Paul Simon’s Song for the Age’s Most Uncertain Hour
Featuring Simon’s new performance of it for this crisis, “American Tune Til Further Notice,” his unfinished 1973 demo of the song, Simon & Garfunkel’s Central Park Performance, Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint and more.
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed…
There are songs which resonate powerfully when first we hear them, yet continue to expand with meaning and poignance through the passing years. Few songs do this with the pointed poetics of this song. It was stunning back in 1973, and yet speaks to this American moment better than just about any other song.
On March 19, Simon posted a video in which he performs it, solo. And there’s our old friend, and the sound of his gentle voice and his guitar, sounds which have comforted us for decades. In his eyes you see the disbelief and anguish which has swept through this country. And a nation turned its lonely eyes to this songwriter again. “Stay safe everyone,” he says at the end. “Stay well.”
Simon wrote and recorded it for his second solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon in 1973. While working on it, he made an acoustic demo of it, which is included below. The melody is in place, as is the famous bridge and most of the first verses. But that spirit is captured, and it’s beautiful to hear it in process, before all the pieces were in place.
Paul’s performed it live many times, both solo and with his old friend Art Garfunkel. They sang it together in their famous Concert in Central Park, which remains one of the most beautiful performances of the song ever, as half a million New Yorkers stood there in Central Park, close to where a makeshift hospital of tents now stands. It might surpass the studio version as the definitive version of this song.
“Wish I could’ve gotten to this song before the two of us split,” Artie said before they performed it together at Madison Square Garden in 2003.
Many other artists have recorded and performed the song, including Elvis Costello (as The Imposter), Eva Cassidy, The Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews, Kurt Elling, and many others.
So in celebration of this great song and songwriter at this moment in our history, here’s a voyage through many performances of this singular song, as performed by Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, and many others.
“And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease…”