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Friday, June 03, 2016

Is Paul Simon the worst great songwriter, or the best terrible songwriter?”* As it happens this sort of question is the sort of thing I sometimes compose essays about in my mind before drifting off to sleep. If you were building a rock and roll Parthenon you'd start, I think, with Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, but who are the artists on the tier just below that? Neil Young? George Clinton? Jerry Lee Lewis? In the end such rankings are arbitrary and unhelpful, and they are also, I think, more or less unique to rock-- we don't argue about Miles Davis v. Clifford Brown-- we just enjoy both while acknowledging that they each embody greatness of different sorts.

All that said, Paul Simon is an interesting case, I think, because his output is so even. You can point to any number of bad Bob Dylan songs, or albums, or even decades, but Simon rolls on. Elvis made more than his share of terrible records, but Simon hasn't ever, really. I think, sometimes, that the issue with Simon is that he is such a New Yorker-- and actually such a specific sort of New Yorker, that his sensibility may be a bit too oblique. If you've never had brunch at Barney Greengrass can you understand Paul Simon? And yet, isn't part of the point of Paul Simon his omnivorous multiculturalism?

I'm liking the new one, and I am not surprised.



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* Does anyone else think it is odd that Slate's pop culture writers have the same names as 60's rockers? Bill Wyman, Carl Wilson.....

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