Apparently, the critical drubbing and box office failure of ”The Capeman” didn’t diminish Paul Simon’s moxie. As early as the second song on You’re the One comes ”Darling Lorraine,” a seven minute mini epic of one couple’s puppy love, marital discord, and death – heavy subject matter anyone else would’ve saved for second to last. The narrative’s separations and reconciliations give way to illness (”Lorraine/ Her hands like wood/ The doctor was smiling/ But the news wasn’t good”) and the moving final images of a husband going out in the moonlight to buy his dying wife candy. Nine numbers left, and he’s already had a death scene – where do you go from THERE?
On to more songs about maturing and mortality. But there’s a good deal of levity in many of the remaining tunes, and if ”You’re the One” is primarily about the emotional effects of aging, it’s probably the least maudlin song cycle middle age ever provoked. In ”Old,” the 58 year old Simon uses a Buddy Holly guitar rhythm with – yes – African accoutrements in the service of redefining the title word for some pals who give him a ribbing at a birthday party. He calculates the age of the universe and reminds ‘em that ”Wisdom is old/ The Koran is old… / God is old.” Point taken, Paulie, you pimply, polyrhythmic little punk.
Simon has three kids with singer Edie Brickell, his wife of eight years, and while he’s hardly the confessional kind, those life changes are reflected in tunes that tend to be about either guiding a child through the whims of good ‘n’ evil or exploring the deeper but more difficult love that can succeed romance’s embers. Occasionally, as in the beautiful, incomprehensible ”Senorita With a Necklace of Tears,” this Big Picture stuff feels overly sketchy as well as weighty. But speaking of marriage, no one weds the conversational and cosmological – or acoustic pop and ethnological studies – quite so gracefully. There’s still nothing old about it.