Paul Simon is one of the most celebrated contemporary artists in the history of American music. The acclaimed singer-songwriter has won sixteen Grammy Awards and is also a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Simon’s decades-long musical journey had its beginnings in a pairing up with a schoolmate named Art Garfunkel. The two formed a duo, aptly named Simon & Garfunkel.
The combined efforts of the two generated a soundtrack that through melody and lyrics was able to capture and reflect back the thoughts and emotions of a nation in the midst of a cultural shift.
A musical pioneer, the group exquisitely melded the genres of folk and rock. Its success was remarkable as evidenced by massive record sales as well as accolades, including being ranked among Rolling Stone magazine’s “Greatest Duos of All Time.”
In his solo career, which launched in the 1970s, Simon would continue his eclectic musical and lyrical exploration, this time combining reggae, soul, and indigenous styles.
Simon’s dad Louis provided his son with an early musical head start. In addition to being a college professor, Louis was a bass player and bandleader, performing under the name Lee Sims. Mom Belle taught elementary school.
Simon’s latest work is a 33-minute suite, titled “7 Psalms.” The project came to the iconic poet-wordsmith in a compelling dream, which has evidently reshaped his life’s work.
Spiritual language and imagery has long been a trademark of his inimitable songwriting. Simon wrote the timeless inspirational hymn “Bridge over Troubled Water,” which he and Garfunkel performed to the adulation of audiences around the globe.
He is able to make his religious visions uniquely relatable, as he did in his 2012 album “So Beautiful or So What,” which was so filled with faith-based references it surprised even him. The song lyrics feature poetry about God, angels, creation, prayer, and the afterlife.
While discussing the spiritual nature of his art during an interview with the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” he noted that “for somebody who is not a religious person, God comes up a lot in my songs.”
“I think it’s a part of my thoughts on a fairly regular basis,” he said. “I think of it more as spiritual feeling. It’s something that I recognize in myself and that I enjoy, and I don’t quite understand it.”
Although his music is cherished by people of all faiths, he was actually raised in the Jewish tradition. Regarding his Jewish roots, he explains, “I was raised to a degree enough to be bar mitzvahed and have that much Jewish education…”
With fans of every spiritual persuasion, Christians appear to be especially appreciative for his Christmas song additions. In “So Beautiful or So What” he includes the Christmas tune “Getting Ready for Christmas Day.” In another song called “Love and Hard Times,” he includes the gentle line: “God and His only son paid a courtesy call on Earth one Sunday morning.”
In the song “The Afterlife,” he imagines waiting in a line similar to the Department of Motor Vehicles. But his poetic description of life after death is anything but ordinary. Rather, it is a word picture describing the awesomeness of God.
“Face-to-face in the vastness of space
Your words disappear
And you feel like you’re swimming in an ocean of love
And the current is strong.”
“By the time you get up to speak to God, and you actually get there, there’s no question that you could possibly have that could have any relevance,” he explained.
Simon has been artistically attempting to deal with the power of the visionary dream he experienced in 2019. It is from this dream that his latest album “7 Psalms” originated.
He revealed the project on a video trailer that he released.
“On Jan. 15, 2019, I had a dream that said, ‘You’re working on a piece called 7 Psalms,’” he revealed. “The dream was so strong that I got up and I wrote it down, but I had no idea what that meant.”
As Simon describes it, after the dream episode, segments of “7 Psalms” gradually came. “I would start to wake up two or three times a week between 3:30 and 5 in the morning and words would come. I’d write them down, then start to put it together.”
In his spiritual search for truth, he asked probing questions.
“This is a journey, for me, to complete,” he shared. “This whole piece is really an argument I am having with myself about belief, or not.”
His lyrics in one of the tunes ask:
“Is sorrow a beautiful song,
lives in the heart and sings for all?
He then candidly sings:
“And I, the last in the line,
hoping the gates won’t be closed before Your forgiveness.”
In a song recorded in a church with wife Edie Brickell, his words hearken back to the Old Testament.
“The sacred harp, that David played
to make his songs of praise,
we long to hear those strings,
that set His heart ablaze.”
According to the video, the album release is set to have a companion documentary, titled “In Restless Dreams,” which is directed by Alex Gibney.
In his PBS interview, he expressed his deeply thought out concept of the Creator.
“When you’re looking to be thankful at the highest level, you need a specific and that specific is God,” he said.
Like a lot of us, Simon derives profound inspiration and gratitude from the beauty of the universe and the gift of life.
“How was all of this created?” he asked.
“If the answer to that question is God created everything, there was a creator, than I say, Great! What a great job,” he said.
He and the psalmist David may have more in common than Simon could ever imagine.