Why his legacy will stand the test of time
Jeff Slate wrote a spicy, much-discussed take on the legacy of Paul Simon.
In the piece, Slate suggests that the sands of time will surely erode away any pop act who isn’t Bob Dylan or The Beatles, utilizing the recent sale of Simon’s catalog to Sony Music as a means to surmise how the Queens, NY hitmaker will be nothing but a blip in the history books.
“It’s hard to imagine that in 200 years or more — when historians dig into the culture of the late 20th century — anyone but the Beatles and Bob Dylan will be worth more than a passing mention,” Slate writes. “That means Young and Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Paul Simon — all giants in their day — will be no more than footnotes, at best, to Dylan and the Beatles, if only because history is a blunt instrument and doesn’t have room (at least not in the broadest sense) for subtlety.”
Now I know Jeff Slate is as hip to the last 40 years of Paul Simon’s catalog as I am, which is why I amicably disagree with my friend (other Paul Simon partisans have been less forgiving in their reaction) and here’s why.
My buddy Wayne Burke gave me a copy of Rhythm of the Saints on cassette for Christmas back in 11th grade. Along with Naked by Talking Heads, that album was one of my very first introductions to Brazilian music and helped send me on my way to become a lifelong fan of the music from the Rainforest that continues to grow and evolve as I approach 48 this year.
I can say the same thing about hearing Graceland for the first time back in 6th grade, and getting my first taste of African High Life music through its infectious title track. Paul Simon appearing on SNL with Ladysmith Black Mambazo to perform “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” resonated with me in how short of a walk it really was between Simon’s chatty New York sophisti-pop and the Soweto groove of LBM, giving a sound to South Africa, a country I had only begun to get familiar with because it was on the news a lot after the United States imposed economic sanctions on the nation on account of the humanitarian crisis created because of apartheid.
VIDEO: Ladysmith Black Mambazo feat. Paul Simon “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”
Paul Simon, along with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Talking Heads, was essential in nurturing my love and appreciation for music on a global level. And I know I’m not the only one. Just listen to Vampire Weekend or Twenty One Pilots or even Juice WRLD, and you’ll recognize the reach of Paul Simon’s influence on the artists influencing future generations.
Plus, there are the songs themselves. Paul Simon’s worldview both at home and abroad is one of the key ingredients to his songwriting genius. And whether he’s walking through the Sowetos of Johannesburg, South Africa or the neighborhood streets of Corona Park in his beloved Queens, he has this uncanny ability to put you right in his front shirt pocket and take you along in vivid detail.
That is why he is so much more than a footnote. Man, the fruits of his contributions to the evolution of pop music within the global village have only just begun.