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Is Paul Simon Jewish? Or “Jew-ish?”

The 12 months was 1966, and I used to be twelve years previous.

“Your cousin bought two of those albums for her birthday. Would you like one?”

With these phrases, my late aunt handed me the Simon & Garfunkel album, Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme. That album modified my life. Simon & Garfunkel turned my favourite standard music artists — sure, surpassing the Beatles, who as much as that second, had been my Quantity One.

I wore out the grooves of Parsley, Sage. Two years later, when their album Bookends got here out, I wore out the grooves on that album as properly. Simon & Garfunkel’s hymn to our nationwide craving, “America,” turned my favourite pop track.

A number of years in the past, Time journal named Paul Simon one of many hundred individuals who have formed the world. He definitely formed my world. Furthermore, he epitomizes the plea of the Psalmist: “Don’t solid us off after we are previous.” At an age when many friends in his age cohort would have settled again into retirement, he was nonetheless rising creatively, producing new work. and recording new albums.

For that purpose, I rejoiced when a colleague despatched me a present of the brand new audio guide: Miracle and Wonder: Conversations With Paul Simon, with Malcolm Gladwell and Bruce Headlam. In that audio guide, the authors interact the retired rock star, now greater than eighty years previous, in a sequence of conversations about his music.

Given my prime three musical crushes — the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon — there was no query that my private connection to Simon was the deepest.

A reminiscence: My late father fulminating concerning the track from The Graduate, “Mrs. Robinson.”

“That line about ‘Jesus loves you greater than you’ll know’ — what are two Jewish boys from Queens doing singing one thing like that?”

My father was on to one thing, and it was paradoxically what drew me to Paul Simon. We had the identical roots — Queens. I spent my toddler years in Jamaica; Simon had grown up, a couple of miles away, in Kew Gardens Hills.

The musician Donald Fagen of Steely Dan has described Simon’s childhood as that of

a sure sort of New York Jew, virtually a stereotype, actually, to whom music and baseball are essential. I feel it has to do with the dad and mom. The dad and mom are both immigrants or first-generation People who felt like outsiders, and assimilation was the important thing thought—they gravitated to black music and baseball in search of another tradition.

The Simons belonged to a synagogue, however weren’t particularly non secular. Paul’s mom, Belle, had come from a spiritual background and she or he would go to the synagogue herself on the Excessive Holy Days. Simon as soon as advised an NPR reporter, “I used to be raised to a level, sufficient to be, , bar mitzvahed and have that a lot Jewish training, though I had no curiosity. None.”

In different phrases, Paul Simon is like many different Jews who grew up within the Nineteen Fifties.

Gladwell (who’s by no means Jewish) asks Paul Simon, level clean: “The place do you find your Jewish heritage in your songwriting?”

It’s arduous to say, as a result of it’s a cultural sensibility that you just develop up with. How, precisely, you outline that — I don’t know.  It’s there, but it surely’s solely there as a result of that’s the world I grew up in. It’s not a world that I needed to develop up in. It’s not a faith that I selected to observe. However, it was a tradition that I used to be snug in and elements of it was one thing that I admired.

(Against this, Artwork Garfunkel’s Jewish roots run deeper. He sang in his synagogue choir, and adeptly sang the liturgy at his bar mitzvah service.)

Paul Simon had no friends, amongst standard artists, in his adeptness in importing musical kinds from all around the world. Gospel, reggae, zydeco, jazz, African music – all discovered a house in Paul Simon’s music. He was undeterred in his musical eclecticism, and in his fixed experimentation and searching for of perfection in his craft, whilst his compositions turned richer and extra complicated.

However, of all of the world music that Paul Simon brings into the studio, there are a number of musical themes that you’ll not hear: klezmer, or Center Japanese Jewish music.

Is it actually attainable that there aren’t any Jewish musical influences in Paul Simon’s work?

Malcolm Gladwell discover that arduous to consider. He retains pushing. He mentions the track “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” from Simon’s second solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.

He asks Paul: “What about that line within the track — ‘Tumba tumba tumba Mardi Gras’?” Gladwell recollects the Yiddish people track “Tumbalalaika.” He asks Paul if that was the origin, even unconsciously, of that seemingly disposable nonsense phrase in “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” which is already mixed quite a few musical kinds.

Paul Simon rejects that piece of musical archeology. He says that the phrase “tumba” truly comes from an previous New Orleans track.

Gladwell thinks that Simon “doth protest an excessive amount of,” that he was maybe borrowing “tumba,” even unconsciously, from the Yiddish track.

In different phrases, a Judaism — a Jewish tradition — so deep as to be subterranean.

Right here is the factor, although. Whereas Simon lacks Jewish ethnic influences in his music, lots of his lyrics have Jewish shadows — even perhaps ghosts.

Right here is the Paul Simon siddur, if you’ll.

Begin with the album Bookends.

There’s that piece,  “Voices of Old People.” It was a recording that Artwork Garfunkel made, in Jewish nursing houses, of previous individuals reminiscing about their lives.

Then, on toFakin’ It, which incorporates inside its lyrics a parable concerning the American Jewish immigrant previous, and the lack to flee it.

Previous to this lifetime

I certainly was a tailor

(Good morning, Mr. Leitch.

Have you ever had a busy day?)

I personal the tailor’s face and fingers

I’m the tailor’s face and fingers and

I do know I’m fakin’ it

It seems that Paul Simon’s grandfather, additionally named Paul Simon, had immigrated to the USA from Galicia.

He was a tailor.

Paul Simon, the songwriter, was telling the reality: We’re at all times our grandparents’ face and fingers.

Go to his 1975 album, Suntil Loopy After All These Years.

Silent Eyes” might properly be Simon’s most Jewish track. He longs and weeps for Jerusalem, in prayer-like phrases — “She is sorrow, sorrow / She burns like a flame / And he or she calls my title.” It envisions a time when all shall be referred to as to account — “We will all be referred to as as witnesses / Every one / To face earlier than the eyes of God / And converse what was performed.”

Go to his 1983 album Hearts and Bones — to the title observe — “Hearts and Bones.”“One and one-half wandering Jews, free to wander wherever they select.” Paul is, himself, the “one” Jew, together with his ex-wife, the late Carrie Fisher, being the “one half wandering Jew” — and of their lives and careers, in actual fact, they did wander wherever they selected.

Go to his 2011 album, So Lovely or So What to the trackRewrite. It’s a track a couple of man’s regrets, and the way he desires to rewrite his biography — to make it extra heroic, and extra significant. The person within the track desires to re-write his guide of life, his sefer chayim. Within the track’s refrain, he turns to God and virtually within the voice of the traditional Psalmist, the person says: I had no concept that You have been there.

Does Paul Simon know that God is, in actual fact, there?

Gladwell’s guide is a masterpiece. In case you are a Paul Simon fan, or a fan of standard music typically, it should give you an unparalleled perception into the thoughts of one of many nice artistic geniuses of our time.

Who, like many people, is much extra Jewish than he had ever thought.


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