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Nine Questions for Paul Simon

1.Did Mrs. Garfunkel ever think of you as a bad influence on her son?

SIMON: Oh, no. I didn’t lead him into the wild life; he got into it on his own, later on, when he grew up. We both got hooked on rock ‘n’ roll at the same time, listening to Alan Freed’s Moon Dog Show and the Everly Brothers. Artie was always a singer at school. He sang ‘(They Tried to Tell Us We’re) Too Young’ in the fourth grade and knocked everybody out. By the seventh grade, we were singing together in groups. The friendship was based on much more than music – we were very similar kids, we had the same sense of humor – but without the music, I doubt if we’d have remained close friends.

2.You started in rock ‘n’ roll in 1955, at the age of 13 – a mild-mannered middle-class Jewish boy from Forest Hills – when macho Southern punks and lower-class greasy hitters were the musical rage. Was there anyone in rock ‘n’ roll you could have beaten up?

SIMON: Do you count Artie as being in rock ‘n’ roll? Then I think I probably could have beaten him up. I could have easily taken care of Michelle Phillips. Neil Sedaka, too. Actually, I tried to emulate those hoody guys; we used to call them rocks.

3.Did you and Garfunkel attract distinctly different groupies on the road?

SIMON: We attracted about the same, because people saw Simon and Garfunkel as one person. We did get separate letters, but I never paid much attention to the letters. I just remember that most of them were very, very long. The groupies we used to get were usually heavy readers – people who had read a lot of poetry. But I didn’t really participate to a great deal in the groupie scene. I was always attached, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t go out of my way to pick someone up. And then the ones I did pick up, I thought were nice. I liked them. Maybe I didn’t want to spend any more time with them than a day or two, but I liked them. It wasn’t like a straight rock-‘n’-roll fuck-them-and-leave-them style. It was a crooked rock-‘n’-roll leave-them style.

4.Did you feel rejected by the counterculture of the Sixties?

SIMON: Simon and Garfunkel became so enormously popular that we were eventually disdained by the hip critics. In the beginning, they lavished praise on us. Maybe at the height of the hippie days, we weren’t really in fashion – we were too New York; we weren’t particularly associated with the drug scene, though we were in it as much as anybody could be in it. But it wasn’t part of our image. I never wanted to be busted in Des Moines, you know. I didn’t believe the hippie thing, anyway, that California, laid-back, minimal-vocabulary existence. I didn’t believe all the smiles. I thought there was a lot of vindictiveness in it; there was something very cruel underlying a lot of it. I didn’t buy it nor was I particularly intimidated by it.

5.As the generation that came of age in the Sixties now reach mid-30s, do you think it has made an impact – or has everyone of consequence sold out?

SIMON: Selling out is a tradition in this country. It’s like Mom and apple pie. I mean, Abbie Hoffman turns himself in to promote his book. Hitler’s the one who said every man has his price, the only thing that’s surprising is how low it is. But, sure, the generation changed things. That war-baby blip in the population is always going to be the thing responsible for change, until they don’t have any money to buy things anymore. In this generation, there’s a great emphasis on form and not content, which I find distasteful. Yet these are the people I feel most comfortable with. I’d be shocked to find out they were as conformist as other generations, but I think they’re just as materialistic. I think that temptation is too hard to withstand.

6.What is your most blatant example of conspicuous consumption?

SIMON: I try not to be conspicuously consumptive – because I just don’t want to antagonize anybody. But I’m not afraid to spend money on where I live or on how I travel. I don’t think twice about buying anything, but, on the other hand, I don’t buy that much. I’ve been wearing jeans since I was 14 years old, and that’s what I like to wear. I don’t have expensive hobbies. I don’t own boats or sports cars. Feeling that you can do whatever you want is great, and I can do whatever I want.

7.It has been said that perhaps the chief benefit of huge success is the ability to afford a higher-priced shrink.

SIMON: Success doesn’t necessarily make you go into analysis. Besides, a higher-priced shrink isn’t necessarily a better one. I was in analysis for a long time – it was really good for me. I’ve been through a marriage and divorce and fatherhood, successes and failures, and I think I’m now a very competent cripple. I can absolutely navigate my way across the street. Not in the most graceful manner, perhaps, but I can definitely get from one curb to the other.

8.Are there any musicians in rock today who awe you with their talent?

SIMON: Stevie Wonder has a really great gift, though I wasn’t crazy about the last bit of work he did. I don’t know if I’m awe-struck, but as close to that as my nature allows. But there are a lot of extraordinary musicians around.

9.Are you a legend on your old block?

SIMON: Sure, I guess so. I took my son there recently to show him my old house. I drove him around, took him to Artie’s house. We went down to my public school. I took him to the candy store where I used to hang out and place bets on the trotters. I bought him an egg cream – which now costs 45 cents. The guy in the candy store recognized me. He knew what had become of me – but he related to me the way he’d always related to me. He called me Paulie.

 

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