Simon Back to Work After 'Capeman'

Thursday, October 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — It wasn't quite the end of the Earth, but it was awfully close.

Paul Simon stopped at an Indian village while vacationing in the Amazon rain forest. Calling it a village is generous; it was more like a couple of homes clustered around the intersection of two dirt paths.

In one of those homes, a little girl played a guitar. Simon looked in, and working through a language barrier, indicated he could play guitar, too. He borrowed it and played, ``El Condor Pasa.''

The girl motioned that she had something to play for him, and took out a tattered songbook. And she began playing ``The Sounds of Silence'' to the stranger who, unbeknownst to her, wrote the song more than 30 years before.

``I was amazed at the power of music,'' said Simon, recounting the story recently while sipping tea to medicate a cold he caught from his 2-year-old son.

It was startling proof of his work's impact, perhaps more than the 16 Grammy Awards or last month's nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum as a solo artist (he's already in for his work with partner Art Garfunkel). Even so, he approached his most recent project with a bruised ego, if not a crisis of confidence.

``The Capeman,'' the Broadway musical written and staged by Simon, was the most high-profile failure of his career. Critics savaged it, and the play closed in March 1998 after only 68 performances.

A few months after that disappointment, Simon put together a 10-piece band with no goal other than to bring a sound that he heard in his head to life.

``I had the idea — and this may have been subconsciously — to just go and play music with a band, don't think, and just get back into the water and enjoy it again,'' he said. ``Feel no sense of attention — nothing to prove, no goals, just play music. Let that be nourishing, and that's what happened.''

The eventual result was ``You're the One,'' released this week. The album of songs driven primarily by Simon's electric guitar marries his singer-songwriter roots with lessons learned during the world-music explorations of ``Graceland'' and ``The Rhythm of the Saints.''

In songs like ``Quiet'' and ``Hurricane Eye,'' Simon is driven lyrically by a search for spirituality in a materialistic world.

His wryly turned stories include a parable about the death penalty, a moving tale of a troubled marriage and a funny ode to aging, ``Old.'' The last is perfect reassurance for baby boomers feeling their age, putting their years into perspective compared to the sweep of time.

``I have no idea where any of the stories come from,'' said Simon, who turns 59 on Oct. 13. ``What was unusual about this album is that they came very quickly, usually in a day or two days and it was finished.''

He worked a full year with the band before writing any lyrics. Simon's method is to compose music first and later see what words fit over it. He finds that that leads to more creative compositions than if he were playing guitar and writing at the same time.

``When I begin, I don't have an idea of what it is or what the point is,'' he said. ``But I'll find out, and that's part of the fun. It becomes revealed to you along the way what it is that's important and what's in your mind and your heart. When that happens, I'm usually surprised.''

He spoke in an empty office one floor above a rehearsal studio a few blocks from Broadway.

A sign on the studio's door informs band members of scheduled rehearsals for both days of the upcoming weekend. They perform at a benefit in Washington this weekend and begin a 13-city tour in Stockholm Oct. 16.

Simon is playing relatively small theaters on this tour. He'll perform much of the new album and little of the material he played on last summer's tour with Bob Dylan, delving deeper into his songbook than usual.

Though proud of ``You're the One,'' he's a little apprehensive as it leaves the cocoon of his mind and his group of musicians for the general public. He's not sure where it fits in the world of Britney Spears and 'N Sync.

``When you approach the marketplace, it's a little bewildering,'' he said. ``When you're working, you're in this very pleasant, safe place in your imagination, working with other imaginative musicians. It's so pleasurable — everybody understands and everybody agrees with what we're doing.''

But when it's released, ``you're getting near a kind of natural negativity. Some people are going to say, `I don't really like that, it's not for me' or `I really don't like it, like `The Capeman.'''

That wound is still a little raw, apparently.

Simon talks at length in defense of his work, believing people who saw the show liked it more than the critics. It was a serious look at the concept of redemption and, if people didn't want to think too much, they could just enjoy Marc Anthony or Ruben Blades, he said.

``It was disappointing, yeah,'' he said. ``It was a lot of work. You work for years on something, put a lot into it and care about it a lot and it goes away very quickly. In a matter of months, it was gone. That was a frustration.''

Now he's back, the muse returned. Simon is eager to get out and play his music. The only drawback is it takes him away from his three young children — ages 2, 5 and 7 — and his wife, singer Edie Brickell.

``When I finish a project I feel depleted, that I don't have anything more to say and I have no ideas,'' he said. ``I have nothing. I always wonder: Will I ever get another idea?

``When I do, if I do, I'm really grateful.''


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