Five years ago, Paul Simon said he was finished writing songs. But he couldn’t stop. “To write a line that you like, and just one second before, it didn’t exist? You get, like, a big dopamine splash in your brain and you love it,” he said. “That’s why you keep doing it, ’cause it’s addictive.”
Lately, Simon’s been working on his ranch in the Lone Star State.
Mason said, “A lot of people would not have imagined that a boy from Queens would end up in Texas Hill Country?”
“Well, you have to marry a girl from Texas!” Simon replied.
He and his wife, the singer Edie Brickell, moved here recently. His latest solo album, “Seven Psalms,” was recorded in his cabin studio.
The title came to him in a dream. “The dream said, You’re working on a piece called ‘Seven Psalms,’” he said. He got up and wrote it down on a legal pad.
Mason asked, “When something as vivid as that happens, what do you make of it?”
“Since it came to me in a dream with someone or some things telling me to do this, I said, Well, look, it’s not my idea anyway. So I’ll just wait ’til there’s clarification of what I’m supposed to do.”
“Did you get clarification?”
“Yeah, it did come, as guitar pieces.”
The words would come later, again in dreams. The album’s creation was captured in the forthcoming documentary by Alex Gibney, “In Restless Dreams.”
In it, Simon recounts: “I would start to wake up two or three times a week between 3:30 and 5:00 in the morning, and words would come. I’d write ’em down and start to put it together.”
The Lord is my engineer
The Lord is the Earth I ride on
The Lord is the face in the atmosphere
The path I slip and I slide on
From “The Lord” by Paul SImon
Mason asked, “Did you ask yourself, as this was happening, where is this coming from?”
“I don’t even know if I wanna know,” he replied. “It’s just, it’s there, and I’m grateful for it. It’s been there most of my life. When I wrote ‘The Sound of Silence’ and I was 23 years old, that was probably the same kind of phenomenon. But at that time, I just thought, Oh, this is kind of my best song at the moment. And the same thing with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ where I thought, Hmm. Better than my usual. This is good.”
He experienced that again with “Graceland,” which he performed in a surprise appearance last summer at the Newport Folk Festival.
But Simon said he may not be able to play live much longer. He’s losing his hearing.
“I started to lose the hearing in my left ear,” he said, “about two years ago, two-and-a-half years ago. And at this moment, it’s, I think, 8% hearing in that ear.
“It’s upsetting. I can still hear well enough to play guitar and write. But I can’t hear well enough to play with five or six musicians. Maybe that’s fine. Maybe there’s something to be learned from that?”
“What do you think that would be?” Mason asked.
“I have to see what it is. Acceptance of, you know, less? That’s life. You know, people have a lot worse than this.”
“I imagine that must be a complicated conversation that you’ve had to go through in your own head, about all that?”
“It is. Yeah,” Simon said.
“And you probably feel different about it different days?”
“No. I feel pretty much the same about it, which is like, uh, you know, I’m not happy about it.”
Of Simon’s performance at Newport last year, Mason asked, “Do you think that that might be kind of your last big performance?”
“Well, I hope not,” Simon replied. “I really wanted to perform the ‘Seven Psalms.’ I haven’t given up hope, but I’m prepared to accept that I might not be able to.”
Web exclusive: Paul Simon’s guitar show-and-tell
“Seven Psalms” is a haunting 33-minute meditation on belief that some have interpreted as the singer wrestling with his own mortality. But Simon insists he isn’t. “Of course, I’m 81 years old. Of course, I think about it. But I mean, is it pressing on me? No, it’s not.”
He has taken note of how his songs are aging. “Some of the songs are still good,” he said, strumming “The Boxer.”
Mason asked, “Does the meaning of songs over time ever change for you?”
“It does change. ‘The Sound of Silence,’ the way I performed it at Newport, is [a] very different song than ‘The Sound of Silence,’ the way that was a number one record in 1966. It’s aged into another feeling and another meaning.”
“Do you think about your legacy at all?”
“No,” said Simon. “Not important.”
“But what would you like for your music?”
“[How] I feel about the music is like, if it lives, it deserves it. If not, it’s discarded, and the culture goes to another source of nourishment. You could be disappointed personally, but the culture doesn’t care.”
But the artist in Paul Simon can’t stop creating. “I just started to write recently,” he said. “I’ve written two songs. As long as I can write and sing, I’ll make records, even if it’s just for myself.”
To listen to selections from Paul Simon’s album “Seven Psalms,” click on the video player below:
For more of Anthony Mason’s conversation with Paul Simon watch “CBS Mornings” on Monday, June 26.
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Story produced by Rebecca Castagna and Angelique Fiske. Editor: Steven Tyler.