I love music. I think most of us are wired to this language of feeling and memory. When I was very young my parents had albums of classical music that affected and moved me to unstoppable tears. I would often ask them not to play that music, because it made me too sad. Too sad for a five-year old without enough of a venue for the heavy tears I seemed to need to cry.
Later, I discovered my own varied and eclectic musical taste and I chose things I liked and I listened a lot. Music is and often the backdrop that allows me to face grief and loss fully and honestly. But music is often part of the scene when I can really feel that the world is good and that it is good– I mean extraordinarily good– to be alive. I think I approach each day from the perspective that it is really good to be alive. But I don’t think I am someone who actually feels that joyful, good-to-be-alive way every day. Or even most days.
As I see my daughter getting older, facing the struggles of her world– which are big struggles– the struggles of class and race, the struggles of female internalized oppression and the harshness among girls, the struggles to learn and try new things and fit it all in and stay close to us and others and not get discouraged– I have been fighting myself, to be in touch, more and more often with a genuine, hopeful, it’s-great-to-be-alive feeling. I do it for me and I do it for her. Listening to music often helps me turn my mind toward the goodness of my life and of the world even with all its harshness and horror.
Paul Simon is one musician of my era, whose work I’ve loved since I was very young. I was a lot younger and he was a lot younger when I first heard his music. As I have grown older so has he and so has his work. His music and something about his Jewish and generous and quirky sensibility all feel like reassuring, old friends to me.
The other day I heard on NPR, a great talk by a pop music critic about some of the critic’s favorite music of 2011. Among many artists and albums the critic mentioned was a new album of Paul Simon’s– released earlier this year, “So Beautiful or So What”. I had not heard of it. (Do people still say “album”? or is that a total anachronism?) But I digress.
I have always loved Simon’s music and his songwriting; his interesting, intelligent and sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, and often funny, lyrics. His beautiful melodies, easy to sing along with but unpredictable and complex. I love his voice, acoustic guitar, his use of whistling and every conceivable instrument. He has done some remarkable collaborations with other singers and musicians. Listening to his music makes me happy and the very fact of another human being engaged in the endeavor of making the kind of music he does, makes me happy. Good-to-be-alive kind of happy.
And Paul Simon is definitely a big commercial success but he has eschewed a the of commercialism that seems less and less possible for younger musicians to eschew and still be heard. He has pursued for more than 40 years, a kind of artistry that stands out our increasingly commercial, logo’d, PR’d, photoshopped, advertised, bought-and-sold world.
I fell in love with the song that was reviewed, called “Rewrite”. Then I got curious and learned that Paul Simon turned 70 in October. I must say there is something fabulous about a still-very- talented- popular singer-songwriter at 70. And something ironic, poignant, and a little close to home–about his singing “Rewrite”. After all, if we’re honest, don’t we all, especially as we get older, have parts of the story we’d rewrite if we could?
After “Rewrite” are three videos with Paul Simon, literally half his lifetime ago, on the Graceland tour in Zimbabwe, which was recorded and performed in collaboration with an astounding group of African musicians and singers; including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The recording and tour were set against the backdrop of a turning point in the world’s history– as freedom fighters were on the brink of ending apartheid in South Africa.
Under African Skies
Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes