Paul Simon has had an illustrious musical career spanning over six decades, cementing him as one of the most influential artists in the history of folk rock. As he’s aged, he has made some notable shifts in his lifestyle that have helped him to continue to create awe-inspiring music. Now, even though physical ailments are seemingly trying to slow him down, Simon is using his own mortality to produce even more meaningful music.
It all started with Simon & Garfunkel
Simon first rose to fame in the folk rock duo known as Simon & Garfunkel in the 1960s. Simon first met Art Garfunkel in primary school when they were both 11 years old. After pursuing a career in music, they gained popularity after releasing such hits like “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” and “The Sound of Silence.”
Simon recently sat down with The Times and said that when they were younger, Garfunkel would ask him, “‘What would have happened if ‘The Sound of Silence’ wasn’t a hit? What would have happened to us?’ My answer was always, ‘I never think about it because it was a hit and always will be a hit, and the other scenario? It didn’t happen. So how much time do you want to spend thinking about something that never happened?'”
All was not sunshine and roses between the two musicians, and Simon went on to establish a very successful solo career throughout the 1970s. They would occasionally reunite over the years, but could never truly reconcile their differences. In fact, in 2015, Garfunkel called his former band partner a “jerk,” to which Simon retorted later, “It’s done. It’s old music, it ends in 1970, and if it’s not fun, there’s no point. And it’s not fun. If you get close to him, you’ll be in the battle, and you’ll get hit.”
New York native Simon settled down in Texas
Born in New Jersey and raised in Queens, New York City, it might seem strange that Simon would end up settling down in a quiet ranch in Texas. After selling his publishing rights to Sony for a reported $250 million, Simon purchased a comfortable ranch in the Lone Star State. Why? Well, there were multiple reasons that contributed to this shift in his lifestyle. First, his wife – musician Edie Brickell – was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. It seems natural he’d follow her if that was where she decided to live.
Second, in his older age, he has lost any desire to return to his native NYC. “I’m not drawn back to New York at all,” Simon said. “I’m happy here or winter in Hawaii [where he has a house]. I don’t want to be in cold weather if I can help it.” He has found personal peace living in Texas.
His former partner, Garfunkel, adopted a much different, more nomadic life. For a long time, he would trek on foot across different countries, stopping off in various cities for about a week at a time to perform.
He doesn’t tour but still produces music
Another change that’s come with his older age is that Simon no longer spends time on things that don’t inspire him creatively. This includes some songs from his own discography that he now purposely avoids. “The songs of mine that I don’t want to sing live, I don’t sing them. Sometimes there are songs that I like and then at a certain point in a tour, I’ll say, ‘What the [expletive] are you doing, Paul?’ Quite often that would come during ‘You Can Call Me Al,'” he explained. “I’d think, ‘What are you doing? You’re like a Paul Simon cover band. You should get off the road, go home.'”
It seems his slower lifestyle and uncompromising attitude toward creativity have provided Simon with renewed inspiration, even as he enters his 80s. His newest album, Seven Psalms, came to him in a series of dreams, and though it sounds religious in tone, it is not. Instead, it discusses life and mortality, something that Simon finds himself facing as the clock continues to tick.
He experienced sudden hearing loss
Simon has been struggling with a string of physical health issues in recent years. “Boy, have I been beaten up in these last couple of years. But I look good, right?” he quipped, explaining how one of his latest illnesses was a serious bout of COVID-19. He was hit with another ailment while working on the Seven Psalms, as he experienced a drastic physical change that affected his ability to perform, putting future stage appearances on pause. Simon has had a sudden loss of hearing on one side.
“Quite suddenly I lost most of the hearing in my left ear, and nobody has an explanation for it. So everything became more difficult,” he explained. “My reaction to that was frustration and annoyance; not quite anger yet, because I thought it would pass, it would repair itself.” Unfortunately, his hearing has yet to return.
‘My generation’s time is up’
Simon recognizes that these types of things are happening, not just to him, but to other musicians of his generation. Discussing the deaths of Jeff Beck in January and Gordon Lightfoot in May of 2023, he said, “it’s just the age we’re at.” Death comes for everyone and as Simon bluntly summarized, “My generation’s time is up.”
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His thoughts of mortality have clearly influenced his newest work. In a duet performed with his wife from Seven Palms, Simon sings, “Heaven is beautiful/ It’s almost like home/ Children, get ready/ It’s time to come home.”
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