Paul Simon announced a graceful end to his touring musical career Monday, which will be capped off by a fittingly named “Homeward Bound” farewell tour.
“I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to reach the point where I’d consider bringing my performing career to a natural end,” he wrote in a statement. Now I know: it feels a little unsettling, a touch exhilarating, and something of a relief.”
As Simon prepares to close his career, let’s take a moment to remember an unparalleled American musical legend. I was fortunate to attend one of Simon’s concerts in the summer of 2016 following the release of his album, “Stranger to Stranger.” Though the album did not stir much conversation or draw awards, it debuted at number four on the Billboard 200, a record high for Simon’s solo work, and topped the UK Albums Chart on release. For a man with a career spanning seven different decades, that kind of staying power is impressive, and his concert did not disappoint.
As the songwriting half of the classic duo Simon & Garfunkel, it’s no exaggeration to say Simon is one of the most influential American songwriters of his era, and really of all time (in my estimation, his only serious competition is Bob Dylan, and I personally prefer Simon). Given his stature as a veritable American icon and musical giant and his lyrical genius, it was totally surreal experience to watch him perform.
Simon’s original lyrics and melodies are almost ubiquitous in American culture. Simon & Garfunkel’s first studio album, “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.,” was a tremendous flop and almost ended the duo. Simon took to the U.K. to perform solo until a producer took Simon’s landmark song “The Sound of Silence,” remixed it to the version most people have heard today and rereleased it as a single. The song exploded, the duo reunited, and Simon & Garfunkel enjoyed rousing success. There are now few American songs as widely known as the group’s hit singles, from “Homeward Bound” and “Mrs. Robinson” to the soulful ballad “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
Simon crafts his songs in relatable phrases and fables that move the soul. Songs like “America” and “Homeward Bound” tell full stories with developed characters who laugh, live, and love within the confines of a few minute tune. But one cannot listen through Simon & Garfunkel’s discography without also appreciating the fact that Simon doesn’t take himself too seriously. Goofy ditties like “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and “At the Zoo” are more fun than contemplative.
These lighthearted tunes provide an entertaining interlude between serious and sobering social commentary like “Blessed,” a song mirroring Jesus’ beatitudes, but updated for Simon & Garfunkel’s 60’s climate. The “blessed” for Simon include “the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, [and] Illusion dwellers.” In his book “The Divine Conspiracy,” Christian philosopher Dallas Willard praised the song for reminding us that, “Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom.”
“The Sound of Silence” endures as Simon’s most well known song, and not without cause. I consider it to be almost unparalleled from a songwriting perspective. At the show I attended, Simon cleared his band off the stage and closed out his two and a half hour show with a solo acoustic rendition of Sound of Silence. It was an incredibly moving experience.
Part of the appeal of the song is its utter timelessness. Taken as a piece of social commentary, the words of the song are just as applicable now as ever before. The song reflects on a dream about a world where no one communicates or finds true companionship, as the “silence like a cancer grows.” Though our world is loud and noisy, and we superficially seem more connected than ever before, the dramatic relationship between teen depression and suicide and cell phone use should give us pause. Our social media fascination masks a truly deafening world of internal turmoil and silence. The people’s “neon god” has been replaced by the tiny iPhone screen, and in place of subway walls, the words of the cultural prophets are now contained in 280-character tweets.
After the group’s surprise breakup, following the record-breaking “Bridge over Troubled Water” album, Simon continued to produce new hits in a world-music vein. His solo endeavors gave us similarly popular tunes like “Graceland,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” His entire discography is a joy to listen to, flawlessly incorporating instruments and styles from African, South American, and Latin music.
Simon’s pithy phrases and ethereal melodies have earned him rousing fame. Simon has been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice: once as a solo artist, and once as a member of Simon & Garfunkel. He’s won an assortment of Grammy awards, contributed songs to Oscar-winning movies, and toured the world performing music for adoring crowds. Now in the twilight of his career, Simon has told his that, in the words of his “American Tune,” “I’m trying to get some rest/That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.”
Simon’s “Homeward Bound” farewell tour spans the states from west coast to east over the course of May and June. Tickets go on sale to the public on Saturday, Feb. 10.