The Days Of Miracle And Wonder – A Paul Simon Primer

NO ENCORE #124 | Listening Guide

And with that, he was done…or maybe not. Naming his latest tour Homeward Bound certainly gave the impression retirement was imminent, as did interviews in which he hinted as much, but Paul Simon has since clarified it’s merely the globetrotting tours that would be left in the past. As a man who’s had a knack for one-off shows, temporary residencies, multi-disciplinary projects and (whisper it) reunion gigs in the past, don’t believe he’s finished until you see it. Or don’t see it. You get what I’m saying.

His turn last week in the R.D.S., a sunbaked celebration of a truly iconic career, was emotional and joyous and almost overwhelmingly. I brought along the in-laws-to-be, perhaps an effort to let them see me well up before I do it at the altar next year. Having caught Simon performing a handful of times over the past 12 years, it’s strange how every time feels a little more powerful. There are remnants of Simon’s writing littered throughout my life; my aunt who adopted various lines from ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ as catchphrases whenever someone was in need of a plan, a bus, or encouragement to be less coy; singing ‘Homeward Bound’ with my cousin on the way home from rugby matches in Limerick; ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ soundtracking a solo trip around the US a decade ago. Hell, drop by the DCU library and you’ll find my thesis (a study of failed retirements and comebacks in boxing, since you didn’t ask), titled ‘The Fighter Still Remains’. Yeah, me and Paul go way back.

To give the man his moment in the spotlight, the playlist here is done without songs from the Garfunkel days, which is a bloody big call. If I had to rationalise that – and I don’t, so I’m doing you all a favour here – it’s as though their time spent working as a duo deserves to be seen less a chapter of Simon’s career than a whole different story altogether. And anyway, Artie might tour next year; I’ll do him a listening guide then. Once they split (the first time), it was as though Simon sprouted wings – liberated, and free to explore not merely his own musical instincts, but draw from inspirations all over the world. Never has an artist who seemed a born contributor to the Great American Songbook changed the narrative so dramatically, beating his own uncharted path and dragging modern music along with him. From Caribbean islands to South Africa to Brazil, through the American heartlands and bustling Indian streets, he learned and borrowed, combined and collaborated, shedding skins and reinventing as he went; writing in character or as himself, for himself or for others, lyrics in prose and rhyme and scat and oohs and ahhs and whistles. There’s joy, there’s heartbreak, there’s wisdom, there’s innocence. There’ve been massive hits, and flops so bad they’re barely even mentioned. There’s complete jibberish here and there too, of course – but who doesn’t find that stuff amusing anymore?

So, whittled down to ten tracks, here’s a primer on the man. Let’s hope you might catch them played live at some point too…