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Just couldn`t resist to print this article purely out of personal reasons. I am fairly closely related to the Widnes-family here in Norway, so I kinda enjoyed the title of this interview and the story behind it. A good read it is too, describing some of Paul Simon`s early, formative years as an artist. Enjoy!
One night in Widnes and I wrote Homeward Bound
Paul Simon talks to Roy Carr
“Asking only workman`s wages,
“I came looking for a job,
“But I get no offers,
“Just a come-on from the
whores on Seventh Avenue”
– “The Boxer” by Paul Simon
In no way was New York City, circa 1964, conductive to the emergent talent of young Paul Simon. Materialistic, insensitive, this cold metropolis of ten million souls was at that time no place for Simon`s artistry. He was rejected – dejected with complete apathy and lack of vision.
At the same time New York`s anonymous music-fraternity of fat cigars was desperately trying to instigate an effective counter-attack on the British beat invasion. It needed mopper-topped Beatles` plagiarists or dirtier-than-thou Stones` alternatives.
Up against all this here was a stocky short-haired kid singing and pickin` an acoustic guitar with his lanky, fresh-faced fuzzy haired friend. Forget it…they`d never sell records. To Paul Simon and his side-kick Artie Garfunkel it seemed every back was turned, every door closed.
“We just couldn`t get a job,” Simon remembered when I talked with him in New York recently and he cast his mind back eight years.
“Artie and I auditioned at a lot of clubs in the States, but nobody showed any interest in either me or my music… We received absolutely no encouragement or acceptance whatsoever.”
Disillusioned, he packed his guitar, a few clothes and with just enough money to buy some food and a bed he came to London where within a few weeks he became a familiar face around the London folk circuit playing in smoky cellar clubs, East End laundrettes and working-class pubs.
In fact he played anywhere he could get up and perform before an audience that would listen.
Not for one minute at this time did he harbour any aspirations of stardom. It was just a nice way to travel around Britain.
“I never thought of it as a career…it was just a great way to spend my time. Roaming around in a strange country where everything was new and exciting…having people listen to the songs one was writing and enjoying them”, he revealed in retrospect.
“As far as I was concerned I was a `not-too-well-off` professional musician. All I ever did at that time was to play guitar and in doing so, earn my keep and pay my rent just from performing.
“Though I liked what I was doing to the point that I may have been reluctant to give it up, I never thought I`d ever become successful.
“To be quite frank I always figured that somewhere in the near future I would have to stop this whole thing and think out a way I could earn a decent living. But at that age, well, I just happened to love what I was doing.”
Simon soon found – to his personal satisfaction – that despite the industry`s pre-occupation with anything with a Scouse accent there were still people in England willing to listen to his music.
One such person was Alan Paramor who, apart from championing the Simon cause, has to this day remained his British music publisher.
I do in fact recall from those early days a brief encounter with Simon, at Paramor`s office, when I was myself an extrovert performing rock`n`roller.
Attired in a suit, collar and tie Simon was an inconspicious figure among the heap of manuscripts, tapes, demos and other paraphernalia.
“This is Paul Simon…he writes songs and has an album coming out on CBS”, Paramor informed me of his protoge`s immediate plans.
“Hi” was my one worded reply. I was more concerned with collecting some of my own royalties.
Many of the songs on that first album “The Paul Simon Song Book” (and the initial brace he cut with Garfunkel) were concieved during Simon`s exile in England.
Perhaps the most acclaimed was “Homeward Bound”, of which he told me: “Around that time I was living at Judith Piepe`s place” (referring to Dellow House) a gaunt Victorian tenement in London`s East End looking out onto an overhead railway viaduct and which is a much used crashpad for folk artists of limited means.
“Well, one day I travelled North to fulfil a whole string of dates, one of them being a Thursday night gig at a folk club which was being held in a room over an old pub in Widnes.
“If you know Widnes” – I indicated I did – “then you`ll understand how I was desperately trying to get back to London as quickly as possible. `Homeward Bound` came out of that feeling.”
I asked Simon if – eight years after the event – had he any desire to retrace his formative career. “You can`t go back” was his simple reply.
Then I gave him the example of how Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones toured all those places where they`d paid their dues.
“Did they enjoy it?” he enquired with great interest. I told him they had and he said, after pondering for a moment, “Maybe they know something I don`t!”
However he did point out as an afterthought: “Of course, there are those places that I`d like to play again. For example I`d very much like to appear at the Royal Albert Hall again…I always enjoyed playing there.”
As a creative artist Paul Simon doesn`t like to restrict his talent to one proven formula.
This is why he has shunned the opportunity to follow-up the tremendous film-world success he enjoyed when scoring the soundtrack for “The Graduate”.
His reasoning is acceptable: “After `The Graduate` I stopped because I thought, where do I go from here? In that particular context the songs were good and they worked extremely well. Looking back I feel that they helped the picture a great deal.
“To be honest it was the first time I realised that anyone took any time to make sure the sound was good. They didn`t let the picture interfere with the music.
“You know, after the success of that film I was inundated with requests to supply movie scores. Write the title song for this or write the music for some real inane, bullshit youth movie, I`m sure you know the thing…unrest on the campus.
“I didn`t write anything, because there was never anything that came up of real interest to me.
“Oh yes, I was asked to do the music for `Midnight Cowboy`.
“In fact Dustin Hoffman approached me just as he was going to start work on the movie.
“I can`t remember, now, why I turned it down.”
He stops, mid-sentence, to jog his memory.
“I think I figured, at that particular time, that I didn`t want to look like Dustin Hoffman`s songwriter”.
Colin Brinton from Harwich was not very impressed with Simon at this stage of his career. I really hope he regained the respect that he once had for Simon. He really wants to, and he says he is still on Simon`s side, but his faith is faltering.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Steve Marriott (Humble Pie), Al Stewart, Colin Blunstone, Rick Nelson, Vivian Stanshall, Glyn Johns, John Morris, Hank Marvin, Cat Stevens, Jose Feliciano, Bob Fripp (King Crimson), Bee Gees, Pete Banks(Yes, Then:Flash), Country Joe.
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