Swallowed by a Song
Paul Simon's Crisis of Chromaticism
Grown men living in a kid's world!" So the trapped singer-songwriter Jonah Levin and his band are described by Levin's wife, Marion, in One Trick Pony, a film written by Paul Simon, who also stars as Levin. Rock 'n' roll is Jonah's life, and it is a field that, according to Simon, "really is not given to thinking -- and resents thinking. Which I believe is the big error of rock 'n' roll. It's always aspired to be the music of the working class. And it's never been looked upon as a vocabulary for art and artistic thinking. . . . We have to be able to expand the vocabulary to express more complex thoughts." 1
Ever since The Sounds of Silence topped the national singles charts in January 1966, Simon has been recognized for the merit of his poetic lyrics; but his musical materials have been given little analytical attention, even though his tonal language and rhythmic variety could at times attain a high degree of complexity, especially as they did during the 1970s. Following an introduction to Simon's compositional goals and methods, largely through his own words, this essay will explore examples of his tonal structures -- particularly chromatic ones -- that are quite atypical of rock music. A number of songs from the 1970s will be studied in varying degrees of detail, but closest analysis will be afforded two 1975 compositions, Still Crazy after All These Years and I Do It for Your Love, and the 1980 song "Jonah."