It has been 49 years since Paul Simon sat in his childhood bedroom in Queens in New York City and wrote his first hit song, "Hey, Schoolgirl". A half-century is a fair chunk of time, and Simon, 64, has packed it with all sorts of creative meandering. There was Simon and Garfunkelmerely the greatest folk duo of all timefollowed by a stab at acting in Annie Hall, a dive into filmmaking with One Trick Pony and a flirtation with Tin Pan Alley in the criminally overlooked The Capeman.
Simon has proved he can do a lot of things as well as anyone, but what he does better than everyone is write achingly rational pop songs. It sounds like a contradiction, but then a line like "Losing love/ Is like a window in your heart/ Everybody sees you're blown apart," from Graceland floats by, and of all things, you're singing along and smiling. The secret is that while his words stay in the cynical, witty headspace of the native New Yorker, Simon's music wanders the globe in search of a groove. He has worked with South Africans, Mexicans and every drummer in Brazil and fused their sensibilities with his. On his new album, Surprise, Simon alludes to the mess in New Orleans while transforming the experimental sounds of producer Brian Eno into buoyant melodies, proving again that sharp thoughts, deep feelings and good times really can harmonize.