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'I haven't written for a couple of years... I don't know if I'll do it again or not'

 

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Looking back: Paul Simon has reworked 10 of his songs for new album In The Blue Light

As one of the most revered musicians of his generation, Paul Simon has won generations of fans through his collaboration with Art Garfunkel and seminal album Graceland. As he prepares to release a new record, he speaks to Andrew Arthur about why he is calling time on touring and his thoughts on Trump's America.

It's hard to imagine one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters in the history of pop music being starstruck. As a flattered Paul Simon thanks me after I explain how surreal it feels to speak to him, he quickly blows that perception out of the water.

"Yeah, that is kind of a mind-blowing thing," the 76-year-old acknowledges down the phone from his home in New York, where he is looking out across the Atlantic from the tip of Long Island.

"I had the same feeling when Artie (Art Garfunkel) and I performed with The Everly Brothers. We kept saying, 'Can you believe it? The Everly Brothers are in our show!' They were our childhood idols. It's a funny feeling."

He adds: "I just saw Don Everly when I played in Nashville. He came up and we sang Bye Bye Love together, which was kind of touching for me, you know?"

That song seems poignant as Simon prepares to close his farewell tour with a run of US shows in September. In February, he announced he would stop touring following his latest global jaunt, which took in London's Hyde Park in July.

There's a sense of relief in Simon's voice as he explains his reasoning for hanging up his gigging hat. "I keep trying to introduce a couple of new songs every time I play. I feel like I have to play the well-known songs because people come out and they want to hear them," he says.

"The show I do is kind of locked into a certain repertoire. And it's a good one too. It's just... I've done it now. It's a good time to stop because nothing is broken.

"My voice is still good, my energy is good, the band is great. I don't want to be the last one at the party. I'd like to perform again in a while. I want to really stop and clear my mind of 60 years of performing, so that will take a while.

"Then when I perform again, if I do, I'd like to do it in smaller places that are acoustically right and give the money to causes I support.

"I don't feel I need to work for money anymore, I'd rather be giving it. I could see myself coming back to the UK and playing for something that's of value. But I'm not going to go on a long trek and be away from my family on the road anymore."

Drawing up a set list that accommodates You Can Call Me Al and lesser known gems from Simon's solo career must be difficult.

It's the latter that Simon has turned his attention to for his latest studio album. He has re-recorded 10 of his personal favourites that he feels didn't have an impact when they were first released.

"I really approached it like a new album," he says. "I was using new musicians and totally different arrangements. It was the first time for me playing with all jazz players.

"These songs are actually as good as anything that I am writing now. I haven't written for a couple of years now. I don't know if I'll do it again or not.

"I have to stop in order to make something that's really interesting. It's not like I'm writing hits anymore, nor is it important.

"Really, what's important for me as an artist is to revitalise my thinking. What's important for me as a person is to just stop.

"Maybe look a the planet for a while and just get the picture of who I am and what we are as a planet. I'd like to travel to places that I haven't been to.

"I'm curious to stop for the pleasure of it and what, if anything, comes from breaking the mode of how I create."

Simon reveals the lyrics he has revisited still speak to the divisive atmosphere in Donald Trump's America.

A vocal environmentalist, the decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change clearly troubles him.

A vocal environmentalist, the decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change clearly troubles him.

"It's absolutely criminal what they're doing here, rolling back on clean air acts. It makes absolutely no sense in the world today to allow more pollution so that somebody can profit from it. It makes you just wonder, 'What's wrong with these people?'

"It's very tense here and people are very angry. They seem to be that way all around the globe. The anger is exacting a toll on people's health, I'm sure.

"It certainly doesn't help in solving people's problems. From a position of anger, you're much better off trying to solve problems if you have a cool head about you. The environment of this antagonism is really detrimental to the fabric of society.

"Racism, sexism, the LGBTQ community, these are all human issues. But if there is no planet here to sustain the species, all these issues become moot. I turn my attention and I say, 'Let's try and fix this planet'.

"I don't agree with the idea that we're going to find some other planet when we have a potential paradise here. I think we have to save this place - it's incredible. I feel really bad about leaving this to my kids."

As our conversations draws to a close, I ask Simon - given he has reworked some of his old material - which artist has done the best cover of one of his songs.

"I would say Aretha Franklin's version of Bridge Over Troubled Water was extraordinary. So was Artie's version. They were both very different.

"Of course it's sad that Aretha passed away, but this is my generation. We're all gradually leaving. Fortunately, her recordings remain.

"She was going to do a final tour, but I don't think she ever got there. It makes me feel that I did my final tour at the right time.

"I don't feel diminished by time at this point, but eventually I would be. It's a good time to stop while I'm still going strong."

Paul Simon's new album In The Blue Light is out now

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Looking back: Paul Simon has reworked 10 of his songs for new album In The Blue Light
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Dream team: Paul performed many hits with Art Garfunkel