Music

Paul Simon reveals he has ‘lost the hearing’ in his left ear

In a Big Issue exclusive, the legendary singer Paul Simon talks candidly with celebrated poet Paul Muldoon

Paul Simon performing in his native New York on the final concert of his farewell tour in 2018. Image: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Paul Simon performing in his native New York on the final concert of his farewell tour in 2018. Image: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

In a brand-new interview, iconic singer-songwriter Paul Simon has revealed he is suffering from severe hearing loss. In an exclusive conversation for The Big Issue between the legendary musician and world-renowned poet Paul Muldoon, Simon explained how his hearing began to fail as he worked on his latest solo LP, Seven Psalms.

“I lost the hearing in my left ear,” said Simon. “So I couldn’t hear the way I was used to when I would sing. It didn’t impede my imagination, but it was a distraction.”

In a deep and soulful new interview, Simon also reflects on his 67-year career to date. From era-defining hits Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Sound of Silence with Simon and Garfunkel to iconic 1986 album Graceland and beyond, Simon is one of the all-time great songwriters.

His 15th solo LP is an ambitious, poetic suite of music. It comprises seven interlinked passages and considers big questions of life, of loss, of faith. Recording it as his hearing began to fail presented new problems for the 81-year-old.

“When I sang, I thought I was in tune. But when I listened back, I could hear that I was singing slightly flat. I had to work on that to compensate,” said Simon.

“I really wasn’t used to anything going wrong with my body because I’ve been healthy. And here was a serious blow to what was essential to my being.

“I was referred to a doctor who said, ‘I think I know what’s wrong. And I can fix it with this procedure.’ I so much wanted that to be true and went ahead. After that procedure, I nearly lost everything. That ear was at about 40% hearing and it went down to about 8%.”

Paul Simon opens his heart to Paul Muldoon – the finest poet working in the English language today – as the two greats bond over their shared addiction to creativity. They also discuss the source of Simon’s inspiration – as he reveals how Seven Psalms began four years ago with an intense dream.

“I had a dream on 15 January 15 2019,” he told Muldoon. “And the dream said, ‘You’re working on a piece called Seven Psalms.’ It was so vivid that I woke up and wrote it down, which is not typical of me. Nor do I take instructions from my dreams. But this was a very powerful dream. And it was also the anniversary of my father’s passing, which is probably just a coincidence. If you believe in coincidence, which I do.”

The lyrics also came to him in the night, he says.

“I started waking up in the middle of the night, three or four nights a week, always at the same time, between 3:30 and 5am. And I’d just write down these words were that were coming.

“It’s something I’m sure you’ve experienced,” Simon continued. “Which is when you have a sudden flow of information. In your case, and in my case, it will be words, or music, and it flows very freely from a source that you can’t identify. It has a natural quality to it. And sometimes something more to it. I realised years ago that I had been experiencing those moments for much of my life.

“For example, when I wrote The Sound of Silence, when I was 22 years old, I thought, ‘Well, that’s probably my best song. I can close this set with this.’ When I wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water, I thought, ‘That’s better than I usually write.’ And it came quickly.

“Same happened with the song Graceland. And now I realise there are times when you’re in what you could call ‘flow’. When it’s easy to write and time doesn’t exist.”

The poetic pair have come together exclusively for The Big Issue. Paul Muldoon praised Simon for his “regard for the poorest of the poor” in the lyrics to his new LP, which he noted will have “particular resonance for readers of The Big Issue.”

As he explained what an impact giving this interview will have, Simon responded, paying tribute to The Big Issue and our readers. “Thank you,” said Simon. “That’s a gift to me from the magazine and the readership.”

Read the full interview here.

Big Issue Front Cover Paul Simon

The incredible conversation between Paul Simon and Paul Muldoon – two creative geniuses – is available to read in full only in The Big Issue magazine from Monday 22 May.

Sign up to the Big Issue newsletter to read some behind-the-scenes details from Paul Simon’s interview and don’t forget to find your local Big Issue seller so you can get a copy when the magazine goes on sale. If you don’t have a local seller, keep an eye on the Big Issue Shop or take out a subscription to make sure you never miss an edition.

Paul Simon’s new LP Seven Psalms is out now

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