Playboy Interview : Paul Simon
By Tony Schwartz, 1984 
A candid conversation about old friends, craziness and troubled waters with the intense singer-songwriter whose music has spanned two decades. Among pop-music starts, it isn't often that the crowd pleasers also manage to
elicit praise from the critics.
 

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 It is even rarer to find a singer-songwriter 
  who was at the center of the Sixties' cultural explosion - indeed, who was a 
  musical influence in that culture - creating new and original music in the 
  Eighties. By these criteria alone, Paul Simon may be one of the most 
  successful composers and performers in the history of pop music. 
  Now 42, he grew up in the Queens influenced by rock'n'roll but became 
  internationally famous as a folk singer. In a profession that celebrates youth 
  and exuberance, he is an anomaly: serious, introspective, low key. As a 
  songwriter he is given to intensely personal, faintly literary lyrics but also 
  to soaring, accessible melodies. He counts John Cheever and Saul Bellow among 
  his heroes - but can't think of more pleasurable evening than watching his 
  beloved New York Yankees play a two-night double-header at the stadium. 
  Given the burnout factor in the world of pop music, Simon's consistency has 
  been remarkable. With his partner, Art Garfunkel, he went to the pop in 1965 
  with "The Sounds Of Silence" - and even a sampling of what followed is 
  extraordinary : "I Am a Rock," "Scarborough Fair," "Homeward Bound," "Mrs 
  Robinson," "America," "The Boxer" and the climactic Simon and Garfunkel 
  anthem, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." On his own, Simon's hits have included 
  "Kodachrome," "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Fifty Ways to Leave Your 
  Lover," "Late in the Evening" and "Still Crazy After All These Years"; the 
  last won a Grammy award as the best album of the year in 1975. "Allergies," 
  from his recently released album "Hearts and Bones," is his newest hit. 
  No Simon and Garfunkel or Paul Simon album has ever sold fewer than 500,000 
  copies, and most have gone platinum ( 1,000,000). Total album sales exceed 
  40,000,000 world-wide. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" alone sold more than 
  13,000,000 copies and has been recorded by more than 200 artists - among them 
  Simon's first hero, Elvis Presley. Because Simon owns all the publishing 
  rights to his songs, and because he now commands a royalty in the neighborhood 
  of $1.50 per album, he is among the wealthiest of all pop musicians. 
  At the same time, Simon has resisted repeating past successes. "He has 
  developed from a promising songwriter into a great one," wrote the critic 
  Stephen Holden after the release of "Still Crazy," in 1975. "He has continued 
  to discover and refine evocative instrumental textures, integrating reggae, 
  Gospel and jazz into his music with the smooth authority of an American 
  classicist" Of "Hearts and Bones," Holden wrote more recently in The New York 
  Times: "The new record makes by far the most convincing case for using 
  rock'n'roll as the basis of mature artistic expression. On "Hearts and Bones' 
  ... the lyrics dwell obsessively on the conflict between feeling and thinking, 
  while the music reflects Simon's abiding passion for the primitive spiritual 
  fires of rock'n'roll and his equally keen respect for the more refined 
  expressions of art." 
  Simon's complex instincts can be traced to his childhood. His father was a 
  professional musician who later earned his Ph.D in education and taught at 
  City College. When Paul was growing up in Forest Hills, his intellectual 
  curiosity led him to read poetry, but his instincts drew him to listen to Alan 
  Freed's rock'n'roll show. 
  He met Arthur Garfunkel in grade school and inspired by the Everly Brothers - 
  they began singing together. At the age of 15, under the name of Tom and 
  Jerry, they had a hit with their song "Hey! Schoolgirl." A series of flops 
  followed; Simon went oof to Queens College and, after graduation, moved to 
  England in 1964. During a trip home the following year, he was reunited with 
  Garfunkel. They ended up recording their first album," Wednesday Morning 3 
  A.M.," for Columbia. It included "The Sound Of Silence," but only when the 
  song was released augmented by drums and electric guitar did it become a hit - 
  and launch their careers. 
  When "The Graduate," a movie for which Simon wrote the songs, turned into a 
  huge hit in 1966 - and became a symbol of that alienated era - Simon and 
  Garfunkel rode the tide. Then shortly before the release of "Bridge Over 
  Troubled Water," in 1970, Garfunkel went off to act in his first movie, 
  "Catch-22." A partnership that had always endured its share of conflict began 
  to fall apart. "Bridge" became their biggest hit, but when Garfunkel opted to 
  pursue his movie career, Simon decided to go out on his own. 
  In the 13 years that have followed, Simon has released seven solo albums - all 
  successful, though non as big as "Bridge over Troubled Water." Early in that 
  period, he was married, to Peggy Harper, and they had a son, Harper, now 11. 
  The marriage lasted five years. Late last, Simon was married to actress Carrie 
  Fisher. 
  Professionally, his major disappointment was "One-Trick Pony," the movie he 
  wrote and starred in, which was greeted by decidedly mixed notices on its 
  release in 1980. It was in the aftermath of that experience that Simon and 
  Garfunkel decided to reunite for a concert in Central Park in 1981, the 
  success of which led to a fullscale if short-lived reunion. 
  To talk with Simon about the intertwining of his music and his life, PLAYBOY 
  called on Contributing Editor Tony Schwartz, who conducted last month's 
  "Interview" with Dan Rather. His report: 
  "From the start, I was struck by two things about Paul Simon. the first was 
  his remarkable capacity to speak about such complex concepts as art and 
  creativity in simple, and evocative terms. The other was his willingness to 
  speak so openly about such sensitive subjects as his seesawing sense of 
  self-worth and his bittersweet relationship with Art Garfunkel. Both 
  capacities, of course, help explain why he has long created music that is both 
  accessible and complex, personal yet universal. 
  "We met for the first time shortly after midnight in his hotel room in 
  Vancouver, where he had just finished one of the final concerts on the Simon 
  and Garfunkel tour. It was an emotionally turbulent time for Simon. Just a few 
  days earlier, he had been married in New York to Carrie Fisher, a secret and 
  sudden climax to four years of an-again, off-again relationship. Also, he was 
  in the midst of making the difficult decision that he wasn't going to include 
  Garfunkel on his new album after all. 
  "Although Simon is not by nature a demonstrative man, it was evident from our 
  first moments together that a certain intensity would characterize the 
  conversations. There was little of the cautious bantering that often precedes 
  these "Interviews, and more than once along the way, Simon mentioned that he 
  felt out talks were more akin to psychiatric sessions. 
  "Over the next three weeks, we met nearly a dozen times, often for three hours 
  at a stretch, in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Carrie's one-room log 
  cabin in Laurel Canyon and, finally, in Simon's breath-takingly beautiful 
  duplex apartment overlooking Central Park. 
  "People meeting Simon for the first time invariably remark about his height - 
  5'5". I was more struck by how easily he commands whatever room he's in. For a 
  popular artist of his accomplishment, that partly comes with the territory. 
  But he also gently exudes authority and clarity. He measures his words, edits 
  as he speaks, and he sentences often sound written. 
  "Although he usually dresses unprepossessingly in jeans and T-shirts, his 
  taste in nearly everything is highly cultivated, whether it's in the art on 
  his walls, the French pastel print fabric on his couches or the quality of the 
  books on his shelves. His close friends are nearly all involved in the arts - 
  among them, director Mike Nichols, actor Charles Grodin and producer Lorne 
  Michaels - but few of them are pop musicians. 
  "The exception, of course, is Art Garfunkel, with whom Simon has his oldest, 
  most competitive and most enduring relationship. having gone their separate 
  ways for more than a decade, they were reunited in Central Park. For a few 
  moments, they seemed to be living proof that you can go home again. But, as I 
  quickly discovered, that wasn't quite so." 

 
  Playboy : To your fans, it seemed recently that Simon and Garfunkel had 
  achieved something extraordinary: You reunited after 11-year split and became 
  a success all over again. The climax was to be a new album together. That 
  didn't happen. Why ? 
  Simon : This is going to feel like that Harold Pinter play Betrayal, because 
  to start, we are going to have to unreel backward to late 1980. That was when 
  I finished One-Trick Pony. The movie came out to mixed reviews - and the 
  soundtrack album didn't do nearly as well as I'd hoped. It was a period of 
  great depression for me. I was immobilized. And it was about that time that I 
  came under the influence of a man named Rod Gorney, who's a teacher and a 
  psychiatrist in Los Angeles. I heard about him from a friend and called him 
  from New York. 

  Playboy : Was your rapport instant ? 
  Simon : Well I flew right out to California to see him and went directly to 
  his house from the airport. We sat down and he said, "Why have you come?" I 
  said, "I'm here because, given all the facts that I'm young and I'm in good 
  health and I'm famous - that I have talent, I have money - given all these 
  facts, I want to know why I'm so unhappy. That's why I'm here." 
  We began to talk, and among the things I said was "I can't write anymore. I 
  have a serious writer's block, and this is the first time I can't overcome it. 
  I've always written slowly, but I never really had a block." I was really 
  depressed. 

  Playboy : What made you feel so bad ? 
  Simon : It was many things, but essentially, it was my work and my 
  relationship with Carrie. She and I were breaking up, which we were always 
  doing. Faced with a problem that made us uncomfortable, we were inclined to 
  say, "Hey, I don't need this." We were spoiled, because we were both used to 
  being the center of attention. 

  Playboy : And you felt you particularly needed attention at that point ? 
  Simon : Definitely. I had a severe loss of faith over the response to 
  One-trick Pony. Also, I had switched labels, from Columbia to Warner Bros., 
  with great trauma. When I left CBS, it became company policy there to make 
  life as difficult as possible for me. And that began a terrible personal 
  battle between me and Walter Yetnikoff, the president of the company. It ended 
  only when I threatened to subpoena people to testify that he had told them he 
  was going to ruin my career. 

  Playboy : Did you tell all that to your psychiatrist? What did he say? 
  Simon : When I finished, he said, "I find what you say very interesting and 
  I'd like you to come back and talk some more." then he asked if I'd noticed 
  the guitar in the corner of his living room. I said I had and he said, " Would 
  you like to borrow it and take it with you to your hotel?" So I said, "Yes, 
  sure." And he said, "Maybe you'd like to write about what you've said today." 
  I thought, That's an interesting ploy psychologically; so I said, "All right." 

  Playboy : And that did it for you? 
  Simon : No, the first night, I never even opened the guitar case. The next 
  day, he asked what had happened, and I said, "You don't understand. It takes 
  me months to write songs." He said, "I only expected you to begin to write a 
  song." I went back to the hotel and I wrote on a piece of paper, "Allergies, 
  maladies / Allergies to dust and grain / Allergies, remedies / Still these 
  allergies remain." Just that, with a melody. Went back the next day really 
  excited about it. 
  But that didn't make me feel the problem was solved. So we just kept talking 
  about writing. And I said, "My problem is that I really don't see what 
  difference it makes if I write or don't write." He said "Do you want to make a 
  difference ?" And I said I did. He asked if I thought Uncle Tom's cabin made a 
  difference to people. I said yes, and he agreed. Then he said, "I think Bridge 
  Over Troubled Water made a difference to people. I'm interested in working 
  with you, because I think that you can write things that people feel make a 
  difference. That's the reason I want you writing again." 

  Playboy : Pratical fellow. But what he said doesn't seem particularly 
  profound. 
  Simon : He was able to penetrate someone whose defenses were seemingly 
  impenetrable. He was able to make me feel that I wasn't there to work just for 
  the satisfaction of having a hit but that there was a contribution to be made. 
  Of course, the reason I'd been blocked was that I felt what I did was of 
  absolutely no importance. He was able to say, "I'm telling you that the way to 
  contribute is through your songs. And it's not for you to judge their merits, 
  it's for you to write the songs." For me, that was brilliant - and liberating. 

  Playboy : What happened? 
  Simon : Three or four days later, I went home. And I began writing. Somewhere 
  in the middle of that summer, I got a call from Ron Delsener, the main concert 
  promoter in New York City. He said that the parks commissioner of New York 
  wanted me to do a free concert in Central Park, and asked if I'd be 
  interested. I said yes, but then I began to think it wouldn't work. I was 
  still feeling a little shaky about One-Trick Pony. Then I thought, Why don't I 
  ask Artie to join me ? Not the usual thing where I sing and he comes out at 
  the end and sings three songs with me. Maybe we'll do 20 minutes, half an 
  hour, a full set. I called up Artie and he was in Switzerland. He travels all 
  the time, loves to walk places. I asked if he wanted to do this concert and 
  said yeah. Then I realized that if we did half the show as Simon and Garfunkel 
  and did the second half alone, it just wouldn't work in show-business terms. 
  Which meant I would have to open the show. Then I said, "I don't want to be an 
  opening act for Simon And garfunkel!" So I figured, Well, let's try to do a 
  whole Simon and Garfunkel show. 

  Playboy : What were you working on? 
  Simon : I was on a real roll with my writing by then, but I stopped to go into 
  rehearsal for the concert. And at that time, we were all in very good spirits. 
  Well, the rehearsals were just miserable. Artie and I fought all the time. He 
  didn't want to do the show with my band; he just wanted me on acoustic guitar. 
  I said, "I can't do that anymore. I can't just play the guitar for two hours." 
  First, my hand had never fully recovered from when it was injured a few years 
  ago, when I had calcium deposits. And second, a lot of the songs I've written 
  in recent years weren't made to be played by one guitar. Still Crazy After All 
  These Years, for example, is an electric-piano song. And Late in the Evening 
  has to have horns. So we got a band. 

  Playboy : Once you got onstage in Central Park, in front of 500,000 people, 
  did your differences fade away? 
  Simon : Yeah. We just did what we'd done when we were an act in the Sixties. 
  We tried to blend our voices. I attempted to make the tempos work. I talked a 
  little bit, too, but I found it impossible to hold a dialog with 500,000 
  people. 

  Playboy : How did playing for a crowd that size feel? 
  Simon : In a certain sense, it was numbing. It was so big, and it was 
  happening only once. I didn't have much time for an overview while I was 
  performing. 

  Playboy : And afterward ? 
  Simon : Afterward, our first reaction was, I think, one of disappointment. 
  Arthur's more than mine. he thought he didn't sing well. I didn't get what had 
  happened - how big it was - until I went home, turned on the television and 
  saw it on all the news, the people being interviewed and later that night on 
  the front pages of all the newspapers. Then I got it. 

  Playboy : What made you decide to follow the concert with a tour together ? To 
  what extent was it just a way to make some easy bucks repackaging old 
  material? 
  Simon : Well, hey it was old material. But it wasn't cynically done. It wasn't 
  hype. It was done because there was an overwhelming demand. The thing that 
  struck me was that people seemed to like those songs, which I found to be 
  really surprising, because I felt they were dated. 

  Playboy : How do you feel about the record produced from the concert ? 
  simon : I don't particularly like it. I don't think that Simon and Garfunkel 
  as a live act compares to Simon and Garfunkel as a studio act. 

  Playboy : Why not ? 
  Simon : In terms of performing, I've never really been comfortable being a 
  professional entertainer. For me, it's a secondary form of creativity. I'm not 
  a creative performer. I'm a reproducer onstage of what I've already created. I 
  guess everyone who goes on the stage is exhibitionistic, but there are limits 
  to what I'll do to make a crowd respond. 

  Playboy : What did you expect creatively from a Simon and Garfunkel tour ? 
  Simon : Nothing. I thought I was going to get an emotional experience from it. 
  I felt I wasn't really present for Simon and Garfunkel the first time around. 

  Playboy : Where were you ? 
  Simon : I wasn't home, the same way that I wasn't present for the concert in 
  the park when it was happening. I mean, a phenomenon occurs and it's 
  recognized as a phenomenon. But because you're in the middle of it, you just 
  think that it's your life - until it's over. And then you look back and say, 
  "What an unusual thing happened to me in the Sixties." 
  So there it was. A chance to go and re-experience, to a certain degree, what I 
  hadn't really experienced the first time. Some of those hits from the Sixties 
  I just had no interest in anymore, musically. But I had an interest in 
  experiencing what it was like being the person who wrote and sang those songs. 

  Playboy : How was the experience ? 
  Simon : I liked it. And I began to think about the songs. I remember playing a 
  concert somewhere in the middle of Germany. It's strange enough to be in 
  Germany, and when I finished playing, I was thinking, I hate Homeward Bound. 
  And then I thought, Why do I hate it ? I said "Oh, I hate the words." So I 
  went over them. And then I remembered where I wrote it. I was in Liverpool, 
  actually in a railway station. I'd just played a little folk job. The job of a 
  folk singer in those days was to be Bob Dylan. You had to be a poet. That's 
  what they wanted. And I thought hat was a drag. And I wanted to get home to my 
  girlfriend, Kathy in London. I was 22. And then I thought, Well, that's not a 
  bad song at all for a 22-year-old kid. It's actually quite touching now that I 
  see it. So I wonder what's so embarrassing to me about it. Then I said, "I 
  know! It's that I don't want to be singing that song as Simon and Garfunkel!" 

  Playboy : Why not ? 
  Simon : Because Simon and Garfunkel, as Artie said to me just recently, was 
  the songs of Paul Simon, which people liked, and the voices of Paul Simon and 
  Arthur Garfunkel, which combined to make a sound that people really liked. And 
  no question, without Arthur's voice, I never would have enjoyed that success. 
  And so the whole world was big Simon and garfunkel fans. But I wasn't. 
  Actually, I'm a rock-'n'-roll kid. I grew up with rock'n'roll. My main 
  influences in early music were Fifties R&B, Fifties doo-wop groups, Elvis 
  Presley and the Everly Brothers. But Simon and Garfunkel was a folkie act. I 
  liked the blend of our voices, but a significant part of me just wasn't a 
  folkie. What we were doing was too sweet. I was too serious. 
  When I began making my own albums, the songs became funkier. They were more 
  about the streets. 

  Playboy : How did you and Artie get along on the European reunion tour? 
  Simon : We were hardly speaking to each other. I'm not sure why not. It wasn't 
  my choice. I felt he wasn't speaking to me. 

  Playboy : Didn't you ask him why? 
  Simon : Yes. He was traveling alone; he likes to follow his own course. When I 
  asked, he'd say, "Oh, look, don't hurt by my behavior. Don't think that I 
  don't like you." Of course; on a certain level, not too far from the surface, 
  he doesn't like me. I don't even know if Arthur admits that. The same goes for 
  me. And then, of course, you have to remember that there's something quite 
  powerful between us. This is a friendship that is now 30 years old. And the 
  feeling of understanding and love parallels the feeling of abuse. I think 
  Artie's a very powerful and autonomous person until he comes into contact with 
  me on a professional level. Then he loses a great degree of power. And it 
  makes him very angry - at me. 
  Also, we're in the unfortunate position of being compared all the time. It's 
  one of things about the tour that were difficult. In the reviews, it's always 
  comparisons: Simon was too pushy; Garfunkel sang out of tune; they didn't sing 
  as well as they used to; they sing better now, but with less passion.... Even 
  when the comparisons are complimentary, it's too many comparisons for comfort. 
  As we followed our solo careers, it was the same thing. Add to that the fact 
  that he felt, even more than I did, the frustration of having people ask, "Did 
  you write the words or the music?" I used to feel, Oh, Christ. But at least I 
  could say "I wrote both." Arthur had to say, "I wrote neither." And that's a 
  drag if people keep asking you. Because there's a sense of competition between 
  us that dates from the beginnings of our friendship, at 12. 

  Playboy : Does he articulate those feelings? 
  Simon : Sometimes. Not exactly in those words. But he does. He'll say, "I'm 
  the victim and you're the victimizer." 

  Playboy : What do you say to that ? 
  Simon : "It's not so. you're not a victim and I'm not a victimizer, and stop 
  saying that about me. How have I victimized you ? What penalty have you paid 
  because of me? What did I take away from you? I didn't take anything away from 
  you." 
 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4