Paul Simon doesn't want to be 'a Paul Simon cover band'

The icon talks to Tom Power about reinterpreting his music on In the Blue Light, his farewell tour and why he's not playing the hits.

The icon on reinterpreting his music on In the Blue Light, a farewell tour and not playing the hits

(Mark Seliger)

For over 60 years, Paul Simon has been writing and performing some of the most beloved and iconic rock music of all time. But there comes a time when, even for Simon, that's enough.

"I don't want to be playing past the time when I can be performing at peak or near peak," Simon tells q host Tom Power from his office in New York. "Since I'm basically playing a repertoire of about 30 or 35 songs, some of the ones, the older ones, even though I've changed the arrangements constantly over the years at a certain point you arrive at a point where you say, well, that's just as good as that arrangement should be. So you're playing the same music all the time and at a certain point, even though it's what audiences want, it takes its toll on musicians. I'd become like a Paul Simon cover band. So nobody wants to do that."

It's for that reasons that Simon's latest album, In the Blue Light, features 10 previously released tracks from the more obscure side of Simon's catalogue, each one reimagined with a new collaborator, such as chamber ensemble yMusic and musicians like Bill Frissell, Sullivan Fortner, Wynton Marsalis and the National's Bryce Dessner. The tracklist includes songs such as One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor from 1973, all the way up to 2011's Questions for the Angels.

In the Blue Light is Paul Simon's 14th solo studio album. (Legacy Recordings)

"What happened was that the arrangements were dictated by the choice of musicians," says Simon of the choice to include songs that he no longer even plays as part of his live show, including on his current farewell tour.

"I don't do them live and then they go away, and they're replaced by, you know, sort of a large catalogue of well-known songs that people want to hear," he says.

He even did a reinterpretation of Sound of Silence, one of his biggest songs, but chose to leave it off the album. Just having the version recorded, for posterity, was enough. "I just felt I should document that," he says.

And while Simon chose to use this album to breathe new life into some of his previously underappreciated songs, he's not against playing the hits on his final tour — one last time.

"I do think it's OK to not do You Can Call Me Al at the end of an arena show, even though I enjoy doing it," he says. "But, you know … It's been 30 years. You know, that's enough. You just say, that's it, that's it, that's enough. I don't want to play until I'm just sick of it."

Listen to the full conversation with Paul Simon near the top of this page. In the Blue Light is out Friday, Sepetember 7.

Produced by Cora Nijhawan

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