The interview with Paul Simon took place on three days during late May and early June. It produced 13 hours of tape for some poor soul to transcribe, a task made more difficult by the similarity between mine and Paul’s New York accents.
Paul divides his time between a farm in Pennsylvania and a triplex, once owned by guitarist Andre Segovia, in New York’s Upper East Side, where the interview was taped. Peggy, Paul’s wife, was present only briefly. She and Paul are expecting their first child in September.
Paul had just completed production on the first album of his friends Los Incas, whom he used for the background track on “El Condor Pasa.” In September and October he plans to produce his second solo album and in November will embark on a national tour.
We had not met before and so found ourselves getting to know each other while doing the job. I found him open on virtually every subject, but always deliberate and intent on saying exactly what he meant. At times, as his voice and pace would become more measured when the subject became more important, I realized he really did approach this interview the same way he approaches writing, recording, performing – as a perfectionist.
How would you describe your current relationship with Art Garfunkel?
Cautious. We get along by observing certain rules.
You’re aware of what irritates each other?
We’re aware. We try not to do that.
Was there a specific confrontation or meeting or decision that finalized the breakup?
No, I don’t think there was. During the making of Bridge Over Troubled Water there were a lot of times when it just wasn’t fun to work together. It was very hard work and it was complex, and both of us thought – I think Artie said that he felt that he didn’t want to record – and I know I said I felt that if I had to go through these kind of personality abrasions, I didn’t want to continue to do it. Then when the album was finished Artie was going to do Carnal Knowledge and I went to do an album by myself. We didn’t say that’s the end. We didn’t know if it was the end or not. But it became apparent by the time the movie was out and by the time my album was out that it was over.
What were the immediate feelings brought on after the split?
Having a track record to live up to and the history of successes had become a hindrance. It becomes harder to break out of what people expect you to do. From that point of view, I’m delighted that I didn’t have to write a Simon and Garfunkel follow-up to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which I think would have been an inevitable let-down for people. It would have been hard on me, hard on both of us. But more hard on the writer, because he takes the responsibility. If an album stiffs, I think to myself it stiffed because I didn’t come up with the big songs.
So dissolving Simon and Garfunkel was a way of unburdening yourself of a lot of pressure.
Yes. And it left me free to do what I want. I wanted to sing other types of songs, that Simon and Garfunkel wouldn’t do. “Mother and Child Reunion,” for example, is not a song that you would have normally thought that Simon and Garfunkel would have done. It’s possible that they might have. But it wouldn’t have been the same, and I don’t know whether I would have been so inclined in that direction. So for me it was a chance to back out, and gamble a little bit; it’s been so long since it was a gamble.
When Simon and Garfunkel was most active doing concerts – around ’68 – what was the day-to-day relationship like between the two of you? How did you function on the road?
On the road I remember things were pretty pleasant from the point of view of us getting along. It was hard and boring to travel so much. But at the end, during the concerts in 1970, I would go with Peggy and everyone would bring whoever they wanted and it was more like festivals, because we didn’t go out too much, and when we did go out, we went to places we wanted to play, Paris, or London…
How did you feel on the road?
I always felt weird on the road. I was in a state of semi-hypnosis. I went into a daze, and I did things by rote. You got to the place, you went to the hall, you tested out the microphones, changed your guitar strings, read the telegrams, found out who was coming to the concert that you knew and planned out what you were going to do after the show and usually tried to find a decent restaurant in the town and that was it. Just sort of hung out with friends, assuming that there were friends in a place.
Anything on the road contribute to the breakup?
I don’t think the road had much to do in exacerbating our relationship because, first of all, we weren’t on the road that much in the end. The breakup had to do with a natural drifting apart as we got older and the separate lives that were more individual. We weren’t so consumed with recording and performing.
We had other activities. I had different people and different interests, and Artie’s interest in film led him to other people. His acting took him away, and that led him into other areas. The only strain was to maintain a partnership.
Because it was unnatural?
You gotta work at a partnership. You have to work at it, you got to…
But at this point it was not a natural one.
At this point there was no great pressure to stay together, other than money, which exerted really very little influence upon us. We certainly weren’t going to stay together to make a lot of money. We didn’t need the money. And musically, it was not a creative team, too much, because Artie is a singer and I’m a writer and player and a singer. We didn’t work together on a creative level and prepare the songs. I did that.
When we came into the studio I became more and more me, in the studio, making the tracks and choosing the musicians, partly because a great deal of the time during Bridge, Artie wasn’t there. I was doing things myself with Roy Halee, our engineer and co-producer. We were planning tracks out and to a great degree, that responsibility fell to me.
Artie and I shared responsibility but not creativity. For example, we always said Artie does the arranging. Anybody who knows anything would know that that was a fabrication – how can one guy write the songs and the other guy do the arranging? How does that happen? If a guy writes the song, he obviously has a concept. But when it came to making decisions it had always been Roy, Artie and me. And this later became difficult for me.
I viewed Simon and Garfunkel as basically a three-way partnership. Each person had a relatively equal say. So, in other words, if Roy and Artie said, “Let’s do a long ending on ‘The Boxer,'” I said, “Two out of three,” and did it their way. I didn’t say, “Hey, this is my song, I don’t want it to be like that.” Never did it occur to me to say that. “Fine,” I’d say.
It wasn’t until my own album that I ever started to think to myself, “What do I really like?” Roy would say, “That’s a great vocal, listen to that.” And I would listen, and I wouldn’t think it was great but he said it was great, so I believed it was great. I just suspended my judgment. I let him do it. On my own album I learned every aspect of it has to be your own judgment. You have to say, “Now wait a minute, is that the right tempo? Is that the right take?” It’s your decision. Nobody else can do it.
You said that more and more on ‘Bridge’ you were exercising the judgment and making the plans. Is it that Artie wasn’t that interested?
It’s hard to say, but I guess that’s true – no, I can’t say that. He had other interests that were very strong. But he certainly was interested in making the record. From the point of view of creativity, I didn’t have any other interests than the music, I had no other distractions. On several tracks on Bridge there’s no Artie on it at all. “The Only Living Boy in New York,” he sang a little on the background. “Baby Driver,” he wasn’t there. He was doing Catch-22 in Mexico at that time. It’s a Simon and Garfunkel record, but not really. And it became easier to work by separating. On Bridge Over Troubled Water there are many songs where you don’t hear Simon and Garfunkel singing together. Because of that the separation became easier.
Was he there most of the time?
He was there most of the time. This would be an example of how it worked: Artie would be away for maybe three months. He’d come back and I’d say, “I wrote the lyrics to ‘El Condor Pasa.’ We’ll do this. Here, ‘The Only Living Boy in New York,’ Okay? ‘Baby Driver’ is finished. Me and Roy mixed ‘The Boxer.'” So, to a degree, there was a separation without there being a lessening of musical quality.
What was his reaction when he’d come back and you’d show him all this stuff?
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was written while he was away. He’d come back and I’d say, “Here’s a song I just wrote, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ I think you should sing it.”
It seems like his absences would tend to make you more resentful if he were to reject any of your ideas. Did they?
That’s true. If I’d say, “We’ll do this with a gospel piano and it’s written in your key, so you have the song,” it was his right in the partnership to say, “I don’t want to do that song,” as he said with “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
He said that?
He didn’t want to do the song?
No, he didn’t want to do it.
He didn’t want to do it altogether, or he didn’t want to sing it himself?
He didn’t want to sing it himself. He couldn’t hear it for himself. He felt I should have done it. And many times I think I’m sorry I didn’t do it.
Would you ever record it?
No. I think it’s too late to record. Many times on a stage, though, when I’d be sitting off to the side and Larry Knechtel would be playing the piano and Artie would be singing “Bridge,” people would stomp and cheer when it was over, and I would think, “That’s my song, man. Thank you very much. I wrote that song.” I must say this, in the earlier days when things were smoother I never would have thought that, but towards the end when things were strained I did. It’s not a very generous thing to think, but I did think that. I resented it, and I must say that I was aware of the fact that I resented it, and I knew that this wouldn’t have been the case two years earlier.
Do you mark the strain from ‘Catch-22’ or does it go back before that?
I think it started before that.
When did you become aware of it?
There was always some kind of strain, but it was workable. The bigger you get, the more of a strain it is, because in your everyday life, you’re less used to compromising. As you get bigger, you have your own way. But in a partnership you always have to compromise. So all day long I might be out telling this lawyer to do that or this architect to build a house in a certain way and you expect everything. You’re the boss. When you get into a partnership, you’re not the boss. There’s no boss. That makes it hard.
There’s 11 songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water but there were supposed to be 12. I had written a song called “Cuba Si, Nixon No.” And Artie didn’t want to do it. We even cut the track for it. Artie wouldn’t sing on it. And Artie wanted to do a Bach chorale thing, which I didn’t want to do. We were fightin’ over which was gonna be the twelfth song, and then I said, “Fuck it, put it out with 11 songs, if that’s the way it is.” We were at the end of our energies over that.
We had just finished working on this television special, which really wiped us out because of all the fighting that went on, not amongst ourselves, but with the Bell Telephone people. We were very tired. It was all happening in the fall. We did a tour in October. We filmed the television special from September until October. We then had to postpone working on the album until the TV special and the tour was over. And then we went into December and we had to stop for Christmas and we didn’t finish the album until like the first week in January. We were really exhausted, and we fought over that. Well, at that point, I just wanted out, I just wanted to take a vacation. So did he, I guess. So we stopped at 11 songs.
You didn’t know when you finished that album…
I thought that was the end. In my mind I said, “That’s the end. It’s good because we had all our strength for this album, and we did a hard amount of work on it,” and now we’ve finished it, and we’d just about cleaned ourselves out. We had no songs left except for “Cuba Si, Nixon No,” which eventually got lost. It wasn’t that great a song anyway. So my ideas were wiped out. I’d used up all my ideas on this album that I’d stored up, and it was time for a resting and a time for thinking up new things, and it was an ideal time to start on something new and less auspicious than a new Simon and Garfunkel album. That’s when I knew that I was gonna do my own album and do it simpler and do it, I hoped, faster.
The obvious question is why didn’t it split up earlier?
That is a really good question. The answer has to go back to me. I always look for partnership, because I probably felt I couldn’t do it myself. I would have been afraid or embarrassed. So I looked to work with a bunch of people. “We’ll all do this. Actually I’ll do it all, but we’ll all take the credit or take the blame.” Peggy brought me out of that and made me feel like I should do it myself and take the responsibility. If it’s good, it’s yours, and if it’s bad, it’s yours too. Go out and do your thing and say, “This is my thing.”
One of the things that upset me was some of the criticism leveled at Simon and Garfunkel. I always took exception to it, but actually I agree with a lot of it, but I didn’t feel it was me. Like that it was very sweet. I didn’t particularly like sweet soft music. I did like sweet soft music, but not exclusively.
You thought Artie was contributing a lot to that?
That is Artie’s taste. Artie’s taste is much more to the sweet and so is Roy’s. Sweet and big and lush. More than me. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s a place for lushness. It’s not generally the way I go. This is what I’ve said on the new album to Roy. I want the tempo to be right, I want it to be a good tempo. I want to get like the basic rhythm section and one coloring instrument maybe, like in “Duncan,” the flutes and “Peace Like The River.” That has its own coloring…
Simon and Garfunkel were known for their fastidiousness in recording. You seem to be looser on your own.
It was all three of us, but particularly Artie and Roy. Many times I had arguments where I wanted to leave in something that was poorly recorded, because it had the right feel, and they would always end up doing it again. They’d say, “It’s bad, I didn’t like it, I didn’t mike it right, it was the first take and I didn’t really/didn’t get the balance,” and I’d say, “I don’t care, leave it. Leave it.” That was the three-way partnership coming back to haunt me. Everybody has a voice and everybody’s voice is equal. But actually not, there’s an order of importance. The song and the performance. Those are both equally important, and next is the arrangement and next is the sound. That’s the way it goes.
Was Bridge your best album?
Yes. Bridge has better songs. And it has better singing. It is freer, in its own way. “Cecilia,” for example, was made in a living room on a Sony. We were all pounding away and playing things. That was all it was. Tick a long tick a tick a tong tuck a tuck a toong tuck a... on a Sony, and I said, “That’s a great rhythm set, I love it.” Everyday I’d come back from the studio, working on whatever we were working on, and I’d play this pounding thing. So then I said, “Let’s make a record out of that.” So we copied it over and extended it double the amount, so now we have three minutes of track, and the track is great. So now I pick up the guitar and I start to go, “Well, this will be like the guitar part” – dung chicka dung chicka dung and the lyrics were virtually the first lines I said: “You’re breakin’ my heart, I’m down on my knees.” They’re not lines at all, but it was right for that song, and I like that. It was like a little piece of magical fluff, but it works.
“El Condor Pasa” I like. That track was originally a record. The track is originally a recording on Phillips, a Los Incas record that I love. I said, “I love this melody. I’m going to write lyrics to it. I just love it, and we’ll just sing it right over the track.”
That’s what it is and that works pretty different. “Bridge” is a very strong melodic song.
How was Bridge Over Troubled Water recorded?
We were in California. We were all renting this house. Me and Artie and Peggy were living in this house with a bunch of other people throughout the summer. It was a house on Bluejay Way, the one George Harrison wrote “Bluejay Way” about. We had this Sony machine and Artie had the piano, and I’d finished working on a song, and we went into the studio. I had it written on guitar, so we had to transpose the song. I had it written in the key of G, and I think Artie sang it in E. E flat. We were with Larry Knechtel and I said, “Here’s a song, it’s in G, but I want it in E flat. I want it to have a gospel piano.” So, first we had to transpose the chords and there was an arranger who used to do some work with me, Jimmie Haskell, who, as a favor, he said, “I’ll write the chords, you call off the chord in G and I’ll write it in E flat.” And he did that. That was the extent of what he did. He later won a Grammy for that. We’d put his name down as one of the arrangers.
Then it took us about four days to get the piano part. Each night we’d work on the piano part until Larry really honed it into a good part.
Now, the song was originally two verses, and in the studio, as Larry was playing it, we decided – I believe it was Artie’s idea, I can’t remember, but I think it was Artie’s idea to add another verse, because Larry was sort of elongating the piano part, so I said, “Play the piano part for a third verse again, even though I don’t have it, and I’ll write it,” which I eventually did after the fact. I always felt that you could clearly see that it was written afterwards. It just doesn’t sound like the first two verses.
Then the piano part was finished. Then we added bass – two basses, one way up high, the high bass notes. Joe Osborn did that. Then we added vibes in the second verse just to make the thing ring a bit. Then we put the drum on, and we recorded the drum in an echo chamber, and we did it with a tape-reverb that made the drum part sound different from what it actually was, because of that afterbeat effect. Then we gave it out to have a string part written. I gave the song to – I can’t remember now who it is. But the arrangers wrote the title down as “Like a Pitcher of Water.”
I had it framed. The whole string part – instead of having “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on it – the way the guy heard it on this demo tape was “Like a Pitcher of Water.” So that’s what’s written down. And he spelled Garfunkel wrong. So we did the string part, and I couldn’t stand it. I thought they were terrible. I was very disappointed. It had to be completely rewritten. This was all in L.A. And then we came back to New York and did the vocals. Artie spent several days on the vocals.
Punching in a lot. [Recording in small segments to achieve greater control and accuracy]
Yes. I’d say altogether that song took somewhere around ten days to two weeks to record, and then it had to be mixed.
Were you finally happy with the concluding string arrangement of the third verse?
I would say I was happy. It was changed around quite a lot, and there was a lot of engineering added to it. I think it served its purpose. I don’t think it bears a lot of scrutiny. If you listen to just the string part, it’s not really great, but it did do the job that it was supposed to do, which was to expand the record tremendously, and it feels like one of those string parts that makes things big, and that’s what it’s supposed to do and it did. I was happy. The last note was too long.
“Bridge” was gospel, “El Condor” was South American, “Mother and Child” was reggae – you seem to be incredibly eclectic.
I like the other kinds of music. The amazing thing is that this country is so provincial. Americans know American music. You go to France: They know a lot of kinds of music. You go to Japan, and they know a lot of indigenous popular music. But Americans never get into the South American music, I fell into Los Incas, I loved it. It’s got nothing to do with our music, but I liked it anyway. The Jamaican thing, there’s nobody getting into a Jamaican thing. Jamaicans have a lot of good music, an awful lot.
That one you really pulled off – “Mother and Child Reunion.”
I got that by making a mistake. Because “Why Don’t You Write Me?” was supposed to sound like that but it came out a bad imitation. So I said, “I’m not going to get it out of the regular guys. I gotta get it out of the guys who know it.” And I gotta go down there willing to change for them. I started to play with them. I started to show them the song and play, and we started to work it out, and they were playing, and I would play, but, I couldn’t play with it. Couldn’t fit.
Did you sing it with them when they were recording it?
No, I played the track. I’d sing the song, we’d write down the chords. Now we know the song. Now, I start to play the guitar, a rhythm guitar part. Like I do on almost all the stuff. But it was bad. So I sat down and said, “You play it. Play what you want.” That’s the key thing. Let them play whatever they want, and then you change. You go their way. That’s how you get that.
You didn’t have the words to that song written when you recorded the track?
Know where the words came from on that? You never would have guessed. I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called “Mother and Child Reunion.” It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, “Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.”
I read a lot into that one.
Well, that’s alright. What you read in was damn accurate, because what happened was this: last summer we had a dog that was run over and killed, and we loved this dog. It was the first death I had ever experienced personally. Nobody in my family died that I felt that. But I felt this loss – one minute there, next minute gone, and then my first thought was, “Oh, man, what if that was Peggy? What if somebody like that died? Death, what is it, I can’t get it.” And there were lyrics straight out forward like that. “I can’t for the life of me remember a sadder day. I just can’t believe its so.” Those are the lyrics. The chorus for “Mother and Child Reunion” – well, that’s out of the title. Somehow there was a connection between this death and Peggy and it was like Heaven, I don’t know what the connection was. Some emotional connection. It didn’t matter to me what it was. I just knew it was there.
I still don’t see why you would do the track, before you had written the words. Why did you do that?
I had no words. The words I had I never intended to use. But sometimes you get a very good record that way because you fit the words right to the track. You play with the feel of the track and the words. What happens then is when you go to sing the song without the words, like when I go to sing “Mother and Child Reunion,” for example, I go back and play it the way I originally played it in Jamaica, which is not Reggal, it’s Ska. There’s a difference in rhythm. But they said Ska’s old. They’re always doing Reggal, so I said, “Well, what’s the difference between Reggal and Ska?” I thought it was the same thing. So then they started to play. “This is Reggal. This is Ska. This is bluebeat.” Each was a different style.
What were these guys like?
They were nice guys. They were Jamaican guys.
Did they get into it?
They got into it. At first it was awkward I was the only white guy there and I was American – American, white guy, famous, coming to them…
They knew who you were.
And the funny thing is like they do sessions down there. They get paid like $7 or $10 per tune. That’s how they do it. And I worked all day and the next day. So I had to say to them, “Look, just assume I’m doing three tunes a day, okay? So I’ll pay you like three tunes a day,” ’cause otherwise they get dregged. “Forget about that,” I said. “Let’s get it right.” And even then I had changes to do. I had to put the piano on later, I had to put the voices on later, that was done in New York, and the vocal was done later.
The humor on Paul Simon is elusive.
Yes. For example, at the beginning at “Papa Hobo,” it opens light because it’s stylized. It’s an obviously constructed line. It’s not a cry of anguish. It’s too thought out. It’s carbon monoxide and the old Detroit perfume. It’s satirical. The “basketball town” line. It’s got a little bit of bitterness, but it’s also, it’s in its own way, an element of humor and a putdown of a place, a basketball town. It reminds me of a Midwest thing. The “Gatorade” line…
I hate that word “gatorade”…
That’s why I use it. That word doesn’t belong in a song. It comes out, and there it is. It’s the whole thing. It’s where that guy came from.
You have said that “Run Your Body Down” had a comic intent. But the title line is a very real thing to many people.
It is true. I don’t mean it to be any less serious by the fact that I feel that there’s humor in it. I think that that’s a delicate combination. If you can get humor and seriousness at the same time, you’ve created a special little thing, and that’s what I’m looking for, because if you get pompous, you lose everything. If I should write a preachy song about “for God’s sake take care of your health” it would sound like a Nichols and May bit: “My God, your mother and I are sick with worry.” You can’t do it in a song. Even “Me and Julio,” it’s pure confection.
What is it that the mama saw? The whole world wants to know.
I have no idea what it is.
Four people said that was the first thing I would ask you.
Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say “something,” I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn’t make any difference to me. First of all, I think it’s funny to sing – “Me and Julio.” It’s very funny to me. And when I started to sing “Me and Julio,” I started to laugh and that’s when I decided to make the song called “Me and Julio,” other wise I wouldn’t have made it that. I like the line about the radical priest. I think that’s funny to have in a song. “Peace Like a River” is a serious song. It’s a serious song, although it’s not as down as you think. The last verse is sort of nothing, it sort of puts the thing back up in the air, which is where it should be. You end up, you think about these things that are, something to do with a riot, or something in my mind in the city. [Q] The middle part was very surreal.
Part of the reason the thing sounds surreal by the way, is that there’s a sound effect in that record which I don’t think you can hear, but it’s there, and it creates a very real effect. What I did was to take a piano, hit the bottom notes of the piano with a hand, like with my fist, like that, played it at half speed backwards, and took a middle section out, which sounds something like Rrrrrrrrr. It’s just a low level rumble, but it creates a tension, and that thing is just in there. It’s in the track. You can’t hear it. The only time you can hear it is in the last verse where it’s out. It’s just a dark color. It creates tension in that song. Also the track was a loop.
What do you mean? The whole track?
That whole bass, the whole drum thing. I recorded a whole thing and I didn’t use it, and a guy while he was standing there with a conga drum was talking and he was playing doom dakka doonka doonk doom dakka doonka doonk. I just did things like that for three minutes and made a loop out of it and then recorded over it.
The music is pretty but the words are very frightening.
That’s just a thing with me, to do something that sounds pretty or light to have a nastiness in it. That’s just a style, I don’t do it consciously, it just comes out naturally with me.
What was Simon and Garfunkel’s vocal style? Is there any, what was it? Did it change? Was there a progression?
S&G’s vocal sound was very often closely worked out harmony, doubled, using four voices, but doubled right on, so that you couldn’t a lot of times tell it was four voices.
Not four-part harmony?
No. Four voices. Like “The Boxer” is four voices.
You’re each singing your part twice – doubled back?
Singing it twice. “Mrs. Robinson” was four voices.
Harmonically, was there a lot of progression?
There wasn’t a lot of harmony on it. The thing that I learned at the end of S&G, was how to make an interesting album, was to let Artie do his thing, and let me do my thing, and come together for a thing. All of the other albums up until then, they’re almost all harmony on every song. How much can you do with two voices? You can sing thirds or you can sing fifths or you can do a background harmony. Something like “The Only Living Boy in New York,” where we create that big voice, all those voices in the background. That’s my favorite one on that whole album, actually. The first time those background voices come in.
You recorded the album Sounds of Silence in New York, Los Angeles and where else?
We tried a few cuts in Nashville. We did “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall.” Was that on that album? [It was on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.] We tried to cut “I Am a Rock” in Nashville, and it didn’t work. At that time, we had an asset that we didn’t know about, which was our engineer in New York – Roy Halee.
We really didn’t know Roy too well. We did “Wednesday Morning” with him, but we didn’t have any sort of relationship with him. He was a young engineer at Columbia who was coming up, and nice to get along with, but we didn’t pay much attention to him; we looked to the producer for direction. It took a while to realize that the people who were getting what we wanted was the three of us, Arthur and me and Roy. So at that time Roy was the engineer, and he was making things good, but we weren’t saying, “This is the engineer who’s really doing a good job.”
Sounds of Silenceis a morbid album. It has suicides and…
That’s right. I tend to think of that period as a very late adolescence. Those kind of things have a big impact on an adolescent mind, suicides and people who are very sad or very lonely and you tend to dramatize those things
It depends on the song. “A Most Peculiar Man,” which dealt with a suicide – that was written in England, because I saw a newspaper article about a guy who committed suicide. In those days it was easier to write, because I wasn’t known and it didn’t matter if I wrote a bad song. I’d write a song in a night, and play it around in the clubs, and people were very open then. No attention and so, no criticism.
Now I have standards. Then I didn’t have standards. I was a beginning writer then, so I wrote anything I saw. Now I sift. Now I say, “Well, that’s not really a subject that I want to write a song about.”
How was Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’approached differently from ‘Sounds of Silence’?
Time. A lot more time. Also there was “The Dangling Conversation,” which was with strings.
Who’s idea was the strings?
I don’t even remember now. All of us probably. See, “The Sound of Silence” was our first single, our second was “Homeward Bound,” and our third was “I Am a Rock.” They were all three of them pretty good-sized hits. “The Sound of Silence” was a big hit. Our fourth record was “The Dangling Conversation,” and it was not a big hit. Neither in sales, nor did it go into the Top Ten.
It must have been disappointing to you then…
It was amazingly disappointing. Absolutely amazing. Between the ages of 15 and 22, I had made only one very minor hit at the age of 15 and then flops. So I expected everything to be a flop. I was utterly amazed that “The Sound of Silence” was a big hit. More amazed that “Homeward Bound” was a big hit. By the time “I Am a Rock” was a big hit, I started to think, “Now I’m making hits,” so now I got amazed when “The Dangling Conversation” wasn’t a big hit. Why it wasn’t a big hit is hard to know. It probably wasn’t as good a song. It was too heavy.
But anyway, this album starts to be more elaborate as far as time, I remember we spent about at least four months on it. Three or four months, and I remember then, that was the first time people started to say, “Boy, you really take a lot of time to make records.” Columbia, they’d said that.
What was Johnston’s reaction to your taking so much time?
Fine, he didn’t object. The whole time thing is a record company problem. They want you to put out records rapidly, so that they can sell them. That’s all they’re concerned with – sales. Also time costs a lot of money. Parsley, Sage started to get into the category of what albums cost today. Albums are $30,000 and upwards today. $30,000 for a medium-sized rock album. I’d say it costs between $50 and maybe up to $150 thousand.
What’s the most you’ve spent?
I don’t know. I never look at the bills. But I would say it’s between $50,000 and $100,000. But most of the money is spent in studio time – not on musicians. We didn’t use really a lot of musicians, but a lot of time in the studio trying to get the take and a lot of time mixing. Lots of experiments in the studio.
This is inevitable for a group that’s not a band. A band can get their thing together and come to the studio and cut their album, because they’re working and they’re rehearsed, but a group like us rehearse their vocals, have their song, and have to come in and teach it to the studio musicians and experience all the changes that go with teaching. You sing it one way, and it just never comes out that way out of the four or five musicians, so you start to adapt to the way it’s coming out. Now the phrasing doesn’t work, or it’s something else…
Actually Parsley, Sage, compared to Sounds of Silence as an album, seemed to have fewer musicians in general. The sound got more laid back.
Lots of interesting musicians on these albums were never given credit. Joe South played on “Homeward Bound.” He came up from Atlanta to play. That was one of Johnston’s friends. Paul Griffin played piano – he’s great. He played on a lot of our early stuff. Glen Campbell played on “Blessed.” I met Fred Carter for the first time during these sessions. He’s played guitar on a lot of our things. On “Feelin’ Groovy” we used Gene Wright and Joe Morello – you know those two guys?
From Dave Brubeck’s old group.
They played on that.
These were being done on eight-track?
Sounds of Silence was done on four-track, but then we started on eight. [Q] Did you overdub the voice back then?
We over-dubbed the voice. Almost always over-dubbed the voice, because I was playing acoustic guitar and it was hard to get decent separation between my voice and the guitar.
So from the beginning you were making a more conscious use of the studio.
Both of us had a significant amount of studio time prior to our Columbia recording days. I did a lot of demos.
Do you mean demos of your own songs?
No. Other people’s songs. I was a kid of 17 or 18 years old who could come in and learn a song and sing it in various styles. So, a publisher would get a song and they’d say, “This song would be great for Dion.” So we’d get somebody in and I would be Dion, and then I’d sing all the background, “ooh ooh wah ooh,” I’d do all those things, and then sing the lead, and for that get paid $15 a song. I did that when I was in school, and that’s how I learned a lot about the studio. I learned about over-dubbing. I learned about mikes. I learned how to sing on a mike.
At the beginning, you didn’t have that much sense of how much you could actually control your own thing. You would just skip the mix, wouldn’t you?
We didn’t show up for the mix on Sounds of Silence.
Did you on Parsley, Sage?
Parsley, Sage, we mixed it. It was the first eight-track session we did at Columbia. We were the first people to get them to do eight-track, and we were the first people to get them to go to 16-track.
“Get them to” – what do you mean? You did these albums at Columbia recording studios…
…and you pressured them to get 16.
Right. The first thing we did in 16-track was “The Boxer.” It wasn’t a 16-track machine, it was two eight-track machines synchronized, and it was a bitch to get them to work together. In other words, you had to press the button at the same time to record, that way. It was hard. Halee rigged it out. It was hard.
Was Columbia resistant to going to 16?
No. They had to do it some time or other. We were the group that was doing that, because we were the group that was recording all this weird stuff, and we were multi-tracking, doing voices and recording by layers. At Columbia at that time, nobody else was doing that. They’d have a band like the Buckinghams, or Gary Puckett, and it would be a straight session. You’d go in, lay down a track, the guy would sing it. We would just keep adding, adding, and adding things on.
When you come to Bookends, you’re making full use of the studio.
That album had the most use of the studio, I’d say, of all the Simon and Garfunkel records.
Where do you rate it among all the albums that Simon and Garfunkel did?
Right below Bridge. I rate each album as better than the last one. That’s how I see it. In Bookends, we started taking much more time with the singing. I remember, in Bookends, we were into punching in.
You weren’t in Parsley, Sage?
Well, we might have repaired a line or something like that, but the concept in Parsley, Sage wasn’t to get each line perfect, and it was in Bookends.
Sometimes that turns into a compulsive thing.
To a degree that would happen to Simon and Garfunkel. They’d get too perfect which could be disturbing. A part of Roy and Artie’s thing more than mine. Because I always liked more sloppiness than they did. They got to the point where it had to be just right. Sometimes, it worked. Like, “Mrs. Robinson” was punched in a lot, and it worked really good. Bookends was recorded sort of half and half. Bookends is really the one side.
And the other was made up of the most recent singles.
With the exception of “Mrs. Robinson,” which was recorded at the same time as the songs on the Bookends side. Those other songs were for me, the dry patch of Simon and Garfunkel, which was from “The Dangling Conversation,” I think the next was “Hazy Shad of Winter,” “At the Zoo,” and “Fakin’ It” – those four…They didn’t mean a lot. They weren’t well recorded. They just didn’t have it. Then, The Graduate happened as we were working on Bookends.
Bookends, is really different from Parsley, Sage.
Parsley, Sage is really different from Sounds of Silence. But Bookends is like a new thing.
It’s a new thing musically and lyrically. There are fewer of those vignette type of songs – like “Richard Cory” and “Poem on an Underground Wall.”
Those songs that you mentioned were both written in England. Those English songs tend to sound like they have a connection. “Kathy’s Song,” “April Comes She Will,” “Richard Cory,” “Homeward Bound,” “Poem on an Underground Wall,” “A Most Peculiar Man,” were all written in England. They all have that other feeling to me.
The early albums used to explicitly be about alienation – Artie used to say so in all the interviews – that was really a late Fifties, early Sixties thing…
“The Sound of Silence” was written about a year before it was recorded on Wednesday Morning. So that puts “The Sound of Silence” in ’62, ’63, I guess – two years before it came out as a hit single. So, it’s written about a feeling I had then. And it took me a couple of months then to write it. So, a lot of these songs are written in the past, and they come out as if this is what we’re up to. Then, a kid comes back from England with a big hit record, and everybody says, “You seem to write a lot about alienation.” “Right,” I said. “Right, I do.” “Alienation seems to be your big theme.” “That’s my theme,” I said. And I proceeded to write more about alienation. Actually, Dylan was writing protest, and whatever it was, everybody had a tag. They put a tag on the alienation. And it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, so I wrote alienation songs. Of course we all had a feeling of alienation…
But protest was actually an attempt to deny alienation, because protest generally reflected an active commitment, an active involvement.
Well, I don’t think so. Actually protest songs were saying, “I’m not part of you.” If the world was full of me, the answer wouldn’t be blowin’ in the wind, you know.
Did you dislike protest music?
No, I didn’t dislike it. I liked it, like everybody liked it. I thought that second Dylan album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was fantastic. It was very moving. Very exciting. There was a lot of bad protest because protest became a thing. What was that song?
“Eve of Destruction?”
Awful. And you knew that it was already ruined when that happened.
Have you been bootlegged a lot?
I think Columbia estimated that over the world, there’s something like a million bootlegs on Simon and Garfunkel. I get letters every day from bootleggers. They send in the license to the publisher. That’s their sort of loophole. I have them upstairs. I get them everyday. Every day I can see what’s being bootlegged. It’s pretty annoying, because it’s stealing. Now, what justification do they have for that?
Does a bootlegger ever send you money, publishing money?
Yeah, they send you $4.25, you know, $13.00.
I think it’s slowed down now.
I’m still getting the same amount of letters.
You can’t buy them anymore. You used to be able to. The stores won’t take them anymore. For a while, a lot of head shops would take them, but now if you sell them most of the big companies won’t sell you any records.
Right. Bootleg records, but tapes. How about tapes? They say something like between one-third and a half of the tape sales are bootlegs.
That’s the counterfeit approach. They pretend it’s the original, which is easier to do with tape.
My brother wanted to bootleg me once. He asked if it was alright with me.
He teaches guitar. He drifts around. My brother’s had a rough time, because of me. It’s hard. I wouldn’t want that burden. If he walked in here, he’s younger than me and he’s about 20 pounds thinner than me, but he looks a lot like me. On the street people very often mistake him for me. He’s about the same height and it’s been hard sometimes for him.
You mentioned before, referring to the second side of Bookends, that the lean period for Simon and Garfunkel was…
“The Dangling Conversation,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “At the Zoo,” and “Fakin’ It.”
You didn’t like any of those?
“Fakin’ It” was interesting. Autobiographically it was interesting. But we never really got it on on the records.
I’m surprised because I like “Fakin’ It” so much.
That’s because you are thinking of “Fakin’ It” on the album. And “Fakin’ It” on the album is vastly improved over “Fakin’ It” as a single. For one thing, I think it’s speeded up. For two, it was remixed and greatly improved in stereo. It was a jumble, it was a record that was jumbled, sloppy. When you hear the original mono, it’s slower and it’s sloppier. It was improved on the LP, but by then it was already poisoned in my mind. [Q] What was that business about the tailor during the interlude – and was the “Leitch” you mentioned a reference to Donovan?
During some hashish reverie I was thinking to myself, “I’m really in a weird position. I earn my living by writing songs and singing songs. It’s only today that this could happen. If I were born a hundred years ago I wouldn’t even be in this country. I’d probably be in Vienna or wherever my ancestors came from – Hungary – and I wouldn’t be a guitarist-songwriter. There were none. So what would I be?
“First of all,” I said, “I surely was a sailor.” Then I said, “Nah, I wouldn’t have been a sailor. Well, what would a Jewish guy be? A tailor.” That’s what it was. I would have been a tailor. And then I started to see myself as like, a perfect little tailor.
Then, once talking to my father about my grandfather, whom I never knew – he died when my father was young – I found out that his name was Paul Simon, and I found out that he was a tailor in Vienna. It wiped me out that that happened. It’s amazing, isn’t it? He was a tailor that came from Vienna.
As for Leitch, the girl who said that on the record, her name was Beverly Martyn – did you ever hear of John and Beverly Martyn? She wasn’t married to John Martyn at that time, but I knew her from way back in English scufflin’ days, and we brought her over to sing at the Monterey Pop Festival. I thought she was a really talented singer. She was sort of livin’ around with us. It was during the psychedelic days. Records faded in and out, things became other things. And she was friendly with Donovan. So, we decided to make up this little vignette about the shop – we wanted to come up with a name. She said, well, let’s put in Donovan’s name.
The amazing thing about that was the way you came out of it and went back into the song…There was some kind of sound either electronic or strings…
It was strings.
And that was played off against that hand clapping – that weird, just a little syncopated thing.
There were two drummers, but no hand clapping. Oh, no, there was hand clapping – Dun Dun Dun Duh Clap Dun. Lyrically it had some nice verses in it, but it didn’t hold together.
I really liked the chorus…I thought it was an important piece of confessional work…When you mentioned before, your hashish every, was this a big dope time for you?
Yes. This was 1967, you know. The summer of flowers.
Had you been into dope all along?
Starting in England?
When you say dope, dope then was not what dope is today. Dope then meant you smoke grass or you smoke hash. In England everybody smoked hash – nobody smoked grass. Or you maybe took some pills. Took some ups or downs.
You took pills back then?
Yeah, I took pills.
What kind of effect was dope having on your life at that point?
Negative. A negative effect at that point.
It made me retreat more into myself. It brought out fears that I had, and I don’t think it helped me in my writing, although I was convinced I couldn’t write without it. I had to be high to write. It didn’t matter, because I was high every day anyway. But I think a lot of the pain that comes out in some of the songs is due to the exaggeration of being high. When you start to get into a depressed thing when you’re high, it really tightens you up then. You get really wound up in it. And I was by myself a lot. I was touring and then I’d be by myself.
You and Artie didn’t hang out that much when you weren’t doing something specific together?
No. We saw each other so much on the road, by the time we got back, there was no need. We were pretty good friends then, but we saw each other several days a week, because we were on the road together, so we didn’t see each other when we weren’t. [Q] How about acid?
I tried acid a few times, and I didn’t like it. I had a very wopping acid trip once. Owsley gave me some acid, and I took it by myself, in typical fashion, late at night. I said, “Well, I’ll try this now.” About 3 in the morning, I dropped it, and I continued right on through until about 9 the next night. It was some good and a lot of bad. I had a stretch of about four or five hours that was very paranoid. Then I came out of it, and it was good. I had some good times. I remember during the bad part thinking that it was vanity that made me take it. I took it because I thought I was going to get some big chunk of information for free. I was going to learn something about myself chemically, rather than learning something through my life. I said, “Look what I’ve done, “I’ve fucked my brains up here.” I thought I’d get this tremendous insight, that glint, that San Francisco…something.
I’d see something. I’d know something. At the depth of the thing, I said, “Here it is, there I am, there’s me. The same guy I knew before I started. Got the same things I like. Got the same things I don’t like. It’s the same guy, except at this moment I’m really afraid, and I’m afraid because I’ve got a chemical in my head.” But that didn’t stop my heart from pounding and being afraid.
So you stopped?
No, after that, I went right back and did it again, sort of the falling off a horse theory. I wasn’t going to let any acid trip throw me just because it was bad.
It seems almost competitive behavior…
I don’t know what it was. I would say it was stupid. I would say it was stupid behavior on my part.
No. Just stupid. I did it because a lot of people were doing it, and I was curious to know what would happen. I hallucinated. The funny thing was during the whole time, it was like there were two parts to me. One part was absolutely high, and the other part of me was saying, “That’s high, and if you get really high, you can think that, if you take acid, you can look at your hand and think that it’s curling back at you or anything you want, or you can listen to music and think it’s the most heartrending thing you ever heard.” But another part of me is saying, “Wait a minute, I know that music, I remember that music from before. It wasn’t that great.” So I never allowed myself to be one person. It made me a little schizophrenic, I guess.
And I didn’t get anything from it – I didn’t get anything from it…
You mean ultimately…
Absolutely not. I think it was like taking a beating. I think I came out of it about six months later. Somewhere around six months later, I said, “Oh, I think I feel about normal now.” I wasn’t aware of it, but I think that’s what it was like. It was exhausting for nothing. For vanity, that’s what. That I thought I was going to learn something, that I didn’t learn.
So you don’t have any involvement in drugs now?
Nothing. Zero. I don’t smoke. I don’t pill. I don’t anything. I stopped a couple of years ago.
What specifically, if anything, caused you to stop flat like that?
For one thing, it was very unsatisfying, for me at the end, although I started out loving it. But at the end, it was bad. I couldn’t write. It made me depressed. It made me anti-social. It brought out nastiness in me. When I’d deal with people while I was high, I’d listen to them, and think, “Boy, he’s really stupid. That guy’s really phony. Phony smile, phony everything.” And I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want to be around. And the same thing with me. I’d say, “Oh boy, you really are ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous…” Then I started analysis and the day I started analysis I stopped doing any dope. The night before, I smoked all my remaining dope, and I started on a Monday.
The doctor said, “I can’t analyze you if you are high.” I think he said that because he knew I wanted to stop. I know many people who are in analysis, who have been in analysis, who smoke or take mescalin, psilocybin. Their doctors don’t stop them. And I know people who went to my doctor, who started to do different drugs, and he didn’t stop them. For me, I wanted to stop, and I took that as a good enough reason.
He didn’t say I had to stop. He said he felt he couldn’t really analyze me if I didn’t stop. That’s over three years ago. Three and a half years ago. And a year later I stopped smoking cigarettes, too.
You associate the two things?
I associate them because of singing. Because when you smoke, you can’t sing good. When you were high, you couldn’t sing good, your throat got tight. It was a big improvement in my voice. My range went up, my ability to sing and phrase, everything got better.
Somebody told me the same thing about Mick Jagger.
I believe it. I know Dylan stopped smoking. I know McCartney stopped smoking. You can hear it in the voice. It’s bad for you.
What do you think about women’s liberation?
I’m for the feminist movement. I support it. I believe that women are a group that is discriminated against.
When did you come to that belief?
Over the last year or so. Mostly through my wife. I believe that the sex roles that we culturally assume are restricting to both males and females. They’re more than restricting, they’re damaging to both males and females, and it’s good to be aware of what roles you’re just assuming without ever thinking about it. That’s what the women’s liberation movement has made me aware of. I take certain things for granted, forms of behavior, just because it’s culturally taught that way. Like cooking meals. Well, I can cook a little more than I used to be able to. I couldn’t do anything. To do that, to participate in chores for the household, you become aware that that’s no great job. That’s not a job that anyone wants.
Now, vaguely, I think, we’re always aware of that. I have to go out and earn a living, but I love it, that’s my life. I do what I want to do, and I earn a living at it. It’s not as if to say if I could earn the same living by doing household work, I would be different and I would do household work. I wouldn’t. So, now I think, it’s really a restrictive thing to a woman, if one assumes that that will be her place, that she will be in the home. You’re gonna find that that woman’s gonna be possibly unhappy, probably frustrated about it, if she has any other desires, they’re gonna be just drowned. It’s gonna turn to apathy, and, getting back to “Congratulations,” and “Can a man and woman live together in peace,” ultimately, you have to have somebody who is your good friend. You gotta like to be with that person, and you gotta deal with them as if they’re your friend, be able to talk to them and be able to be interested in things, and this division of roles doesn’t encourage that.
For most men, they go for their intellectual stimulation to other men, or they wait for business. That’s the way they turn. That’s no good for the relationship of two people to work together, so I think it atrophies when that happens. Now, we’re gonna have a child, and the question is, in raising the child, who’ll do what? What will be the function? When you have a child, that’s the main part of your life. It requires constant attention. Who’ll do that constant attention? We’re gonna split it. All these things I was never aware of – I started reading and talking about it.
To approach the subject from the other end, what was the Simon and Garfunkel groupie scene like?
Simon and Garfunkel had a peculiar type of groupie. We had the poetic groupies. The girls that followed us around weren’t necessarily looking to sleep with us, as much as they were looking to read their poetry or discuss literature or play their own songs.
How did you feel about that?
I think that maybe that was the best thing for me, because to a great degree it embarrassed me to pick up somebody on the road, because it was so obvious that you weren’t interested in them. I felt it was insulting. You obviously didn’t care anything about the person if you were just picking them up to take them back to a Holiday Inn with you and it required pretense. You had to pretend that there was something more to it. Or else you had to pretend that you didn’t care at all what they thought, or you didn’t care at all about other people. And I couldn’t make either pretense. I wasn’t terribly involved with them as people, but on the other hand, I couldn’t do something that I thought was insulting.
Ultimately how did you cope with the situation?
Ultimately I wound up going back to the room and smoking a joint and going to sleep by myself. Most of the time, sometimes not.
But toward the end I always avoided any contact with people after the show. I never encouraged it. There were always exceptions, but in general, compared to what I’ve read about most rock groups or pop groups, for me (I can’t speak for Artie), I wasn’t into picking up girls on the road. Couldn’t do it. Too embarrassing to me. I wasn’t interested in their poetry either.
What was “Armistice Day” saying to you about politics?
Well, “Armistice Day,” which I consider to be the weakest song on the album, is an old song, written in 1968 – the first part of it was. That song mainly meant, let’s have a truce. I chose the title “Armistice Day,” because it’s not even called Armistice Day anymore, it’s called Veteran’s Day. Armistice Day is like an old name, and I didn’t really mean it to be specifically about the war. I just meant that I’m worn out from all this fighting, from all the abuse that people are giving each other and creating for each other. And I like the opening line on “Armistice Day” – “Armistice Day, the Philharmonic will play” – from strictly a songwriter’s point of view, like rhyme and the way it sings.
What do you think of George McGovern?
I think McGovern is the best candidate that has a chance of winning.
Do you think there are other good candidates?
There are some other candidates I’m interested in. Shirley Chisholm. I don’t hear too much about Shirley Chisholm. The media is obviously not as interested in Shirley Chisholm. I think George McGovern is a very principled man, and I think that the other candidates are more political in the sense that they represent special interest groups to a greater degree than McGovern appears to.
In several interviews after your Shea Stadium appearance for peace candidates in 1968, you indicated that because of the clumsy, sloppy way you were presented you had a general distaste for that kind of thing at that time. Now you seem to be more willing to give freely of your time. Why is that?
First of all you have to realize that if you do a concert and it comes out lousy, when you come off the stage you’re mad. It doesn’t matter who you do it for. Now that concert at Shea Stadium was done on too short notice, and it was not sufficiently publicized. So instead of getting a maximum of 50,000 people, which they could have had considering the bill, which was Janis, Creedence Clearwater, Johnny Winter, the Rascals, John Sebastian and others. It should have been a big show, should have done really well. But only about 20,000 people showed up. They took in $100,000. For peace candidates. I never found out where that $100,000 went…
Did you pursue it?
I did, but I couldn’t find out. Because before the concert you get a lot of high pressure calls all the time – “You gotta do it. It’s really important. You gotta have faith that it will work, either you’re gonna trash the system or you’re gonna work for it,” and I said, “Well, OK, right, I’ll do my thing. I don’t think this concert is well-planned, but I’ll do it.” And then the concert comes out to be a relative stiff, and now they say, no money was made. It cost $100,000. Where? Where was it spent? I certainly didn’t make any money out of it. Nobody I knew made any money. Creedence Clearwater Revival paid their own airfare to come from California to do it, and all their equipment. They lost money on it.
So, naturally you’re left with a feeling of having been taken. Nobody benefits. The peace candidates – whoever they are – didn’t benefit. And I’ll never play Shea Stadium. It’s ridiculous. Airplanes were comin’ over, and you couldn’t hear me. I’m embarrassed, because everything’s bad and so I’m sluggin’ through it because, shit, it’s a worthwhile cause, and it’s all over. It’s all for nothin’. You can’t find the people who organized it and the promoters.
The thing about McGovern is that he seems to have elevated the idea of benefit, concerts to one of the staples of his fundraising.
I feel that the concert I did in Cleveland was done in a poor hall. It wasn’t a good hall for music. But there was a feeling of event that surrounded this Cleveland show. And McGovern was there, unlike the show they did for Gene McCarthy, or the peace candidates or something. The man showed up, and you could talk to him, and he’s impressive. He’s honest. He’s not an eloquent guy, but he’s straightforward. You ask a question, he gives you an answer. So how could you not feel that you’d do anything to help, if you care about your country? I care about the country. I care about the world.
McCarthy made a direct appeal to youth, or rather youth intuitively supported McCarthy right away. But McCarthy never progressed the way McGovern has in pursuing the nomination. And McGovern is the first candidate that is really directing himself to youth as a group, making statements about it.
I don’t see that McGovern has made a lot of statements that are directed particularly to youth. I know that he has a very strong appeal to youth, but…
Like the rock concerts vehicle is…
Yes, that’s true. But that doesn’t say anything about his position. Show business people have always gotten behind certain candidates. Lorne Green is out there working for Humphrey. And Sinatra is pals with Agnew. The important thing, I think, about youth to these candidates is, there’s a group on which you can rely for volunteer help, because it costs so much money to run a candidacy that if you can get volunteers to do a lot of work for you, I think you have a chance against a very well-funded Republican party. Otherwise the Democratic party would be in debt. It still is in debt.
I think it’s impressive that people are willing to put aside the cynicism that has been nurtured for six or seven years and come out for a candidate again. A lot of people felt after 1968, “I’m not gonna get duped into this system again, this crap.” And yet now they’re doing it again. I think that’s hopeful.
But I’m not going that idealization route again for these people. Politicians as a group have dirtied their names to the point they have to earn our respect again. It’s like I used to say to Warren Beatty: “A lot of my friends, they’re not crazy about McGovern. Politicians have fucked around for so long that we all have the right to say, ‘You prove it. You prove that you’re a super guy, that I should go out and look at you sittin’ there asking us to go and do this kinda stuff.'”
But in the end I’m not indifferent. When Nixon was elected, I cried. I actually cried. I remember puttin’ on the TV set in the morning, and I saw he was coming down to make his acceptance speech. Tears started rolling down my eyes. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the next four years. Humphrey sold himself out. He does not deserve to get it again. It’s too late, so like, what’s the choice?
It comes down to it, I know. That’s what I mean. I had mixed feelings about Chisholm, because in a sense it’s distracted from the McGovern thing, but on the other hand, she’s keeping a point of view in front of a certain group of people.
That’s right. That’s important. Women and blacks. It’s important that she maintain her candidacy up until the very last minute. I think she will.
You are most involved, as any person would be, in those issues that affect you must directly. Some people might say that, you are allowed to chase what issues you involve yourself in to a much greater degree than other people might be by virtue of your wealth. How do you feel about that?
I don’t understand…
What effect does financial success in general have upon the way you see things?
It’s hard to know. On a personal level, questions of the economy, unemployment, things like that, they’re not personal for me, so it becomes an abstract issue. Do I wish that in general the lot of poor people would be much improved? Yes, I do. That’s an abstraction.
So from that degree, it has something to do with it. That’s really a good question. The whole question of money is, because it’s very confusing. I really haven’t put that issue in to perspective. You can’t go your whole life and have for me, an average amount of money. I came from a middle class family, we weren’t poor, but I would have always had to keep working. I rode the subway to work, I took a bus.
How do you feel about the rock liberation front, that kind of thing? Their notion, put in its most extreme form, is that rock musicians have an obligation to be actively bound and committed to radical movements, that they have some sort of political obligation, that there’s something wrong with the notion “I earn a living, I write songs, I get paid for them, whatever else I do is my business.”
I think they are very illogical. I don’t agree with that at all. First of all I think, if a musician is serious about his music, his obligation should be to become as fine a musician as he could. This country has a tremendous lack of people who are good in what they do, including musicians. This country places a tremendous priority on being successful, being famous or infamous, but it doesn’t give you a great reward for being good.
So, for a musician to be involved in politics (and of course, it’s up to the musician), I don’t see that one should be involved in radical politics any more than conservative politics, if that’s their inclination. I don’t see what one thing has to do with another. The fact of the matter is that popular music is one of the industries of this country. It’s all completely tied up with capitalism. It’s stupid to separate it. That’s an illusory separation.
If one has strong political beliefs one should do whatever they think is right about them.
So you don’t recognize any specific obligations inherent in your particular situation?
Not because I’m a musician, no. Certainly not. Why should a musician have any more obligation than anybody else? I don’t know what radical politics necessarily is. A million things come under the term radical.
What’s your reaction to the kind of involvement that Lennon has shown?
I have reactions to it. First reaction, he strikes me as being very interested in being seen or heard. Then I have to think, “What is he doing? What is the purpose of it? Is his purpose to get publicity for himself? Is his purpose to advance a certain political thought?” I don’t know what his motivations are. Many things he’s done, I think, have been pointless. Some have been in bad taste. Others have been courageous. I think he’s generally a well-intentioned guy. I don’t know, it’s not my style.
What do you think of a record like “Power to the People”?
It’s a poor record, a condescending record. Like all of these cliche phrases. They’re dangerous. What does that mean – “Power to the People”? And who is he saying it to? Is he saying it to people who have any idea what it means? Isn’t it really a manipulative phrase? And since he’s picking it up, consciously aware that this is going to be broadcast over the air waves, my question is, who is he manipulating and for what purpose? That’s even putting aside the question of whether he has the qualifications to manipulate, because obviously you don’t even need any qualification to manipulate in this country. Anybody who wants to manipulate can. Not necessarily for the general good.
Did you hear the other record of “Power to the People”? There were two records called that. There was one record called, “For God’s Sake Give More Power to the People.” It was a good record though. It really was a good record. I think it was the Chi-Lites. I like that record much better than Lennon’s record.
How about “George Jackson”? Do you like that record?
Not too much. Mildly catchy tune, that’s all. You’re taking those two examples, and I’m giving my reactions. I’m not saying that there is no places for a politically stirring song. “La Marseillaise” swings pretty good, actually. And there’s nothing wrong with “We Shall Overcome,” right? So it can work. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” – that’s garbage. I don’t say that someone can’t write a social song, or even a song that’s a political song, and have it work, as a song and as a political statement. But mass manufacturing of tunes, sort of “let’s knock off ‘Power to the People,'” I find it in bad taste. It offends me. I don’t feel it talking to me at all. John Lennon’s not interested in me when he makes that statement.
You as a listener?
As a listener. I’m outside that record. It’s not affecting me. It’s not that I’m not interested in what Lennon has to say. I am. He usually has my ear. When he makes a record or makes a record or makes a statement, I’ll read it or listen to it. I am a potential audience for him. But I find that he seldom says anything that’s interesting or innovative to me, and yet, I listen, based on a long-standing respect. Based on his musicianship, based on the fact that he was involved in some great music over the years, and so I keep listening to stuff that’s no longer great.
Yes. Out of respect for what he once did, out of respect for what once moved me. Now how long will that keep up, I don’t know. I find I’m less and less inclined to hear what he has to say. What do you think about that?
I agree. There are several artists whose work is in decline, no matter however else they may conceive of it. In particular in rock, when you look at rock as a whole, as a body of music. Let’s say, rock in the Sixties, since ’63 – ’64, what do you think of it as a music? You’re involved in studying classical music now. Your work has always included different ways, different elements from different kinds of music. Where do you think rock fits as music?
Well, rock is the staple. Rock is the main part of the meal for me. It’s the music that I not only grew up in, but I participated in, so I like rock and I like rock and roll. I like a lot of different kinds of music. I think that there have been very talented people come up in the last decade, people who have done really good work, and there have been great performers. I think Aretha is a really fine performers. I think Otis Redding was really great. Sam Cooke was great. The Beatles were great. Dylan was great, I gotta say he was great. I don’t feel that at the moment, but I feel that he was great. Although now we’re into another category, because I wanted to save that, I think he’ll come in more as a writer, those other people are performers. Except the Beatles are both.
This is what will survive…
If you go for what has a chance of surviving, then you have to go for songs. You can go for artists, but to what degree has Bessie Smith survived today, by her recordings?
I think to a great degree.
I think not a great degree. I think Grand Funk Railroad is much more well-known today by most people than Bessie Smith, and yet, I’ll tell you this, a lot more people know “St. Louis Blues” than know Bessie Smith. In other words, her work is preserved on records, and that record remains a part of history. A song is capable of having several life spans.
What songs for the Sixties do you think will have additional life spans?
It’s hard to remember. There’s so many, so many.
Start off with the Beatles.
I would pick “Yesterday.” I would pick “Strawberry Fields” – although there is your example of a total record. A very important record to me, I like it a lot. You can’t even sing the song. It’s really hard to sing the song.
Yes, but many of their songs have dated.
It may take a song instead of being dated after three years, maybe some songs won’t be dated for five years. Eventually all records are dated, but the song comes back. “Eleanor Rigby” was a really fine song. There’s no way of picking out the best songs. There’s the whole group of Smokey Robinson songs that mean something. There’s a couple old Steve Cropper tunes that mean something. I think there are some of my songs that are, that will last.
Judging from the amount of recordings and the amount of airplay and the amount of that kind of measuring device, the most popular songs of mine are “Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Feeling Groovy,” and a song that’s not mine, but is associated with us, “Scarborough Fair.” That song’s alive still. You hear it still, and those songs are, if not quite standards, almost standards. In other words, when I say standards, I think they’ll live at least ten years. Now “The Sound of Silence” has already lived about six years, and it’s still played and it’s alive.
It’s primarily played in your version.
No, I think it’s played all over the place. There must be 100 recordings of it.
To talk more about songwriting for a bit, you started talking about the Beatles before. How about Dylan?
Well, you can go back and pick out five or six very important Dylan songs. I’m aware of that, because he became popular a year or so before we did. Many of his still make it for me, whereas only a few of mine make it for me. I like his earlier stuff. His early songs were very rich, simple but very rich, with strong melodies. “Blowin’ in the Wind” has a really strong melody. He so enlarged himself through the folk background that he incorporated it for a while. He defined the genre for a while. That’s quite an accomplishment.
But no longer. Not to me. Maybe for some people he still makes it. When Nashville Skyline came out, a lot of groups started to play country music, but it didn’t move me. The rock-country sound has the same limitation as country music. There were some great songs, but you were working within a very limited musical scope. And you get the picture after awhile. And that’s what happened with country rock, after a while it’s boring.
But country music continues. Genuine country music continues to have appeal to those people who naturally tend to like it.
It does. It doesn’t have nearly the life of the other inherited American, indigenous American music, blues. Those are the two musics that have come out of America. Country music, blues, and gospel, which is the secular and the holy, and blues turned into rhythm and blues and turned into rock and roll, but country music didn’t move too much. It moved a little bit. It moved with Elvis Presley and moved into rock.
It is striking because your music has been completely devoid of the musical characteristics of blues. You’ve never recorded blues.
I’ve never recorded a blues, but it’s impossible to be devoid of the character of the influence of black music. Impossible. I don’t sing like a black. I don’t sing like a country musician either. I sing like a white kid from the city.
Do you remember when he recorded “The Boxer”?
Well, that was on Self-Portrait, which is filled with mostly a weird combination of songs from everywhere. I certainly didn’t like his version of “The Boxer” nearly as much as I like the Simon and Garfunkel version. I think that’s one of the best things that we ever did, although I thought the fade-out ending was too long. Aside from that, I like the song a lot, and I like our record of it. Aside from the fact, I was flattered to have Bob Dylan sing one of my songs.
Did you teach him the song?
No. I once sang it in front of him. I’m sure he learned it himself.
It seems that especially the rock bands have failed to produce many singers of distinction.
I’ll tell you one of the reasons is that you find it almost impossible to dissociate white singers from their songs. James Taylor, who has a pretty pleasant voice and sings pretty good sometimes, I’m not saying he’s a great singer, but I’m saying he sings pretty good. I think of him as the package.
Did you used to take an active interest in your business affairs? Did you always try at the same time to stay informed about it?
I always did. I always published my own songs right from the beginning.
Columbia never owned part of your publishing?
Nobody ever owned part of my publishing. That’s a result of having been exposed to the business since I was about 15. By the time it came around to do this, I knew that you can keep your own publishing. A lot of people simply don’t know that. There’s only a handful of writers who really own their own publishing.
You mentioned before when you were recording at a studio you never liked to look at the bills.
I never did look at them. I did not want to be inhibited. A lot of times I don’t do anything but sit in a studio for an hour or so, just talk. I like the studio to be a home, to be comfortable, and then I think, “I’m talking to this guy, and if I talk to this guy for two hours that costs $300.” Or, “If we don’t get a track down, it’s like $1500 a day here.” That’s no good. Studio costs are ridiculous.
Do you pay for your own studio time?
I pay for part of my studio time.
You seem to have had a good relation with your own record company.
I have had, for the most part. I had some problems, but for the most part they’re pretty nice to me here. Why shouldn’t they, right?
S&G must be a hard thing to let go of.
I don’t find it hard. I find it a relief. It took me to a nice place. I can’t say it took me where I wanted to go, because I had no idea where I wanted to go, but I found myself at the point of leaving S&G in a very nice place. I’ve done a lot of satisfying work, we were ready to move out, and I could go and do what I wanted without being tense about succeeding or not succeeding. I’d already been successful. I mean, I knew I never could top the success of “Bridge.” I’m not going to sell more than eight million records, so it’s kind of a nice place to be. So you start again, but actually you have nothing to lose. I’m also older than I was, so I don’t have that drive, I already had a few years of being successful.
You had advisors and so forth, but nobody told you for the sake of your career you were going to do, for example, a Coke commercial, and you said, “Well, if you say it’s best, I’ll do it”?
No. Nobody ever did that. And the people that we did have were right in line with our thinking. Mort Lewis would say, “They offered us $25,000 for a Coke commercial, I. think you could go more if you wanted to do it.” “How much more?” I would say. “Well, maybe we could get $50,000.” “Well, let’s see if they’ll go 50.” Then they’d say 50, and we’d say, “Nah, but we wanted to know, would they pay 50?” We wanted to know.
And ultimately, with the TV special, we were at the point of them not allowing the show to go on the air unless we changed, and we said, “Fuck you, that doesn’t go on the air. That’s all. This is the show we made, this is what we believe in, don’t put it on then.” Well, they didn’t put it on, but CBS got another sponsor to put it on for us, AT&T, they backed down. They lost a lot of money on that, because they didn’t want to be associated with that show. They were bad people.
The people you dealt with at AT&T?
Bad. Stupid people and bad people.
At that time it had become an album every two years for Simon & Garfunkel…
Right. Where can you go as a group when you actually think about it? You can keep putting out an album every once in a while. You can go on tour. That was over. I didn’t want to go on tour. I didn’t want to sing “Scarborough Fair” again. I didn’t want to sing all of those S&G songs every night. When you’ve developed, it’s harder. Two people can go so far and then they’re locked to each other. There are just so many combinations of two. So that was over. As it should have been. It lasted a long long time. I’ve known Artie since I was 12 years old, and we were friends all that time.
I’m 30 now, so that’s a long time for that partnership. It’s over. We grew up. From the musical point of view, in the time that he was off in the movies, Artie didn’t do anything musically. I was doing things musically, but to Artie it would have to go back to the old practicing a song, have to learn the harmony.
I wouldn’t say that my ideas were bigger than S&G, but I would say that my ideas were different than S&G, and I didn’t want to go in that direction of a duo. First of all I wanted to sing. I always felt restricted as a singer, partly because there always had to be harmony, and it had to be sung in the same phrasing, and then you had to double it. You couldn’t get free and loose with your singing, and in this album, I am pretty free.
What was the record company’s attitude toward the split?
Oh, tremendously discouraging. They didn’t want that split at all. They still don’t want it. The first form it took was self-delusion: “Paul has to get this out of his system.” Then they would ask, “When do you think you’ll do the next S&G album?” Which would bring me down. I’d be working on this album. It was important to me. And they would want to know when I was going to put aside this little…toy.
How about Clive Davis
He didn’t encourage me at all to do this. It became obvious that I was going to do it, and it was stupid to get in the way, but nobody encouraged me to do it. Sort of a predictably conservative attitude. I was dragged. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Everybody said, “What the hell’s wrong? Why don’t they stay together?” And everybody said, “Gee I always like S&G, boy, that’s too bad.” It was too bad, but that was it. It was over. For the sake of me personally, it was great that I was doing this by myself, but for the sake of the world it wasn’t great. Nobody said, “Oh, boy, can’t wait to hear it.”
George Harrison said to me, “I’m really curious to hear your album, because now you hear sort of what we are like individually, since the group broke up, and I know what you were like together, and I’d like to hear what you’re like individually.” And all the while in my head I thought, this breakup is not really comparable to that Beatles breakup, because there was a tremendous interaction in that group that came from the sound, and I said to myself, “I write better songs now than I used to write years ago, so I’m going to make a better album, but nobody knows that. They won’t know it till it comes out.” That was my fantasy. In fact, many critics said that. But the public didn’t in terms of buying the record, and that’s unsettling. I’m getting used to it now, I’m getting used to the fact. At first I said, “Look, when it breaks up you’re going to have to start all over again. It may take you a couple of albums before people will even listen.” But actually, emotionally I was ready to be welcomed into the public’s arms, as I had been in the past. And not that I’m not now, because it’s a successful album, this just goes to show you my perspective.
You sold 700,000, right?
That’s more records than any single Rolling Stones album except for Sticky Fingers.
Yeah, but, permit me my arrogance, I never compare myself with the Rolling Stones. I never considered that the Rolling Stones were at the same level. I always was well aware of the fact that S&G was a much bigger phenomenon in general, to the general public, than the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones might be bigger with a certain segment, but the general public, S&G really penetrated, really got down to many many levels of people – older people and really young kids. That was really gratifying.
Wednesday Morning ended up being a good-sized selling album.
Wednesday Morning sold somewhere around 5-600,000. No other album that we made has sold less than two million. Parsley, Sage is around three million and Bridge, of course, is bigger. They all sold.
When people who are 40 years old buy your albums, and they like your music, I liked that. That turns me on that they did that. That’s very fine to me. That’s what it’s about – that’s music. I don’t say, “Don’t you listen to this music, you, this isn’t for you.” I want everybody to listen to it. I hope everybody likes it. That’s where S&G had got me. And I wanted to be the same thing. Now I’m at the start and building slowly, and maybe I’ll never get there.
Clive once said to me, “S&G is a household word. No matter, however successful you’ll be, you’ll never be as successful as S&G.”
So I said, “Yeah, like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me that statement, that I’ll never be bigger than. How do you know what I’ll do? I don’t even know what I’m gonna do in the next decade of my life. It could be maybe my greatest time of work. Maybe I’m finished. Maybe I’m not gonna do my thing until I’m 50. People will say then, funny thing was, in his youth he sang with a group. He sang popular songs in the Sixties.” Fans of “rock and roll,” in quotes, may remember the duo Simon & Garfunkel. That’s how I figure it.