Paul Simon Is Not a Footnote

Why his legacy will stand the test of time

Paul Simon in Central Park 1991 (Art: Ron Hart)

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.


Ron Hart

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Ron Hart

Ron Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and Roll Globe. Reach him on Twitter @MisterTribune.

3 thoughts on “Paul Simon Is Not a Footnote

  • April 11, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Slate is an idiot, and you’re totally right. Paul Simon’s undeniable brilliance and relevance aside, in 200 years cultural historians are going to trace the influence of all the artists he mentions, and more.

    “Graceland” had a similar impact on me. I also had the pleasure of seeing Paul speak at UCLA the year after that album, and his talk about his career and the collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo was fascinating. A fun anecdote: Paul was making a point about some lyric on “Graceland” and couldn’t remember the exact words. Several people in the audience shouted them out and he was appreciative.

    In 2012 Simon organized a benefit concert for The Children’s Health Fund, which he co-founded (, and I was fortunate enough to attend courtesy of an executive at American Express, who was on the board of the fund. We were in the 5th row, a mere 20 feet or so from Stevie Wonder for his performance of “Isn’t She Lovely” with his daughter Aisha Morris (the song celebrates her birth) – a highlight of my musical life. Also performing were Paul Simon & Edie Brickell; Rubén Blades & Luba Mason; Amy Grant & Vince Gill; Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson; Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers; Sting & Trudie Styler; James Taylor & Caroline Taylor.

    It’s a must-see performance, captured here:

    Besides, while massively influential, The Beatles had some great songs but are the most overrated band of all time; they weren’t even as good as Paul McCartney/Wings and perhaps even Lennon and Harrison’s solo and other work. (Though in the clip above you’ll hear Stevie say, “We gotta do a Beatles song” and launch into “She Loves You”.)

    Slate is also a bad writer (since he’s clearly an asshole I’ll give him the blame, rather than an editor): “…you’ll be hearing Paul Simon’s songs in not just the usual places, like films, Spotify and YouTube, but also on TikTok and whatever comes next, plus, most likely, in commercials hawking Cadillacs to Kit Kat bars”.

    In addition to the laziness of the comma splice, I’ve never seen a candy bar with the ability to buy a car.

  • April 13, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    “Besides, while massively influential, The Beatles had some great songs but are the most overrated band of all time; they weren’t even as good as Paul McCartney/Wings and perhaps even Lennon and Harrison’s solo and other work”

    You lost me with this idiotic comment.

    The Beatles are not overrated, and that’s just a hipster d-bag thing to say. Not as good as Wings? Paul’s had his more than his share of great records, but aside from the Band on the Run album saying Wings matches The Beatles is just ludicrous.

    Influence on music that came after them, studio innovations, and the sheer number of cover songs, not to mention how well they still sell, pretty well sure they’re hardly overrated.

    Anyhow, Simon’s great but he’ll tell you The Beatles are too.

    • April 14, 2021 at 1:42 pm

      Well said Guy Smiley!


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