Monday, December 6, 2010

Still Meshuguna After All These Years

by Ben Greenberg

Listening to Paul Simon’s music, it isn't immediately apparent that he's Jewish. He sings “Jesus Is The Answer," on an early live record. Then of course, there's the famous lyric, "And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson / Jesus loves you more than you will know." This year he even recorded a straight-faced Christmas song, and his gospel tinged hit "Loves Me like A Rock" features vocal group, The Dixie Hummingbirds. But upon closer inspection, the man is revealed to be a pure blooded Tribesman. Looking even more closely, perhaps it could have been inferred from songs with titles like “That Was Your Mother,” “The Boy In The Bubble,” “Allergies,” “Voices Of Old People,” and “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” According to Wikipedia (source: Citation Needed) Paul Simon’s parents were Hungarian Jews.

Paul Simon (real name, no gimmicks) was born in Newark, NJ and raised in Queens, and from what I can put together, he was more of a cultural Jew than a religious one. If you are reading the Boogie Woogie Flu and are Jewish, I’m willing to bet that you can identify with that. We are the heathen Jews. We know who we are. I’ll see you all in whatever the Jewish equivalent of Hell is.

From the Late 50s to the early 60s, Simon & Garfunkel, performed alternately as Tom & Jerry and Tico and The Triumphs. During this time, Paul also wrote and recorded solo material under the pseudonyms True Taylor and Jerry Landis—an even more Jewish-sounding name than his real one. He went to London in 1965 to establish himself on the folk scene, and while there, produced what is to my mind one of the greatest folk albums of the era, the eponymously titled debut by Jackson C. Frank. If you ever want to go on a real bummer, read any bio of Jackson Frank. His getting shot through the eye by a passing stranger while sitting on a park bench doesn’t even begin to plumb the depths of travesty that befell this man. In fact, the gunshot through the eye is only usually mentioned briefly, in passing.

Returning to the States, Simon and Garfunkel recorded a string of enormously successful LPs in the years that followed. But rather than open up a new Wikipedia page, let’s just move right along into his solo career, and to what is probably my personal favorite Paul Simon album, the self-titled debut from 1972—the one with Paul hiding under a yeti on the front. It’s got the hits “Me & Julio” and “Mother & Child Reunion”, but this album is packed with lesser-known gems, my favorites of which are the one-two punch of “Peace Like A River” and “Papa Hobo,” both, brilliant songs.

What else can I say about him? Other than that I think the music from The Capeman is vastly underrated, and for anyone who thinks that the interpolation of World Music into Simon’s pop songs began with or around Graceland—I offer up the track “Duncan” from Live Rhymin,’ performed with the South American group Urubamba, recorded in 1974, a full twelve years before Graceland. Pan flute chorus attack! What could be more World Music than that? Also, I offer an unfinished version of the same song with totally different lyrics and sections where he only has a line or two done. It's an interesting take, and a song with a fully different meaning (seemingly about someone named Benson McGuire and someone, possibly Benson, getting something buried deep in his shoulder). Below you can find a suite of songs from the early years, prior to Simon and Garfunkel, and a selection of choice nuggets.

Happy Hanukkah, and here's to you Mrs. Rubinstein...


"Dancin' Wild" mp3
by Tom & Jerry, 1957.
available on Two Can Dream Alone

"True or False" mp3
by True Taylor, 1958.
available on Two Can Dream Alone

"Motorcycle" mp3
by Tico and the Triumphs, 1961.
available on Two Can Dream Alone

"The Lone Teen Ranger" mp3
by Jerry Landis, 1962.
available on Recorded As Jerry Landis & Artie Garr

"Blues Run The Game" mp3
by Jackson C Frank, 1965.
produced by Paul Simon
available on Blues Run the Game

"Peace Like A River" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1972.
available on Paul Simon

"Papa Hobo" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1972.
available on Paul Simon

"Duncan (demo)" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1972.
available on Paul Simon

"Duncan" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1974.
available on Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin'

"Loves Me Like A Rock" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1973
available on There Goes Rhymin' Simon

"You're Kind" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1975.
available on Still Crazy After All These Years

"God Bless The Absentee" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1980.
available on One-Trick Pony

"Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1983.
available on Hearts and Bones

"Trailways Bus" mp3
by Paul Simon, 1997.
available on Songs from The Capeman

"Getting Ready For Christmas Day" mp3
by Paul Simon, 2010.
from the forthcoming album So Beautiful Or So What
available at

Ben Greenberg is a senior editor at Grand Central Publishing.


This is the sixth of eight posts at the Boogie Woogie Flu, in which eight Jewish writers will discuss the works of other Jewish artists for eight consecutive days in celebration of Hanukkah.


Anonymous said...

Good post.
One small correction:
Urubamba were mostly from
Argentina and played music of the Andean highlands.

Ted Barron said...

Correction noted, Thanks.

Steve Pick said...

Nice to find somebody, anybody besides me who will say in print that "The Capeman" was a good record.

Jim said...

You can go even earlier for a Simon world music example -- try "El Condor Pasa" from "Bridge Over Troubled Water".

I, too, love "The Capeman". I was fortunate enough to see the show in previews.

jwillaum said...

i too saw capeman and was pretty disappointed paul&company caved in to the political pressure and closed the show it was magical marc and reuben really delivered paul's versions to were to me pretty weak by comparsion...guess you had to be there.still the man delivers

Duncanmusic said...

Been a fan since I herd Sounds of Silence; took me years to find out I'd heard Tom & Jerry doing Hey Schoolgirl when I was 6 or 7 and Tico & Triumphs Motorcycle was THE song we waited for when it was out.BBBBBRRRRRRUP-up-up-up-up-up mMOoooTooor- Cyeyeyekul.
El Condor was Urubamba playing, also.

I tried really hard to enjoy Capeman, but after fifth listen just didn't get it. Probably deserves a re-listen after all these years.

Duncanmusic said...

Geez! Forgot my main reason to comment. Used to have 'Duncan' as a single. 'Run Your Body Down' on flipside. I hesitate to relate how much I lived up to both sides at times in my life. Nice hearing the demo.