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POP MUSIC

You Can Call Him Happy

Sure, 'Capeman' was a setback, but Paul Simon has a thriving marriage and a new album celebrating love.

October 01, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is the Times pop music critic

Brushing off the disappointment of his "Capeman," the $11-million musical that was savaged by New York theater critics and closed in early 1998 after just two months on Broadway, Paul Simon returns this week with an album that is filled with the craft and imagination that have characterized his most distinguished work.

It's a recovery reminiscent of the mid-'80s, when Simon responded with "Graceland" after two of his projects were poorly received. "One-Trick Pony," the 1980 film that Simon wrote and starred in, was a dud at the box office, and "Hearts and Bones," a 1983 studio album, went largely unnoticed.

The setbacks left Simon wondering if he hadn't lost touch with his audience. Further shaking his confidence was the breakup in 1984 of his brief marriage to actress-writer Carrie Fisher.

But Simon warns against making too much of a parallel between his state of mind during the making of "Graceland" and his new "You're the One," which will be released Tuesday by Warner Bros. Records.

The New Yorker says he was in good spirits even after the failure of "Capeman," partly because he was proud of the musical and he is in a rewarding marriage to singer Edie Brickell.

The musical textures in "You're the One" aren't as distinctive as the exotic South African ones that ran through much of "Graceland," but the songs themselves are illuminating and mostly upbeat reflections on life and love.

Simon, 58, may mock the crazy twists and turns of relationships in the peppy "Darling Lorraine," the opening track, but mostly he toasts their comforts and rewards on the album. He also deals on the album with questions of aging and faith.

Simon will showcase the new music in a PBS special this fall, and he expects to begin a concert tour Oct. 16 in Sweden. The U.S. itinerary includes Nov. 16-18 stops at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Tickets go on sale Monday.

In an interview, he spoke about "Capeman," his marriage and his new album.

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Question: How crushing was the "Capeman" failure?

Answer: I didn't feel it was crushing. It was a disappointment, to be sure. A lot of time went into it and we got shut down, but I thought it was a good piece of work with an exceptional cast. I thought at the time that it was likely to return in a few years--and that is already happening. There were six performances over in England recently, and there are two companies in the U.S. that are planning on doing it, so we'll see.

Q: Isn't there also a cast album on the shelf? Is that ever coming out?

A: There is a cast album on DreamWorks that is still unreleased. We are waiting for a time when it can be released with some attention so that it won't just vanish. I didn't record some of the best songs from "Capeman" for my ["Songs from 'The Capeman' "] album because I didn't want to give away all the really good songs. My guess is we won't wait any more than another six or nine months [to release it].

Q: Do you think it was too ambitious going straight to Broadway, rather than trying to open it on a smaller scale or out of town?

A: We miscalculated that we would be reviewed immediately. We also liked the idea of going straight to Broadway. That was part of the fun for everybody, including [cast members] Marc Anthony and Ruben [Blades]. It wouldn't have been the same if we were going to play for two weeks at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Broadway was exhilarating.

Q: Did you feel you had to prove yourself again after "Capeman" like you did after "Hearts and Bones"?

A: I wasn't thinking anything like that. The play closed and everybody was exhausted from the turmoil around it. But about a month later, Edie and I had our third child, and that was wonderful. So I was in a much different place [emotionally] than after "Hearts and Bones."

It wasn't long until I started hearing music in my mind and decided to put a band together to make a new record. The only thing that came into that equation was the tour with Bob Dylan.

Q: How did the tour come about?

A: I wanted to perform and I didn't know if I could do a two-hour concert again because it had been years since I had been on the road. I thought this kind of tour would be easier. I'd only have to do an hour and 15 minutes. As it turned out, we could have done a two-hour concert. We didn't have any energy or voice problems.

I also like Bob and I like his band, and I thought it was an interesting pairing. We make different kinds of music, but there's a certain thing that links us, no question about it. It was a nice tour. I enjoyed it a lot.

Q: How did you decide which songs you wanted to do together in the show?

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