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What Simon says goes

THEY say a neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. And a psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent.

In 1980, Paul Simon, a songwriter of unquestioned genius and the odd bit of neurosis, was seeing a very expensive psychiatrist regularly in New York. The star was in a deepening crisis of faith over his song-writing -- he was very anxious about his song One Trick Pony -- and more importantly, because he believed the head of his former record label was trying to destroy him and his castle in the air.

Simon's shrink told him that he found what he was saying very interesting and he'd like him to come back and talk some more. The psychiatrist then pointed to a guitar in the corner of the room and suggested that perhaps Simon would like to take it home and write about what they talked about that day.

The first night, Simon never even opened the guitar case. The next day, Simon returned to the psychiatrist and told him it takes him months to write songs. He went back home that night and wrote on a piece of paper: "Allergies, maladies / Allergies to dust and grain / Allergies, remedies / Still these allergies remain."

Simon showed it to the shrink the next day, saying that he really didn't see "what difference it makes if I write or don't write". The shrink asked him: "Do you want to make a difference?" When Simon replied that he did, the shrink told him: "I think Bridge Over Troubled Water made a difference to people. I'm interested in working with you, because I think you can write things that people feel make a difference. That's the reason I want you writing again."

Thankfully for those of us who love music and people who know how to write about the inner world of our minds, Paul Simon got over his writer's block and career paranoia, and continues to make a difference in his songwriting to this day.

Lest we forget Paul Simon wrote classics such as Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, Late in the Evening and Still Crazy After All These Years. With his old mucker Art Garfunkel, he wrote such glorious epics as The Sound Of Silence, I Am a Rock, Scarborough Fair, Homeward Bound, Mrs Robinson, The Boxer and of course, that recession anthem, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

It is not that difficult to see why Time magazine considers Paul Frederic Simon (born October 13, 1941), who has been married three times, among the "100 People Who Shaped the World".

Personally, I think that Simon playing his 1986 masterpiece album Graceland in its entirety in the O2 in Dublin on July 12 and 13 will be the shows of the year.

The eagerly awaited event will mark the 25th anniversary of the ground-breaking (South African mbaqanga, zydeco, and whatever you're having yourself) record. It was not just the first world music record to cross over to be an international hit; it still stands up today. Songs such as The Boy In The Bubble and Graceland, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al still resonate as powerfully as they ever did.

There have been contentious and groundless claims that Simon appropriated local styles of African artists without proper credit and there was a heated controversy when Simon broke the ANC's cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa (Simon claims Harry Belafonte and Quincy Jones helped organise the trip). But the tour and the album did wonders for South African music and the careers of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.

When the Graceland tour arrived at the Royal Albert Hall in London in April 1987 for the first of six sold-out concerts, outside there were protests. Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and Jerry Dammers hand-delivered a letter to Simon, looking for him to apologise for breaking the boycott. Jerry Dammers, who famously wrote the sublimely powerful anti-apartheid song Free Nelson Mandela, told The Guardian last week on the foot of Simon reviving the Graceland tour and being joined once again by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and many other South African musicians: "I still believe he was wrong to go there and contravene the boycott, but that's in the past. It's the time not to forgive and forget, but to remember and forgive."

The O2 will be more about celebration than forgiveness when Paul Simon takes to the stage.

Sunday Indo Living