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Paul Simon, The Sound Of America

"In the beginning, I wasn't really interested in the performance, I was much more interested in the writing and the record making," Simon admits. "Partly that's because I started as half of a duo. I could really step back and let Artie's voice carry a significant part of the load. When I went by myself, I used to think, 'I'm not a performer by choice; the performance is the idea of what I thought up. I'm now going to be the person who expresses the idea of the writer. Whether I'm the most ideal singer of Paul Simon the writer, I probably am not, but, well, that's what my job is.' "

On Wednesday, of course, Simon won't have to carry the load.

"From a songwriter's perspective, it's a dream come true, really, to have that many gifted people go and do a version of one of your songs. Also, the choices of the songs are pretty interesting."

Simon defined the repertoire, "but not rigidly. The only thing I said was, 'Artie is going to sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water." ' It really belongs with Artie; historically and in this particular context, I couldn't see anyone else but Artie on that."

It has been nearly 40 years since "Bridge" reigned atop the charts. It has been about 20 years since Simon had a Top 30 hit ("You Can Call Me Al"), 27 since he breached the Top 10 ("Late in the Evening"). Last year's "Surprise" was critically acclaimed as Simon's best album since "Graceland," but it didn't sell well.

"I don't expect anymore to have that kind of acceptance," Simon says. "I don't think that's going to happen anymore, and there are a lot of reasons for that. The main reason is that I started so young and I've been writing songs for so long, the areas that I get interested in, they're arcane to the average listener. The songs that I wrote when I was younger -- which were really at the limit of what I was feeling emotionally or what I knew musically -- were simpler and easier to grasp.

"Why do people love 'Slip Slidin' Away' rather than 'Darling Lorraine?' The answer is simple: I can see people singing along to 'Slip Slidin' Away' -- it's easy to sing along with -- and the other one is not easy to sing along with. The ideal thing would be to be simple and complex at the same time, like a haiku, but that's pretty hard to do.

"That's one of the challenges as you get older. It isn't 'How am I going to have a hit?' but 'How am I going to express myself as clearly as I can while at the same time leading people into a mystery which is always entertaining and possibly moving as well?' That's what I'm interested in. I want to know about the mystery. Then I have to think: 'Do I solve this mystery, or do I just embrace it because of the pleasure of the mystery?' That's the mystical."

Paul Simon tribute concert with Art Garfunkel, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Philip Glass, Stephen Marley, James Taylor and more Wednesday at the Warner Theatre

Sounds like: The Paul Simon songbook on parade.

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