Why Jews are ‘cross’ with Paul Simon

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RNS PAUL SIMON

Paul Simon’s faith is still hazy after all these years.

On his new album “Stranger to Stranger,” singer-songwriter Paul Simon sings “Wristband.” It is a sardonic song about what it takes to get into a concert.

At his performance at the DNC, Paul Simon had something else on his wrist.

It was a cross.

Has Paul Simon converted to Christianity? I don’t know. If so, he would hardly be the first iconic Jewish popular musician to go that route. Bob Dylan did – at least, for a while, before returning to Judaism.

Of all Jewish musicians, Paul Simon has always been the “least” Jewish – in his influences and references. As my father asked, after hearing “Mrs. Robinson”: “What are two Jewish boys from Queens doing singing about Jesus [“Jesus loves you more than you will know”]?”

So, I am not surprised by the cross dangling from Paul Simon’s wrist.

For the last five decades, there has been a musical “cross” dangling from Paul Simon’s music.

Early in their career, Simon and Garfunkel recorded several “blatantly Christian” songs:

They would follow those up with “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night,” the closing song of “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” which juxtaposes the violence of the nightly news with the imagined peace of the night of Jesus’ birth.

It is not as if Paul Simon is completely devoid of Jewish influences. The “Bookends” album is the most “Jewish” album of the 1960s.

Prior to this lifetime, I surely was a tailor.

Look at me.

I own the tailor’s face and hands. I

am the tailor’s face and hands.

I know I’m fakin’ it,

not really makin’ it…

In an interview, Simon mentioned that his grandfather or great-grandfather was also named Paul Simon and that he was, in fact, a tailor.

In that sense, “Fakin’ It” is a parable about the American Jewish immigrant past, and the inability to escape it.

Consider, also:

  • “Silent Eyes” on “Still Crazy After All These Years,” is a hymn about Jerusalem, and it echoes the biblical book of Lamentations.
  • “Hearts and Bones” refers to Paul and his ex-wife, Carrie Fisher, as “one and one half wandering Jews.”

As Simon approached seventy years old, his spiritual longings became more intense, which he admits in a 2012 interview with Christianity Today: “It’s [spirituality] something I recognize in myself and that I enjoy, and I don’t quite understand it.”

Simon’s spiritual longings translates into spiritual struggle.

prayers offered in times of peace are silent conversations, appeals for love,

or love’s release,

in private invocations…

People hungry for the voice of God hear lunatics and liars.

Buddha and Moses and all the noses

From narrow to flat

Had to stand in the line

Just to glimpse the divine

What’cha think about that?

It’s all His design

No one cuts in the line

No one here likes a sneak.

But, ultimately, Simon finds musical solace in Christianity.

From early in November to the last week of December

I got money matters weighing me down

Oh the music may be merry, but it’s only temporary

I know Santa Claus is coming to town

[From the Reverend Gates sermon]:

Getting ready for Christmas Day.

And let me tell you, namely, the undertaker, he’s getting ready for your body

Not only that, the jailer he’s getting ready for you.

Christmas Day. Hmm? And not only the jailer, but the lawyer, the police force…

Jews might have hoped that Simon would have paid more attention to the Jewish side of things.

But, compared to Dylan, Simon’s Jewish offerings are rather thin. Here is why. Simon told an NPR reporter: “I was raised to a degree, enough to be, you know, bar mitzvahed and have that much Jewish education, although I had no interest. None.”

In other words, Paul Simon is like many other Jews who grew up in the 1950s.

It was not a time of deep spirituality.

Just imagine what Paul Simon could have done with Judaism.

Alas, a cross is a cross. And it is our loss.