When I was living in Boston MA, braving the frigid burn of the winter city wind gusts and studying music with people all over the world in my second year at Berklee College of Music I got an email from the head of the songwriting department.
“Good afternoon, Dylan, currently you are one of 50 students in the college being looked at to get to work with Paul Simon. Congratulations on being selected”.
Then a couple weeks later another email saying there were 25 students left and I was still in the running. Then 12……then I got the last email:
“Paul himself has picked you and 5 others out of everyone in the college to meet with personally and work with you, congratulations”. “ER….MAH….GERD!!. (phrases in all caps added for dramatic effect)
This is a huge deal, I’m gonna meet Paul Simon…..
who the hell is Paul Simon?”
Was this the dude from that music video with Chevy Chase where they are playing saxaphone together? Something about a bodyguard and calling someone “Al”? So I immediately went and bought “Graceland”, “Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits” and a few of his most well known albums and listened to them on repeat so I wouldn’t look like such a twat when I finally met him. I loved what I heard. He had a way of blending complex musical ideas, chords and a really unique storyline that I wasn’t really hearing much on mainstream radio. He channeled African music so well into pop and the singer-songwriter genre, I had one of those moments where you realize there is so much more good music out there than you thought. The guy could sing, write and play….damn how did I not listen to him more before this!?
So fast forward a few weeks. Here I am in a small, sterile room in a building with five songwriters and Paul Simon. He’s short. He speaks gently and profoundly. Everything he does is done with intention, like a old master of an obscure martial art. It was my turn to play. I was applying my best Henry Winkler “The Fonz” technique from happy days to try play it cool. I started playing “History”. My voice trembled a bit. I knew that this legend of a man was fully focused on a song I wrote. He was dissecting my melody, my playing, my lyrics. Every judgement in my life I’ve ever made about someone else, I now feel the weight of….UGH. It was like trying to operate on your spouses brain. My brain started racing….”I hope I don’t sound nervous”, “shit, why did I learn who Paul Simon was, I should have never listened to Graceland”, “He knows this lyric isn’t that great”, “why did I pick this song”, “why did I choose music”…..”why”….and then I finished the song.
“Great song, Dylan. I really like that melody.”
He gave me a piece my piece analysis of what he liked and what he thought I might consider adding to “spice it up”. By this time I had already recorded the song, but I couldn’t tell Paul Simon no way so I wrote down everything he said and lived by those words for all my future songs. He then played a song for us, one he hadn’t released. It was so indescribably beautiful. Like an alien love poem…one line to this day I still remember hearing it only that one time.
“Orange blossoms open their fragrant lips”….beautiful.
Before he left we were all sitting at a big table, starting to get casual with each other. He said he had to catch a flight soon for a big meeting but didn’t really want to go because he never knows what the hell all those business-suit-wearing men are talking about. We all laughed and then I jumped out on a limb and said “hey man, me and some friends are going to play Frisbee down on Mass Ave after this if you want to come”….he sat for a moment, thinking. We all looked at each other wondering if we were really about to play a game of frisbee with the legend himself. But he politely declined, leaving me with a tale of the time I almost played Frisbee with Paul Simon. Maybe I’ll get him next time.
I did however, later record one of my favorite songs of his, I actually sent this to him and am anxiously awaiting his feedback on it. At my shows I preface this song by saying this: “anyone here in an awful relationship please raise your hand” sometimes a foolish man will do so and be slapped by his significant other. I then say “This song is a series of implicit instructions on how to get rid of them, so listen closely!” (joking , of course) and then I go into “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.
On mobile? Hit the play button below to listen and when you get to your computer click the link above to download it.
If you like it, give my album “Second Stories” a listen, it’s been Paul Simon approved.