Paul Simon v Al Stewart on Dylan’s latest song “Desolation Row,”

The release of Dylan’s masterpiece “Desolation Row” spurred a seething debate between Paul Simon and London’s up-and-coming folk singer/songwriter Al Stewart. When it was over Paul didn’t speak to Al for a month. Here’s how Stewart remembers it:

“I had become obsessed by Highway 61 Revisited, and I played “Desolation Row” over and over again.  In fact, the record came out in the West End of London two days early, on a Wednesday evening, and it came out everywhere else on a Friday.  I spent the entire day of Thursday learning the lyrics (to “Desolation Row”).  On Friday, the day of its release, I went to two different clubs in the West End of London and performed it.  I’m sure I was the first person in the U.K. to sing “Desolation Row.”  Paul came in and listened to it, and all he said was ‘Rehashed Ferlinghetti.’ That was his sole comment.

“I had no idea what he meant, it sounded like cold Italian food. So Paul set me right, that all Dylan was doing was copying Ferlinghetti, and therein ensued a three-hour argument.  He said No, it’s rubbish, it’s stream of consciousness it doesn’t mean anything, and it’s old hat.  I think at some point in my 19-year-old mania I said ‘You’re going to be damned lucky if you ever write a song as good as this!’  And that did it, Paul just kind of clammed up and walked out, and didn’t talk to me for a long time.  It passed, but I do remember that because I probably shouldn’t have made that remark.  I do apologize for it all these years later, but you get annoyed and I thought “Desolation Row” was the second coming of God and “Homeward Bound” wasn’t.”

HOMEWARD BOUND Glimpse: Have You Met Tom & Jerry?


Snippets taken from one of the first articles ever written about Paul Simon and Artie Garfunkel, a/k/a Tom & Jerry, a feature in the Forest Hills High School Beacon in the ‘Have You Met?’ series of columns in either January or February of 1958. Written by Phil Gossett, the Tom & Jerry piece appeared on the issue’s front page next to a companion feature on Mrs. Grossman, “…one of Forest Hills’s most energetic English teachers.”

The story also includes the answer to the question: When did Paul Simon first say he would soon retire from the music business? He’d say it again. And again. And again. And…

Forest Hills was first introduced to Tom and Jerry when they sang for the sophomore assemblies two years ago. “We have yet to get as good a hand,” remarked Tom graciously.

Whether they’ve gotten as good a hand or not, we can’t say, but they certainly have gained popularity. In the past month they’ve played in Cincinnati, in Philadelphia on the American Bandstand, in Washington, and in Baltimore. Before the first of January they are to appear on the Big Record.

In Cincinnati, they probably had their most enthusiastic crowd. Jerry laughed out, “I got some letters which say that the girls who wrote them are running away to New York to be with us. They requested directions as to which trains to take. We’re not sure whether we won’t give them to them,” he grinned mischievously.

“Of course, most aren’t as fanatical as this,” added Tom. “Some just ask for incidental things like the color of our shoelaces, or for pictures.”

“Really, the whole craze isn’t too hard to explain,” remarked Jerry. “You know, kids would rather look up to people their own ages than to adults. That’s why we find the audience packed with fourteen or fifteen year olds. As long as they’re not too fanatical, the enthusiasm is healthy. As far as we’re concerned, in all our appearances we have seen nothing done by audiences which has been destructive.”

As for their futures, Tom (Artie Garfunkel) will probably go into architecture as a career. He’s done a good deal of work in mechanical drawing in high school. Jerry (Paul Simon) is interested in law. He’d like to study in the city for two years and then go out of town.

But, rock ‘n’ roll, while giving them both terrific experiences and enjoyment, will play a small part in their future plans.



To preview the release of my biography of Paul Simon I’m going to post daily previews of the book, taken mostly from original reporting and writing that fueled and/or didn’t quite make it onto the pages. This is a segment of the proposal I wrote for the book in 2012.

My earliest pop radio memories take me to Seattle in the summer of 1968 when my five-year-old self passed the summer pushing trucks across the yard to the tune of “Mrs. Robinson” playing from every transistor radio on the block every 20 minutes. An entire season defined by that off-kilter rhythm, the twittery harmonies and abstruse verses about…well, I had no idea. And yet the images were indelible. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you… Such are the roots of my cultural consciousness.

Born in the early ‘60s, baptized into the culture in the hippie era, old enough to carry a sign (as placed by my mom) through protests against new highways and for the Equal Rights Amendment and into the post-idealistic early ‘70s, through the urban anomie of the next decade and on and on I went, and never without Paul Simon’s voice high in the cacophony. He always had my ear. Made me turn up KJR-AM to consider the unexplained scandals in Julio’s schoolyard, to ride the chorus of “Kodachrome” into the southern gospel of “Loves Me Like a Rock” into the Caribbean rattle of “Mother and Child Reunion.”

And all of this on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 every Sunday night, both alongside and somehow above the love ballads and gloss-rockers that made up the rest of the hit parade. I’m in elementary school, I’m not thinking about this as much as letting it wash over me as I navigated inner city schools whose concrete walls wore fresh memorials to Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers. The black kids were angry, the Catholic kids were always hot for a fight. And at least one longhaired son of Jewish intellectuals stuck to the edges summoning the radio voice that laid it all out in witty, but unsparing terms. “When I think back at all the crap I learned in high school…”

I didn’t seek him out back then, but Paul Simon’s voice was always in the breeze and became, as if by cultural fiat, a pillar in my comprehension of the world. In late 1975 or early 1976 I read a magazine article about the new sophistication of the top 40, registering the author’s awe for the Ted Hughes-inspired lyric of “My Little Town” and the sui generis drum pattern in “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” When I absorbed the articles about the launch of NBC’s new Saturday Night enough to give it a look it made sense that Paul Simon was on the leading edge of that curve, too. He hosted the second episode (with Simon & Garfunkel as his musical guest), performing both of the aforementioned songs, shooting hoops with Connie Hawkins and clearly enthralling the shaggy urbanites in the live audience. I’m thirteen, the larger connections start to register. I’m fourteen, fifteen, and the internal networks spark and go immediately haywire. I need new clothes, new friends, a new identity. Nothing comes easily except self-consciousness and the romanticism of adolescent melancholy. With a retrofitting purchase of Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, I have the soundtrack.

You’ve seen this. Maybe you lived some version of it yourself. Goodbye, Columbus read with “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” “America” and “The Boxer” as the backdrop. The sound of innocence colliding with experience in post-war America. As I continued digging through Simon’s catalogue I recognized a sensibility that bridged my emotional and intellectual impulses. As a freshman in college I’d find a rehearsal room and spend hours at the piano hoping to untangle the complexities of “American Tune,” “My Little Town” or “Something so Right.” I analyzed the visual imagery in “Old Friends” in a key first term English paper, and dragged my un-eager and eventually unimpressed roommate to see “One-Trick Pony” at the college’s repertory movie theater.

I had my limits (“The Dangling Conversation” and its sad literary couple who mark their progress through the works of Dickinson and Frost with bookmarks “that measure what we’ve lost,” gives me the vapors) and connections to other artists that at times eclipsed all previous fixations. But just as those earlier records described my youth, Simon’s later work traces my adulthood from post-collegiate (Graceland) to early marriage and career (Rhythm of the Saints) my era in New York media (“The Capeman,” some of which I heard first in a press-only studio preview with Simon and his stars) to my return to Portland (“You’re the One”) to the sweet years of parenthood (Surprise, and particularly the tune ‘Father and Daughter,’ which I’ll never hear without recalling my then-10-year-old daughter’s proclamation that it was her favorite song.)

So it’s no exaggeration to say that Simon is as present in life as the air and waters: That’s exactly how I experienced him over the last 45 years. Song by song, year by year, album by album. Not quite a soundtrack to my entire life, but certainly a musical companion.

And if I’m still finding new meanings in those abstruse lyrics, I have long since grasped the depth of influence Simon’s genre-and-culture-bending music has had on world culture. Just think of those transistor radios playing on my block in 1968 and imagine them stretching around the planet, from Queens to Hollywood to New Orleans to Kingston to South Africa to Brazil and off into space. These are the days of miracle and wonder/This is a long distance call…and it resonates, and keeps on resonating.

Bruce Springsteen Bday Edition: Steel Mill Live, 1970


We love Bruce Springsteen here, with nary a condition or a reservation. He’s that kind of an artist and that kind of guy. See also his thoughts on Donald Motherfucking Trump (his birth name) as previewed by Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt in what is sure to be a revelatory interview soon to be published.

He is also nice. Bruce. And Brian, but today is Bruce’s 67th birthday and so take an hour and nineteen minutes to check this out: A nice recording of Bruce and his pre-E Street Band band Steel Mill, back when he was still in guitar hero mode, playing live for a whole lot of happy Monmouth College students. He was 20 years old at the time. ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ’ was two years away. ‘Born to Run’ was three years from there.

HOMEWARD BOUND one of Harper’s Bazaar’s Top Books To Read in October

4paul simon-201 copy

Harper’s Bazaar has included HOMEWARD BOUND in its list of the Top 13 books to read in October. I’m going to start posting takes and outtakes — along with chapter-by-chapter playlists, videos and more shiny playthings — from the book in the next few days. But first, HB: “You can almost hear the melodic anthems Simon created through Carlin’s exhaustively researched, deeply-felt prose.”