Paul Simon

Carole King is the deserving winner of this year's Gershwin Prize. Too bad her songwriting partner isn't being honored alongside her.

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Before Bruce Springsteen put together the first incarnation of the E Street Band, forty years ago, he had a scrappy little bar band called Steel Mill, which played at my friend Doug Mendini’s eighth-grade graduation party. Like Springsteen, Doug and I were both literary-minded products of New Jersey factory towns (I worked for the summer before my first year of college in a steel foundry, on the late shift with my father), and a tenuous early sense of kinship with Springsteen has given me a weakness for his work.

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The music industry, whose economic status roughly mirrors that of Greece, is finally making once-unthinkable cutbacks in entitlements. The finalists for this year’s Grammys were announced this week, and some hugely popular acts who by tradition would have been guaranteed nominations were shut out of the top categories. With the weakening of the corporate oligarchy of the old-line record companies, the nomination process has loosened up a bit for the good.

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Paul Simon So Beautiful or So What It appears that Paul Simon has been thinking about going somewhere unlike all of the many lands around the globe that he has visited over the years in search of musical inspiration. He is giving thought to the final expedition, the big trip across the divide to the only place that even he cannot plunder. Simon will turn seventy in the same year as both Art Garfunkel, the creamy-voiced journeyman who stood placidly at Simon’s right side for years, and Bob Dylan, the peer of Simon’s whose towering specter has always hovered near Simon’s other side.

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Rock stars of the 1960s have begun turning 70, and the aging of a generation that defined its culture by its youth has prompted the sucking of veiny thumbs. I did mine last October, right here, on the seventieth anniversary of John Lennon’s birth. Earlier this month, Joan Baez turned 70; Neil Diamond will do the same on January 24; Bob Dylan will have his seventieth birthday in May, followed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, along with the likes of David Crosby, George Clinton, and Paul Anka.

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Among the many distinctions David Axelrod has achieved in his career, there is one that requires special elaboration: He is, it turns out, one of the few customers to have ever run a tab at Manny’s, the Chicago cafeteria and deli. This is not because the odd knish ($4.25) or side of potato chips ($0.75) threatened to leave him cash-poor. It is, rather, because Axelrod has long styled himself someone who accumulates wisdom at places regular people frequent, not the lacquered haunts of downtown Washington. What the Oval Room is to Beltway consultant-dom, Manny’s is to Axelrod.

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The last time I deliberately didn’t watch a big soccer match was just over a quarter of a century ago—May 18, 1985. That day, in the living room of our house in England, Dad sat on the edge of his seat as Kevin Moran became the first player in the history of FA Cup finals to be sent off. Manchester United, his (and my) beloved team, were doomed, surely…. Then, in extra time, Norman Whiteside, a Wayne Rooney of his day who had just turned 20, scored a magnificent solo goal in extra time to give United the trophy. Me? I was in my bedroom, listening to “Hearts and Bones,” by Paul Simon.

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The Message Keeper

In 1992, a Chicago woman named Bettylu Saltzman met Barack Obama, who had graduated from Harvard Law School one year earlier and was now in her city leading a voter-registration drive called Project Vote. Saltzman, an heiress to a shopping-mall fortune who's long been active in Democratic politics, was volunteering for Bill Clinton's presidential bid when, one day, Obama dropped by the campaign's Chicago office to discuss Project Vote. Saltzman came away from the encounter very, very impressed.

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Book of Longing Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen   As anyone who has ever balanced a salad spinner on his or her nose for two days could tell you, the secret of getting into The Guinness Book of World Records is to invent your own category, and the same principle applies in the arts. Distinctiveness, which is something different from distinction, tends to lead to recognition.

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First Returns

Hendrik Hertzberg comments on the 1988 campaign.

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