Photo: Paul Simon at the Jacquard Club, Mischief Tavern, Fye Bridge Street, Norwich, on August 24 1965. – Credit: Archant
03 April 2021 | James Porteous | Clipper Media
Okay, so everyone would like to have a national forum to blow off steam, but it is always a good idea to at least make an effort to justify the steam-venting.
In this case, Jeff Slate, ‘a New York City-based songwriter and journalist’ whose ‘writing can be found at The New Yorker, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone, among others‘ has used his forum to inform us that a certain Paul Simon will ‘end up a historical footnote to Dylan.’ My Dylan, you might recall, started the recent bandwagon by scoring a deal for his publishing rights, thought to be worth $300 million.
Others have followed suit, but apparently Mr Slate has drawn a line in the sand when he writes the following slapdown in his item Paul Simon sold his catalog to Sony for millions. He’ll still end up a historical footnote to Dylan.
And let’s face it: Simon hasn’t had any kind of hit in more than a decade, and he is hardly part of the cultural firmament anymore. At his age, looking down the barrel of his dwindling ability to perform, not to mention the unrelenting march of time and history that has already begun to make his music into little more than a period curio, it’s probably the smart move to take the money and run.
Because while the vast majority of the songs that Sony bought from Simon will become all but worthless in the not-so-distant future, not everyone can write “Homeward Bound” or even “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” So why not capitalize on Sony’s hurt feelings over losing out on Dylan’s masterworks?
There’s another, darker reality assuredly at work. While the Beatles’ and Dylan’s places in history — not just musical history, but history — are no doubt etched in stone, even their contemporaries, like Young, are beginning to fade from relevance. It’s hard to imagine that in 200 years or more — when historians dig into the culture of the late 20th century — anyone but the Beatles and Bob Dylan will be worth more than a passing mention.
That means Young and Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Paul Simon — all giants in their day — will be no more than footnotes, at best, to Dylan and the Beatles, if only because history is a blunt instrument and doesn’t have room (at least not in the broadest sense) for subtlety.
So, Paul Simon, who is essentially an also-ran ’60s icon on a centurial or millennial scale, is making a rational calculation. He’s cashing out while he can in the hope that the broader commercialization of his greatest works might just secure him a better place in history — if even temporarily — no matter how sad an indictment of our times that may be
Seems a bit harsh if you ask me. I mean Mr Simon ain’t no Dylan but he never claimed to be. Nor was he ever meant to be.
And will anyone be pulling out his vinyl albums 200 years from now? Who the fuck knows. I don’t know. Nor does Mr Slate.
But one thing we can say for certain. We all know the name Paul Simon. Jeff Slate, not so much. And so it shall be in 200 years, I suppose.
Best to both of them in the meantime.
James Porteous / Clipper Media.