PAUL SIMON’S SO BEAUTIFUL, OR SO WHAT


I have always loved the music of Paul Simon, and those 60s and 70s albums with Art Garfunkel were magic in a bottle.   And then there were the powerful  solo albums, especially  Still Crazy after All These Years,  Graceland,  and The Rhythm of the Saints, and most recently  Surprise (which was).

But about this latest album  So Beautiful or So What —   what shall I say,  it is transcendent!   It will transfigure and transfix you if you give it half a chance.    It reminds me of John Donne’s poem  ‘A Hymn to God, my God, in My Sickness’.    In that poem Donne talks about tuning up here below to get ready to sing in the heavenly choir.   In fact he talks about preparing to be made God’s music, and thinking here how to tune his instrument.   I think Paul is being made God’s music even now, he just isn’t fully aware of it.

This album of  Paul Simon, whether he was channeling Donne or not is all about God, the afterlife,  Jesus and angels, and you name it.   It may be the most Biblically religious album ever made by a mainstream musician.   In fact,  it led Paul McCartney when he heard a bit of this to ask— ‘Aren’t you a Jew?   How come you singing about Christmas and Jesus, and that sort of stuff?’

Paul Simon, it seems, has been wide open to the Spirit, whether he is much of a church or synagogue attender or not.   And as a person who believes that God’s grace and Spirit is not confined to the usual religious spaces and the usual religious places, I am excited about this album.     It’s something every Christian should hear and absorb at some point.   It’s just more confirmation that regardless of our background, we are all created in God’s image, and longing to know so much more about our Maker.    This album could have been entitled— ‘Prepare to Meet Thy Maker’.

Let’s talk about the music for a moment.   This album continues the exploration of world music sounds, perhaps especially from Africa.   Rhythmically  it will keep your toes tapping, and I can tell you as a musician—- don’t try this at home.   Too many different time signatures and syncopations. You feel like you dropped into a jam session with Paul and African musicians in Soweto  with a surprise visit from Rev. J.M. Gates.   The song  ‘Love and Hard Times’  begins  “God and his only Son paid a courtesy call on Earth one Sunday morning.  Orange blossoms opened their fragrant lips, Songbirds sang from the tips of Cottonwoods, Old folks wept for his love in these hard times. “   The second verse suggests that it is a good thing God only came briefly, cause had he stayed it would be a mob scene, and people would not have to learn how to love, even in hard times—– interesting!!

This album is a little gem…. Forget the download, go for the incarnational form with the cover art and DVD.  It’s time to unGnosticize our music for a while instead of stripping it of all its aesthetic context and qualities.   The album is only 38 minutes long….. and it’s one of those deals where you say—-  ‘Where did it go, and why wasn’t it much longer?’    Kind of like Jesus’ stay on earth.   But maybe it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or is it absence that makes the heart go wander?    Whatever it is, this album is  So Beautiful and it should not lead you to say  So What.

  • RickC

    Yeah! The YouTube video of the making of So Beautiful Or So What is pretty good too. It’s in the key of PS sharp with a time signature of about 30 fps. Saw it on a documentary not long ago. Love ur reviews, keep um comin’.

  • http://www.nateloucks.com Nate

    It’s a really great album. What you wrote about this album you could also say about his Surprise album; transcendent and deeply spiritual. I would love to hear Paul interviewed about his spiritual leanings. But, maybe it’s best if he lets his music speak for itself.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I would be interesting in knowing if you had listened to any of Robert Plant’s latest “Band of Joy”. It has some overtly spiritual themes as well.

    Music itself has so many deeply spiritual aspects (the ancient philosophers from Pythagoras to Plato and Aristotle all knew this) that any serious musician over time will end up exploring some sort of spiritual and/or religious themes.

  • http://dimlamp.wordpress.com/ Dim Lamp

    I’ve been a Paul Simon [and Simon & Garfunkel] buff since the 60s too. Still appreciate Paul’s thought-provoking, inspirational lyrics and creative music. I’ve seen faith motifs in his lyrics even back in the early days. Next to the word of God, Luther said, music was God’s greatest gift. Thanks for the review.

  • http://rockaeology.com/ Jensen Lee

    While Paul Simon still strikes an emotional chord with listeners, it’s hard not to miss his work with Art Garfunkel. “The Boxer” features one of most exquisite harmonies by Simon & Garfunkel. Simon says the song is autobiographical, written after reading the Bible; after years of praise, the duo were criticized as unauthentic. On my Rockaeology blog at http://bit.ly/gewuo9 is the story of the “lie la lie” chorus; it was originally a placeholder until lyrics could be written.

  • http://nestheology.org Pennoyer

    Based on what you write here, I am very interested in hearing this piece. And I like the “ungnostic” approach to purchasing the album too! But when you say “It may be the most Biblically religious album ever made by a mainstream musician” are you forgetting about Dylan’s Slow Train Coming?

  • http://www.jesuschrist.co.uk JesusChrist.co.uk

    I love it when Jesus speaks through unexpected sources. Paul Simon’s music has always pushed boundaries, and I so appreciated being able to find a Christian review of his latest albums. Looks like another one for the growing CD collection!

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    8. Just imagine I read it twice. While I am not as accomplished on this topic, I concur with your closings because they make sense. Thanks and good luck to you.

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