url address for wikipedia.

I want to know why some things are "organic," others are "artificial" and why it's assumed that one is better than the others.

I suspect that these unhelpful, bogus words are merely proxies for personal preference.

Or, even worse, hidebound academic/political orthodoxy.
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Postby Quaco » 04 Jul 2007, 19:23

take5_d_shorterer wrote:
Quac O. wrote:I don't know if it matters whether Paul Simon can do a gritty guitar sound a la "Maybe I'm Amazed" because he does other things. I'm sure that was just an example and what you mean is that Simon rarely surprises you, while McCartney still occasionally does.


The rest of your post requires a longer response, but I wanted to reply to this part as soon as possible. For me, it's not so much that McCartney surprises me. It's that McCartney sometimes passes what Seamus Heaney calls the "envy test", that is, wish I'd written that one, which is what Heaney said about Robert Frost's "Home Burial". Paul Simon rarely if ever evokes that response from me.

"America" may illustrate the differences in our opinions. Here are the words:

"let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together"
"i’ve got some real estate here in my bag"
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and mrs. wagner pies
And we walked off to look for america
"kathy," I said as we boarded a greyhound in pittsburgh
"michigan seems like a dream to me now"
It took me four days to hitchhike from saginaw
I’ve gone to look for america

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said "be careful his bowtie is really a camera"

"toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat"
"we smoked the last one an hour ago"
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

"kathy, I’m lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the new jersey turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for america
All gone to look for america
All gone to look for america


This strikes you as being incredibly evocative, but it reminds me of that Doonesbury cartoon in which Mike D. is trying to hitch a ride. He meets a trucker and says, "Mr. Trucker, I'm looking for America," to which the trucker says, "I am, too. I haven't found it yet, but with any luck I'll find it around the next corner." Mike is ecstatic. Meanwhile, the thought balloon above the trucker says, "with any luck, I'll have gas money from here to Detroit."

**

I understand the attraction of the open road and how young people want to search for a particular version of America that has been linked to that, but I think it is so much more complex than anything that is going on in Simon's song.

The story that I like is at the end of one of the Rabbit series by Updike in which Rabbit "takes to the open road" and rides around in his car for a bit, then realizes that he has absolutely no idea of where to go, and then he heads back home.

To me, there's so much more in that story than there is in Simon's tune.

Oh, I think Simon's song has very much the same feeling as what you describe of the Rabbit books. (I haven't read them.) I don't see it as naive and hopeful at all, as if we're supposed to be left with the feeling that the main character is really looking for America. I think that through a number of songs -- "America", "Mrs. Robinson", the much-maligned and possibly misunderstood "The Dangling Conversation" -- Simon was able to paint a really interesting portrait of straight America at a time when other people were heading into outer or inner space. I have a feeling the following comparison will rub you the wrong way, but maybe not: I think Simon was doing much the same thing for America as Davies was doing for England. One may prefer one to the other, but neither was especially interested in the counterculture scene or drugs or breaking down mental barriers -- neither would have written something as vague as "All You Need Is Love".

The fact that Simon had hits on top of all this qualifies him in my book as, at least for that period, some kind of genius -- or, if you prefer, master craftsman. (I don't see too much difference.)
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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 04 Jul 2007, 19:38

Quac O. wrote:I have a feeling the following comparison will rub you the wrong way, but maybe not: I think Simon was doing much the same thing for America as Davies was doing for England. One may prefer one to the other, but neither was especially interested in the counterculture scene or drugs or breaking down mental barriers -- neither would have written something as vague as "All You Need Is Love".

The fact that Simon had hits on top of all this qualifies him in my book as, at least for that period, some kind of genius -- or, if you prefer, master craftsman. (I don't see too much difference.)


Actually, I intended to make this comparison myself in the previous post, but didn't.

"America" has a descending bassline. It's different from the music-hallish "Penny Lane" and not so music hallish "Waterloo Sunset", but these descending basslines are meant to evoke something in the past (your thoughts?).

I still think that Davies and McCartney did this waaaaay better. Davies is so phlegmatic in "Waterloo Sunset" and the production is so box-like (no reverb) that it isn't precious at all. Had I recorded "Waterloo Sunset" I would have made the mistake of putting reverb all over it. I would have succumbed to the same mistakes of sentimentality that I accuse Simon of wallowing in.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 04 Jul 2007, 19:58

The Baron wrote:I want to know why some things are "organic," others are "artificial" and why it's assumed that one is better than the others.


I don't understand these terms either, and in particular I don't understand how Elvis is organic while Paul Simon is artificial. Somehow these terms "organic" and "artificial" are supposed to have something to do with "cultural imperialism" but this doesn't provide any answers that I can see.

Both Elvis and Paul Simon are or were white performers who used elements from black musics. In addition, in the context in which this happened, blacks had to deal with persistent racism from whites.

How is one performer not a cultural imperialist while the other is? How is Elvis organic while Paul Simon is artificial?

I suspect that these unhelpful, bogus words are merely proxies for personal preference.


I have some thoughts on this, but first I'd like to find out what this distinction is between organic and artificial.

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Postby Quaco » 04 Jul 2007, 20:02

take5_d_shorterer wrote:I still think that Davies and McCartney did this waaaaay better. Davies is so phlegmatic in "Waterloo Sunset" and the production is so box-like (no reverb) that it isn't precious at all. Had I recorded "Waterloo Sunset" I would have made the mistake of putting reverb all over it. I would have succumbed to the same mistakes of sentimentality that I accuse Simon of wallowing in.

The Bookends album in particular, from which "America" comes, seems to me to be wall-to-wall-carpeted, despite Simon's desire for us to believe that he's writing these songs on hardwood floors with bohemian-student-approved brick-and-board bookshelves staring him in the face. This period of S&G is a lot like Smile-era Brian Wilson -- you can hear the carpet, the wrought-iron Mexican dinner chairs, the gilt-edged patterned room divider, the clinking of glasses. This is what the Manson family walked in on in August 1969: privileged and thus necessarily conservative Los Angeles. The manifestations of privilege in Los Angeles in 1968 were very different from those of London at the same time. Interesting thread idea someday?

Certainly, "America" is not "box-like" like "Waterloo Sunset". Much of that has to do with the guitar sound, and "America" is more of an orchestrated studio thing, not something coming from a rock group. But that being the case, I don't think it's terribly sentimental. I think it's a few guys smoking a lot of weed in the studio and trying to make good-sounding records, and doing a pretty good job of it. That they were taking in great big monthly paychecks skews the music a bit*, but basically they were talented guys with fair taste. The orchestrations seem to enhance the music, rather than being there merely to impress or make you feel something. That they weren't using clunky Gretsch guitars with no reverb and old strings is not necessarily a reason to discount them altogether!



* I love the incident Frank Zappa relates about hanging out with Simon and Garfunkel. It always seemed very appropriate. This from his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book:

TOM & JERRY

I was in Manny's Musical Instruments in New York sometime in 1967, and it was raining outside. A little guy came walking in, kind of wet, and introduced himself as Paul Simon. He said he wanted me to come to dinner at his house that night, and gave me the address. I said okay and went there.

As I walked in the door, Paul was on his hands and knees in front of what appeared to be a Magnavox stereo -- the same model preferred by "the Stumbler" from Sun Village. He had his ear right up to the speaker, listening to a Django Reinhardt record.

Within moments -- for no apparent reason -- he announced that he was upset because he had to pay six hundred thousand dollars in income tax that year. This was completely unsolicited information, and I thought to myself, If only I could earn six hundred thousand dollars. What did you have to earn in order to have to pay that much tax? Then Art Garfunkel came in, and we talked and talked.

They hadn't been on the road in a long time, and were reminiscing about the 'good old days.' I didn't realize that they used to be called Tom & Jerry, and that they once had a hit song called "Hey, Schoolgirl in the Second Row."

I said, "Well, I can understand your desire to experience the joys of touring once again, and so I'll make you this offer. . . we're playing in Buffalo tomorrow night. Why don't you guys come up there and open for us as Tom & Jerry? I won't tell anybody. Just get your stuff and go out there and sing 'Hey, Schoolgirl in the Second Row' -- just play only your old stuff, no Simon & Garfunkel tunes." They loved the idea and said they would do it.

They did the opener as Tom & Jerry; we played our show, and at the encore I told the audience, "I'd like to bring back our friends to do another number." They came out and played "Sounds of Silence." At that point it dawned on everybody that this was the one, and only, the magnificent SIMON & GARFUNKEL. On the way out, after the show, a college-educated woman walked over to me and said, "Why did you do that? Why did you make fun of Simon & Garfunkel?" -- as if I had pulled some kind of cruel joke on them. What the fuck did she think had just happened? That these two SUPERSTARS had dropped in out of nowhere and we had FORCED them to sing "OOO-boppa-loochy-bah, she's mine!"?
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Quaco
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Postby Quaco » 04 Jul 2007, 20:14

take5_d_shorterer wrote:
The Baron wrote:I want to know why some things are "organic," others are "artificial" and why it's assumed that one is better than the others.


I don't understand these terms either, and in particular I don't understand how Elvis is organic while Paul Simon is artificial. Somehow these terms "organic" and "artificial" are supposed to have something to do with "cultural imperialism" but this doesn't provide any answers that I can see.

Both Elvis and Paul Simon are or were white performers who used elements from black musics. In addition, in the context in which this happened, blacks had to deal with persistent racism from whites.

How is one performer not a cultural imperialist while the other is? How is Elvis organic while Paul Simon is artificial?

I suspect that these unhelpful, bogus words are merely proxies for personal preference.


I have some thoughts on this, but first I'd like to find out what this distinction is between organic and artificial.

I don't have an answer, and I'm not sure I agree with the premise, but there is a difference in feeling between a white artist who "steals" black music by being influenced by various black records before he's famous and then just happens to get famous with it, and one who is already famous and then "steals" a particular strain of black music wholesale as yet another in a long line of influences he's taken on over the years. Then again, one might make the point that at least Simon employed a lot of black musicians during the Graceland days and gave them a chance to bring their music to a wider audience. He did a lot for world music sales, I'm sure.

What I don't like about Graceland is that the melodiousness of the African music he was influenced by seems to require some special lyrical angle, and for me, I don't think he found it. The stuff Simon wrote wasn't very interesting to me. Maybe Graceland means something to him. I'm more put off by Simon's use of the Elvis imagery than any impropriety of use of African music.
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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 04 Jul 2007, 20:48

Part two of why I prefer Ray Davies to Paul Simon

In an earlier episode I remarked on the sound of "Waterloo Sunset" and why I liked the lo-fi aspect and considered it to be an antidote to oversentimentality.

Quac O. wrote: That they [Simon and Garfunkel] weren't using clunky Gretsch guitars with no reverb and old strings is not necessarily a reason to discount them altogether!


But I also said this as well:

Davies is so phlegmatic in "Waterloo Sunset"


It's not just the production (or lack of production) on "Waterloo Sunset" that I think was an antidote to sentimentality. It's the singing, which as I said before is very phlegmatic, and the lyrics themselves.

In the words, Davies has the bit about "millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo Underground". This is the type of line that a songwriter who wanted to be overtly "poetic" (e.g., Paul Simon) would never have used because it's about comparing people to flies, but Davies goes for it, and the song is better for it.

Rock and roll in general, while it doesn't have the same obvious pretentions to being poetic, is a very constricted format. In rock and roll, "being poetic" (ala, maybe Tennyson) is replaced by "being cool" but it's just as limiting.

It takes courage for someone like Davies or Captain Beefheart to break with that impulse. When Capt. Beefheart sang about the wing of a bird looking like diamonds and lice, the description jumped out at you because there are almost no descriptions like it in rock and roll. Lice don't exist in rock and roll because they aren't cool. But of course, they exist in the real world. There's so much of the real world that never gets into rock and roll. In many ways, it is a deeply impoverished medium.

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toomanyhatz
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Postby toomanyhatz » 04 Jul 2007, 21:49

goldwax wrote:
toomanyhatz wrote:I remember an interview with Ry Cooder in which he was laying into Omara Portuando for wanting to sound like Barbara Streisand, one of her favorite singers. Ry's point was she should stick to what makes her unique and special. Frankly I thought he was full of crap. Another argument that musicians should be limited in where they're allowed to take influence from. So is Portuondo a cultural imperialist? What are the implications of her using the music of American Jewish culture?


Nonsense, my friend. Cooder was only doing what any good producer does--work with sometimes misguided or nutty artist to elicit an performance appropriate to the project at hand. The point is not that Omara was not allowed to ever channel Babs--she's got her live shows and whatever records not produced by Cooder--to indulge that whim. However, in the context of BVSC, it probably wouldn't have been appropriate at all. Cooder recognized that, and like a director helping an actor work through a scene via motivation, pacing, etc, he helped her find, in the words of either Wexler or Ertegun (I forget which, and I'm paraphrasing here, anyway), "modes of musical expression older than she was used to working with."

She undoubtedly is grateful to him, and we should be, too.


Sorry, I don't buy it. This was not simply put in the context of how he was choosing to produce that particular project. It was clearly put in the context of "she's got this fabulous voice, but chooses to be influenced by Barbara Streisand. What a shame." As if that's his call to make, which it's not. Also, what does a producer attempt to work with? His idealized version of an artists music, or the best possible version of who they actually are? I'd argue the latter. If you produce her and withdraw all semblance of Barbara Streisand influence, to me that fits the above definition of cultural imperialism perfectly- it's adding something artificial to it. For that matter Cooder has his own records and music to be anti-Babs.

And needless to say I'm not exactly saying this as a Barbara Streisand fan.
sloopjohnc wrote:Aslan has some good credenitals - got his BA from Santa Clara, a Jesuit school and his Masters from Harvard and PhD from Santa Barbara, a surfing school.


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