Paul Simon and religion

Paul Simon will be releasing a new album in the spring of 2016.

paul simonTerrestrial friend Dan, the proprietor of the Albany Weblog, scratched his chin:

Roger, it recently occurred to me that many of Paul Simon’s songs from the Simon and Garfunkel era were very religious and strongly flavored with his Catholicism, but after he went solo that overt religious bent seems to have mostly disappeared. Usually we see religion creep in to his or her work as an artist grows older, not the other way around. What do you think?

Well, everything I know about Paul Simon suggests that he was not Catholic, but rather, a secular Jew. Indeed, in Hollowverse: “Simon was raised Jewish and his mother was devout, celebrating all of the Jewish holidays and regularly going to Synagogue. However, his father wasn’t nearly as devout as his mother.” He followed his father’s example. Still, he refers to himself as a Jew in the title song of the album Hearts and Bones.

In How Can You Live In The Northeast, he seems cynical about ALL religion.

How can you be a Christian?
How can you be a Jew?
How can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?
How can you?

Weak as the winter sun, we enter life on earth.
Names and religion comes just after date of birth.

I suspect you haven’t heard his 2011 album So Beautiful or So What, which is filled with religious, and even specifically Christian references. Christianity Today put it on its Best Album list. In this PBS interview from early 2012, Simon said, “For somebody who’s not a religious person, God comes up a lot in my songs.”

The question got me to thinking about Paul Simon and religion more generally. One’s music/art can surely be shaped by the majority culture. Here’s a list, obviously incomplete; links to the titles go to the lyrics.

Simon & Garfunkel

Go Tell It On The Mountain from Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964) – cover of a traditional song
LISTEN here or here

Blessed from Sounds of Silence (1966) – a variation on the Beatitudes
LISTEN here or here

Bridge Over Troubled Water, the title track (1970) – “When you’re weary, feeling small…”
LISTEN here or here

Solo Paul Simon

Have A Good Time from Still Crazy After All These Years (1975) – more cheeky with the intentional poor English: “God bless the goods we was given…”
LISTEN here or here

Slip Slidin’ Away (1977) – “God only knows, God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable To the mortal man.”
LISTEN here or here

Spirit Voices from The Rhythm of the Saints (1990) -“And all of these spirit voices Sing rainwater, sea water. River water, holy water. Wrap this child in mercy – heal her. Heaven’s only daughter. All of these spirit voices rule the night.”
LISTEN here or here

Wartime Prayers from Surprise, 2006- “But when the wounds are deep enough And it’s all that we can bear We wrap ourselves in prayer.”
LISTEN here or here

How Can You Live In The Northeast from Surprise, 2006
LISTEN here or here

These all from So Beautiful, or So What (2011)

Getting Ready For Christmas Day – “Ready, getting ready, For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas Day.”
LISTEN here or here

The Afterlife – “After you climb up the ladder of time The Lord God is near Face-to-face in the vastness of space”
LISTEN here or here

Love Is Eternal Sacred Light – “Evil is darkness, sight without sight A demon that feeds on the mind.”
LISTEN here or here

Paul Simon will be releasing a new album in the spring of 2016.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “Paul Simon and religion”

  1. Exactly so; our lives are never sealed off completely from the culture as a whole, and we’re not the same in our 60s than we were in our 20s. (By Shot of Love, Dylan’s third so-called Christian album, Bob had started easing back into the secular.) And Simon never wrote a lyric that didn’t have at least some thought to it, with the possible exception of “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’.”

  2. We are all products of our upbringings… remember when Bob Dylan (nee Zimmerman) had his Jew for Jesus period? And Barbra Streisand as well. I think artists tend to transcend the limits of religious upbringing; I know I did. While it’s true I am back to Christianity, I spent years secular, then married a secular Jew, and finally joined a church that was SO unlike my childhood faith. The UCC is all about my politics. So, too, Simon has latched onto, or perhaps adopted, other moments from other faiths. He also has a tendency to use other world music traditions – but for my money, that’s more a convenience, a “borrowing,” and not so much a part of his soul as a part of his need for commercial success. Thanks, Roger. Amy

  3. Paul Simon was raised Jewish?? In my extreme youth I listened to those early albums of Simon and Garfunkel and it seemed like many of the songs had a heavy Catholic bent. …So then the lyrics to Mrs. Robinson are ironic? “Jesus loves you more than you will know…”

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