Simply Simon

Dateline: September 1, 2000

Profiles of other artists like Paul Simon who are known in the rock/pop/folk Worlds as well as World Beat can be found in Rockin' World.

Paul Simon Paul Simon is one of those artists who is known as being a part of a specific genre, in his case folk music, but who has contibuted significantly to World Beat.

Simon, whow as born in Newark, New Jersey in 1941, is best known as one half of the duo Simon and Garfunkel, an acoustic folk duo who rose to fame in the 1960's on the strength of the simple melodies and harmonies of songs like "Sounds of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

When Simon branched out for a solo career in the 1970's, he merged with the World of mainstream pop with "50 Way to Leave Your Lover" and other chart-topping hits. However, towards the end of the 1970's and beginning of the 80's both is personal life and musical career began to slump: in 1980 he starred in, produced and scored the movie One Trick Pony which was a flop, and in 1983 married Carrie Fisher (actress of Star Wars fame) but their union disintegrated that very same year.

To get his life and music back on track, he traveled to Sout Africa, where the rythmic sounds helped ease him out of a depression. In 1985 he collaborated with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, out of which the famous Graceland album was born. It won the Grammy for Best Album in 1987, re-establishing Simon's credibility as a viable artist. Simon's first foray into World Music came before even artists such as Peter Gabriel and Sting paved the way for World Music to be introduced to a wider audience.

But Simon did not stop there. 1990's Rhythm of the Saints combined a South African influence with a Brazilian beat, leading to a large tour with a multi-cultural band, culminating in a live album recorded at Central Park with an audience of 750, 000.

After six years of relative silence (between occasional concerts with Garfunkel and various charity work) Songs from the Capeman in 1997 demonstrated Simon's continued interest in the music of the World, with a strong Latin American influence, particularly salsa and Caribbean. The album was the soundtrack for a failed Broadway musical Simon wrote, dealing with the life of a Puerto Rican gang member who was sentenced to life in prison after killing two teenagers, but who was later paroled after 20 years as a reformed man. Victims' rights groups protested the play, critics slaughtered it in the press and it shut down after only 68 performances.

Paul Simon apparently took the play's failure very hard: he maintained a very low profile until announcing a joint tour with Bob Dylan in 1999, and a Greatest Hits collection which was released later that year.

With poetic, insightful lyrics and music that has crossed cultural boundaries for almost two decades (although his overall musical career spans more than 30 years), Paul Simon has helped bring World Music into the mainstream. Despite critics who have sent their barbs in his direction, saying that Simon has exploited musical cultures for his own gain, the gain has been on the part of the parts of the World who have been introduced to ethnic sounds and the artists who have followed Simon's lead.

Learn more about Paul Simon at the World Music Index.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Showbiz, which was also a source for this article.

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