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It's all water under the bridge to Simon

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 22, 2013

The last time that Paul Simon played in Singapore was in 1993, when he appeared with Art Garfunkel.

The Straits Times reviewer blasted the show, staged at a time when cordiality between the legendary duo was at a low ebb.

"The two childhood friends... were more like two strangers thrown together on stage," said reviewer Phan Ming Yen.

Reports leading up to the show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium spoke of the outrage at the ticket prices, which topped off at $300, which at the time set a record for a pop concert. To top it off, the pair was on stage for just over an hour.

The Simon of today remembers that night. There is a tinge of regret in the 71-year-old's voice when he talks about it and while he stops short of offering an apology, he acknowledges that it could have gone better. Simon is one of four acts playing tonight at the Timbre: Rock & Roots show at Fort Canning Green.

The other acts are Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Cliff and Mike's Apartment.

"The show (tonight) will be different. It will certainly be longer than that show," says Simon, speaking to Life! on the telephone from Taipei on Wednesday, a few hours before a concert that will kick off his new world tour.

"That show was..." his voice trails off as he searches for words to describe the 1993 performance here.

"That was not the best show I ever did," he says, after a pause.

Tonight in Singapore, Simon and his band are scheduled to play for two hours. The band are bigger now compared to his last tour here, he says, and are staffed with musicians he has worked with for years.

He and Garfunkel have since mended fences and in 2009, they toured again, in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Last December, on Simon's website, he wrote that Garfunkel was a "great singer" and a "gifted record producer". He made the post in response to the movie This Is 40 (2012), which contained a joke alluding to the belief held by many that Garfunkel enjoyed a free ride on Simon's musical talent when the duo were at the height of their fame in the 1960s.

They were known for their vocal harmonies and their hits included The Sound Of Silence, Mrs Robinson and Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The 1970 release of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album was to be their last studio project as a duo. Garfunkel had become increasingly interested in acting while Simon felt artistically stifled within the duo format.

While Simon likes to show off songs from recent albums in live shows, he is aware that context matters a great deal. Older hits will make up most of the material tonight, he says.

"What I find is that if you play new material and play it well, and if people can hear it clearly, then there's an excitement."

But Fort Canning Green is a large outdoor space, he notes.

"I'm going to be playing at a festival and it's a big venue and it doesn't particularly lend itself to new songs that might require a lot of concentration. There's a general atmosphere of people having a good time, talking, drinking. Festivals are more fun when you play the more familiar songs, when you play up-tempo stuff so people can dance. I tend to make 'em more like rhythm shows," he says.

The musician says that among the 20 or more songs he will play tonight will be material from the groundbreaking Graceland album (1986), "two or three" songs from the Simon And Garfunkel period of 1964 to 1970, his solo hits from the 1970s and 1980s and a few songs from recent albums.

His last album, the folk rock-tinged So Beautiful Or So What was released in 2011 to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success, debuting at No.4 on the US Billboard 200 chart, the highest debut of Simon's career. Critics hailed it as a comeback, one of several in his long career.

The reason he has not been back in Singapore in almost 20 years is that on the whole, he does not tour very much, he says.

"Most years, I do 30 shows. I am more with family than I am on the road," he says.

He lives in Connecticut with his wife, musician Edie Brickell, 47, whom he married in 1992. He had been married twice before, his second wife being actress Carrie Fisher, 56. He has a son, Harper, 40, from his first marriage and three children with Brickell.

He has also been busy recording his next album, which will feature jazz guests, among them singer Bobby McFerrin and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

When not recording, he is involved in charity work and plays at benefits. Last year, he performed at a benefit at Radio City Music Hall for the Children's Health Fund, a body he co-founded 26 years ago to form mobile units that bring medical care to children in disadvantaged areas in the United States.

At that performance, he appeared with daughter Lulu, 18, who sang the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah while he played the guitar. The video on YouTube has been viewed almost 20,000 times.

His son Harper is a singer-songwriter starting to get attention. Will Lulu also take the same path?

"I'm not sure. She plays music all the time and writes it. She's going to university next year. I think she's considering music, but I don't think she's made a choice whether it will be her profession. It's still open," he says.

johnlui@sph.com.sg


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MEMORABLE ALBUMS

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964)

This folk record was Simon And Garfunkel's debut collection of songs. It was a flop and both artists went their separate ways. Then the track The Sound Of Silence began to get airplay. Their label, sensing an opportunity, overdubbed electric instruments onto the song and released it as a single, which reached No. 1 on the American charts. Simon and Garfunkel hastily reunited to record a follow-up album, which was named Sounds Of Silence to cash in on the success of their breakthrough song.


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Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

This was to be the duo's fifth and final album. It contained hits such as the title song, El Condo Pasa, Cecilia, The Boxer, So Long Frank Lloyd Wright and The Only Living Boy In New York. The album's chart-topping title song has proven to be an enduring pop classic, covered by countless musicians. The duo would split after recording this work.


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Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)

Paul Simon's fourth studio album would win two Grammys, one for Album Of The Year. With songs such as the title track, My Little Town and 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Simon enjoyed considerable chart success with this collection. After this, however, his career would enter an 11-year period of slow sales. The doldrums would be broken only with Graceland.


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Graceland (1986)

This was a commercial smash for Simon, with sales of more than 14 million copies. It would be his most commercially successful album. It won the Grammy for Album Of The Year, with the Record Of The Year Grammy going to the title song. The track You Can Call Me Al was also a hit. The album's genesis lay in Simon's listening to a cassette of South African music, which inspired him to record most of the album in South Africa, with the aid of local musicians such as male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. To date, Simon has not repeated the commercial success of Graceland, though his latter-day releases have garnered critical praise.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 22, 2013

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