This Sunday, Paul Simon spoke with New Yorker Poetry Editor Paul Muldoon as part of the 14th annual New Yorker Festival. The sold-out event was called “Verses” and it focused on the art of songwriting. Both Pauls were in fine form: the conversation was easy, engaging and abounding with insight, the audience was totally rapt (one girl adorably burst into tears after asking Simon a question) and although billed as a conversation, there was plenty of music – we got to hear a new track called “The Riverbank,” as well as a live performance of “Sounds of Silence.”
Here are ten surprising things that we learned from the conversation:
- When writing “Graceland,” Simon had no idea the song was actually going to be about Graceland. Having written the melody, he simply found himself singing the words “I’m going to Graceland” over and over again, although he had no idea why. So he figured he had better follow his instincts and take a trip to Graceland to see what all the fuss was about. What he saw and felt on this trip would ultimately become the lyrics to one of the most beloved songs in his oeuvre.
- Looking back on his older work, the song he is most embarrassed about is the “Dangling Conversation,” although it used to be “Kathy’s song” because of the intensity of the emotions he associated with it.
- Speaking of which, Kathy is a grandmother now. Mazel Tov Kathy!
- One of Simon’s favorite authors is Alice Munro and her stories have inspired some of his songwriting.
- Simon lives in Connecticut, quite near Newtown. His new song “The Riverbank” is inspired by the solidarity that the town displayed after the Sandy Hook shooting.
- When he began writing “Darling Lorraine,” he had no idea how the song was going to end. It wasn’t until he came up with the line “I’m sick to death of you, Lorraine” that he knew that Lorraine was going to die. In that moment, he began to cry. One of the most lovely moments of the evening was hearing Simon narrate the story of this song, line by line.
- “Mother and Child Reunion” got its name from a chicken and egg dish at a Chinese restaurant.
- Simon has had four heroes in his life: Mickey Mantle, Elvis Presley, JFK and Lenny Bruce.
- Simon doesn’t know exactly what happened with Julio down by the schoolyard, but it wasn’t, as Truman Capote suggested, gay sex. (I guess we’ll never know what got Mama Pajama so riled up).
- In fact, that whole song came about simply as an excuse to use the name Julio in a song. #TheMoreYouKnow