Twenty past nine and I’m walking through the dusk in Hyde Park. Paul Simon is playing just the other side of a barrier and I can hear his tired nostalgia as I watch the groups of London people relaxing. He’s just started singing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. I believe that, in its time, Graceland was one of the greatest albums ever. But now it’s tired. He lost touch with the now decades ago, our Paul. He’s just rolling out the oldies because he knows we find familiar things comforting, and so does the market. I wonder how much tickets are to this sleepy summer pageant. This sharp angry guy who challenged apartheid with a glorious international pop album, and actively fought the self important sellout bullshit of his partner in early greatness – he’s now rolling out greatest hits that are long past their sell by dates, and replacing the harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mombasa with his own voice shouting “nanana” into a mic. What does he actually think about all of this, I wonder.
And he literally just started “Call me Al.” I’m right outside the front. If I go on tiptoe I can see him. Bobby the 22 year old security guard says “I know this one. It’s like being in a car with your grandmother.” He’s not really singing it, but he’s out of practice. He’s just getting through it. “How many more tracks before the hotel?” The hunger isn’t on him anymore. That song is over thirty years old and he makes it sound that way. Maybe Annie Hall is bang on and he has a Piers Morgan sized coke habit to support. But either way, he can sing my song and welcome. “Why am I soft in the middle?” I’m working on it Paul. “Don’t wanna end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.” I see the danger Paul. “He sees angels in the architecture.” All the time, Paul. “Call me Al.” Yep.
I will put up with weekly conversations where someone brings in the words “call me Betty” in exchange for the threats and warnings and validations of young man Paul Simon’s biggest hit. We all know uncompromising stuff when we are young that we can express sharply because we frame ourselves in opposition to the compromises we witness around us. We aren’t deadened by necessity or perspective. Popular music is a young person’s game for the expression of these extreme colours that we see more clearly when we haven’t been cluttered by time. But we also know things deeper as we get older, so long as we avoid the ruts. Complacency is the deadener. The temptation to think “I have learnt all there is to learn.” Nah. We keep learning and striving until we die surely. Hopefully.
Nobody wants to be this old dude, rolling out approximations of a redundant youthful passion thirty years after it was great. c’mon brother, where’s your new music? Leonard left us to “You Want It Darker.” He never stopped teaching us and questioning himself. He wouldn’t be everybody’s weird father if he’d just trotted out Hallelujah every few years with a hat and a helicopter. You have integrity Paul. Shake it up with the truth. Truth is a hammer. It just costs us when we wield it. But I’d be interested to hear yours now.