Paul Simon, 69, has been part of the music landscape for more than 40 years, and his latest album So Beautiful or So What — his first in five years — is proof he will continue to be for as long as he'd like.
"My biggest question as an artist is whether the art form I'm working in is still a relevant art form," Simon says in a recent interview for his label, Hear Music. "I make an album like So Beautiful or So What, and it's an album that really comes out of a tradition that probably started with Revolver or Sgt. Pepper's, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Dark Side Of The Moon or those Stevie Wonder albums of the '70s where it saw the album as an art form."
But today, when it's possible to download single songs and create your own playlists, an artist's effort to record a cohesive collection may seem antiquated. Fortunately, that didn't stop Simon from doing it. On songs such as "Dazzling Blue" and "Questions for the Angels," he sings of timeless themes such as whether love is destiny or angels exist. At the same time, Simon seems to be searching for how the heart may help us survive and move forward. So Beautiful or So What shows Simon to be the ultimate craftsmen, a singer-songwriter who never loses sight of how his music moves us.
"There seems to be anthems in the album — not intentional, but I noticed after the first five or six songs that God seemed to be in four or five of them," he says. "It's funny, because for somebody who's not a religious person God comes up a lot in my songs. In fact, there was a show I did about a year and a half ago and Paul McCartney was there. He came back after and said, 'Are you Jewish?' I try to stay as much as I can in the realm of mystery."
There was no mystery in Simon's recent performance at the Music Box in L.A., one of many stops on a tour of U.S. and European cities. Simon walked onstage, picked up his guitar and said hello to a roaring crowd. He stepped to the microphone to sing and it seemed the music immediately transformed both the singer and his audience. The show was a march through time and memories and Simon looked as if he'd be making more of them with his fans for a long, long time.