God and His only Son Paid a courtesy call on Earth One Sunday mornin' 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
"The first verse is this vivid line about God and his only son in this Disneyfied setting of orange blossoms and birds singing a very sweet depiction."
"In the second verse, God's unimpressed with the way we've tidied up or not tidied up the planet. I mean, these people are slobs. Once I'd finished with that verse, my instinct said the rest of the song is a love song. I've finished with my quotient of cynicism. Now it has to be a love song."
"'Thank God I found you' is an expression of profound love, but it also turns the song and connects it to God, who in the second verse called these people a bunch of slobs. So, as well as being an expression of a deeply felt love, the line is ironic in the context of the first two verses."
"Many of the songs start very bleakly, and then they turn. Why would I do that? Well, I don't really know. I just notice that that happens. It's the first thing that comes out of me. Obviously I'm not of the "first thought, best thought" school of thinking."
This is the first time in 20 years that I sat down in a room and wrote songs the way I used to—like with, say, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” or any of those songs from the ’70s. I was really out of practice in just sitting with the guitar. I was really starting with a blank page.
So when I begin, I usually improvise a melody and sing words—and often those words are just clichés. If it is an old songwriting cliché, most of the time I throw it away, but sometimes I keep it, because they’re nice to have. They’re familiar. They’re like a breather for the listener. You can stop wondering or thinking for a little while and just float along with the music.
I may come to a point in the song where I realize I don’t really have to come up with a great line here. I can let the music speak. What I need is a hooky melody. You’re going back and forth, words and music. If they come together—your best words with your best melody—well, that’s something. That’s rare.
You know, I haven’t spoken to any of the other guys of my generation about how they do it. I’ve known Bob Dylan for a long time and I’ve known Paul McCartney for a long time, but we’ve never talked about songwriting. Poets seem more inclined to reveal how they work. Friends of mine like Billy Collins, for instance—he gets an idea and he writes it down and if he doesn’t finish it in that first burst of energy, he lets it go. With me, if it’s a good idea and I don’t have it right, I stay with it. You have to be patient, just keep erasing what you don’t like. At a certain point it becomes alive, and you know the problems are solvable with solutions you may have used before. That’s my songwriting process.
—As told to Alex Hoyt
Simon sat down in the New York studio of his friend, portraitist Chuck Close, for a conversation about inspiration and the creative process.