For Paul Simon’s new album, So Beautiful Or So What, the songwriter set out to write songs not on the “rhythmic premise” his records had taken since 1986’s Graceland, but in the old-fashioned guitar-pen-and-paper method.
“I’m gonna do the thing I’ve been trying to avoid for 20-some-odd years, which is to sit in a room by myself with a guitar and write songs,” says Simon in a short documentary about making the album.
Simon returned to the harmonic challenges of a song like “Still Crazy After All These Years” for one of So Beautiful’s standout tracks, “Love And Hard Times.” At the time when Simon wrote “Still Crazy,” he was interested in the jazz composer and double bassist Chuck Israel and the twelve-tone approach to composition, and “Love And Hard Times” seems to tap back into that musical mindset.
“[“Love And Hard Times”] was based on playing all these chords and holding the same note,” says Simon, who also mentions that his friend, the composer Phillip Glass, might have offered some ideas.
On the Dick Cavett show in 1974, Simon performed a partially written “Still Crazy After All These Years,” riffing with Cavet about how to finish the harmonically rich ballad. In 2008, during an in-depth interview for Barnes & Noble’s One On One series, Simon says being interested in “more complex things” led him to write “Love And Hard Times.” The brief explanation and solo acoustic performance of the song before it’s official release distinctly echo the Cavett show discussion.
Throughout So Beautiful, and especially on “Love And Hard Times,” Simon shows his interest in God, through Biblical depictions, and images (and in some cases audio references) to important religious and spiritual leaders like Reverend J.M. Gates and Martin Luther King, Jr.
But Simon says the theme of God on the album is “not intentional” and that he’s “not a religious person.” (After a recent show, Simon says Paul McCartney came backstage and inquired, “Aren’t you Jewish?”)
In American Songwriter’s cover story interview, Simon says “Love And Hard Times” was a song he labored over writing. “I had the opening line ‘God and his only son,’ which I thought, that’s got to be a good opening line for me. What am I gonna do with that? It’s pretty far away from home for me. But otherwise, I didn’t have the story or anything.”
The song changes direction half way through, from Simon’s take on a God’s earthly visit to a “straight-ahead love song.”
“There was enough cynicism in the first two verses and now I didn’t really need to go any further, and now the rest had to be a pure love song,” says Simon.
“Love And Hard Times”
God and His only Son
Paid a courtesy call on Earth
One Sunday morning
Orange blossoms opened their fragrant lips
Songbirds sang from the tips of Cottonwoods
Old folks wept for His love in these hard times
“Well, we got to get going,” said the restless Lord to the Son
“There are galaxies yet to be born
Creation is never done
Anyway, these people are slobs here
If we stay it’s bound to be a mob scene
But, disappear, and it’s love and hard times”
I loved her the first time I saw her
I know that’s an old songwriting cliché
Loved you the first time I saw you
Can’t describe it any other way
Any other way
The light of her beauty was warm as a summer day
Clouds of antelope rolled by
No hint of rain to come
In the prairie sky
Just love, love, love, love, love
When the rains came, the tears burned, windows rattled, locks turned
It’s easy to be generous when you’re on a roll
It’s hard to be grateful when you’re out of control
And love is gone
The light at the edge of the curtain
Is the quiet dawn
The bedroom breathes
In clicks and clacks
Uneasy heartbeat, can’t relax
But then your hand takes mine
Thank God, I found you in time
Thank God, I found you
Thank God, I found you
Written by Paul Simon