Paul Simon's Lyrics 1964-2008

Music Features Paul Simon
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I'm not often side-tracked by the many books that come through the Paste office. We have an extremely capable editor who does a mighty fine job on our books coverage, but the beautiful hard-bound book of Paul Simon's lyrics has yet to make it past my desk. Due out Nov. 11 on Simon & Schuster, Lyrics 1964-2008 is just that—all of Simon's lyrics throughout his storied career.

Simon fell at #13 on our list of the 100 Best Living Songwriters, and flipping through the book randomly I wonder if our readers, who had him at #5, weren't closer to the mark. The pages are filled with hit after hit, but it's not his best-known songs that grab me. To be honest, I'm not a fan of many of his most popular songs—"Bridge Over Troubled Water," "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," "Slip Slidin' Away." But I'm drawn in by the way he captures New York on "Bleeker Street" and the devastating simplicity of "Soft Parachutes":

Last year, I was a senior
In Emerson High School
I had me a girlfriend
We used to get high
And now I am flying
Down some Vietnam highway
Don't ask me the reason
God only knows why

Soft parachutes, Fourth of July
And villages burning
Returning bodies, all laid in a line
Soft parachutes

And what's most evident by a look through the new book is how well his later lyrics hold up. He's always had a knack for the meta-song like "Song About the Moon," but on Surprise, he's looking back as a songwriter in "Everything About It Is a Love Song," "That's Me" and "Rewrite." In "Love and Hard Times," the final song in the book, but surely not his last gift to us, he writes, "I loved her the first time I saw her/ I know that's an old song-writing cliché/ Loved her the first time I saw her/ Couldn't describe it any other way." But then he does: "The light of her beauty/ Was warm as a summer day/ Clouds of antelope rolled by/ No hint of rain in the pale blue sky/ Just love, love, love."

As New Yorker editor David Remnick writes in the introduction that Simon is "no longer young, no longer at the top of the Billboard charts, but whose capacity for feeling and thought compressed into song only deepened. In his maturity, he considers even the hardest thing with the serenity of the psalm writers."

There's no doubt that he's a songsmith who deserves the grandiosity that a book like this signifies.

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