In Cameron Crowe’s beguiling new movie, Almost Famous, there’s a funny scene in which Frances McDormand, playing a ‘60s-traumatized mom, confiscates her teen-age daughter’s copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends on the grounds that it promotes drug use. The joke, of course, is that Paul Simon is the most parent-pleasing figure in rock music–more so even than the Beatles, who had their wilder moments. When Bookends was first released, in 1968, it was Chatterbox’s parents who played it for him. Nobody ever rebelled against authority by listening to Paul Simon.
Yet Chatterbox loves Paul Simon. There, he said it. He knows that Simon is not considered hip. He still remembers the condescending look he got from an attractive younger woman when he proudly showed off, in 1987, his first-ever CD purchase: Simon’s Graceland. And this was, at that time, Simon’s most experimental release! When Simon played a roué dead-end musician in the 1980 movie One Trick Pony, which he also wrote, audiences stayed away in droves. They just didn’t believe it. To love Paul Simon is to mark yourself not only as a bit of a mama’s boy, but also as a dead-on Bobo. Would Marilyn Manson collaborate with an egghead Nobel-laureate poet like Derek Walcott, with whom Simon wrote his ambitious-but-unsuccessful 1998 Broadway musical, The Capeman? Hell no! Would Eminem date the Pulitzer-prizewinning New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, as Simon did before settling down with Edie Brickell? Of course not!
Still, there are a lot of us Paul Simon fans out there–enough to make today’s release of his new album, You’re the One, a significant boomer event. Perhaps not enough to persuade the Sam Goody store where Chatterbox purchased You’re the One to put it up front, but probably enough to persuade Borders (which has a much more Simon-friendly clientele) to give it favorable display. Certainly enough for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to illustrate an advertisement for its current “Art and the Empire City” exhibit with an 1859 DeWitt Clinton Hitchcock illustration and label it “CENTRAL PARK 122 YEARS BEFORE SIMON & GARFUNKEL.” (The reference is to Simon and Garfunkel’s well-attended 1981 reunion concert.) And more than enough to put Simon in the small pantheon of artists who, according to high-end cultural arbiters like the New York Times and The New Yorker, can do no wrong. Unlike a few people on that list–Woody Allen comes most readily to mind–Simon is still producing compelling work. (Click here to sample some songs from the new album, and click here to buy it.)
How does Chatterbox like You’re the One? He likes it a lot, especially “Old,” which is about getting old. (Simon’s appearing at a free concert on the Mall in Washington this Sunday to fight colon cancer.) The guy’s a genius. Now leave me the hell alone.