When I was young and they packed me off to school

All the rock stars of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — every single one of them — started out as a toddler, a youngster, a teenager.

They may have evolved into bombastic vocalists, or hard rock guitarists, or iconic songwriters that changed the direction of rock and roll music. But at one point, they were just darling children, inquisitive kids, awkward adolescents just like the rest of us.

It’s fascinating to think about, and to see these future celebrities at a young age, still innocent and unknowing of what fate had in store for them.

I’ve done some digging in photography archives on the Internet and come up with some great photos of 25 rock and roll legends when they were just kids.

Take a gander at the photos below, make a note of who you think they are, then scroll down to see how you did. You can also read about when and where they were born, their family situations, and how they gravitated toward careers in rock music. I’ve also added a playlist of 25 deep tracks by the 25 artists featured here.

I’m curious to learn how many of these sweet young faces you recognize!

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#1: Roger Daltrey

The eventual singer for The Who was born in 1944 in East Acton, just west of London. He was the oldest of three children, and although he got excellent grades in school, he had a bad temper and would use his fists to settle arguments, which resulted in him getting expelled more than once. He played guitar but preferred singing. He’s now 77 and still performs with Pete Townshend as The Who.

#2: Grace Slick

Recognized as the first female rock singer, Slick was born in 1939 as Grace Wing in Highland Park, Ill. She and her brother and parents were moved several times between Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with the family settling in Palo Alto, CA. She married filmmaker Jerry Slick in 1961 and worked as a model for I. Magnin department store. She wrote music for Slick’s films and also joined his band, The Great Society. She was recruited to join Jefferson Airplane in 1966. She’s now 82.

#3: Donald Fagen

Fagen, one half of the spectacular songwriting team behind Steely Dan, was born in 1948 in Passaic, NJ. His mother Elinor had been a swing music singer in her teens. Fagen was 10 when the family moved to the suburbs of South Brunswick, NJ, which he disliked, and he sought solace in late-night jazz radio. He later attended Bard College in New York, where he met like-minded Walter Becker and they began writing songs together. They masterminded Steely Dan’s recording career throughout the ’70s and a resurgence in the 2000s. Now 73, Fagen still performs as Steely Dan.

#4: James Brown

The eventual Godfather of Soul was born in 1933 in Barnwell, SC, to a teenage mother and a family in poverty. They moved to Augusta, GA, in 1938, where he coped with an abusive family dynamic and survived on his own much of the time. He won a talent show singing at age 11, but at 16 served time for robbery, where he met Bobby Byrd and other future band mates and began singing both gospel and R&B music. Brown died in 2006 at age 73.

#5: Freddie Mercury

The future lead singer of Queen was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 in the British protectorate of Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) to Parsi-Indian parents. He was born with four supernumerary incisors, to which he attributed his four-octave vocal range. He spent time in British boarding schools in India, where he played rock and roll and Western pop music in bands with school chums. The family moved to Middlesex, England, outside London when he was 12 and pursued a fanatical passion for heavy rock and blues music, eventually changing his name to Freddie Mercury and forming Queen in 1970. He died in 1991 at age 45.

#6: Eric Clapton

One of rock’s finest blues guitarists was born in Surrey, England, in 1945 to a 16-year-old mother who abandoned him, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents. He acquired an instant love for American blues music at age nine, and once he got a quality guitar, he spent many hours every day for years perfecting his technique. Clapton joined a number of groups but grew restless, never staying for long. The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos all came and went before his 26th birthday. He is still an active musician at age 76.

#7: Marvin Gaye

One of soul music’s smoothest vocalists of all time was born Marvin Gay Jr. in 1939 in Washington DC. He was the second oldest of four children, and his father was a Pentecostal minister who ran a strict household. He began singing in church at age four and was encouraged at age 11 to pursue a professional singing career, which put him at odds with his violent father. Hesang with doo-wop and R&B vocal groups, began recording at 20 and became hugely popular on the Motown label in the ’60s and ’70s. He was shot to death by his father in 1984 at age 44.

#8: Jim Morrison

Born in 1943 in Melbourne, FL, Morrison was one of three children who were “military brats” whose father was an admiral in the US Navy, requiring multiple moves throughout childhood. They lived in San Diego; Alexandria, VA; Albuquerque; Kingsville, TX, and Alameda, CA and attended college in Florida and at UCLA in California. He was a voracious reader with a passionate interest in philosophy, poetry and film. While in LA, he befriended the musicians who would comprise the lineup of The Doors. He died in 1971 at age 27.

#9: Elvis Presley

“The King” was born in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. His twin brother was stillborn, leaving Presley to be raised an only child to parents who struggled to make ends meet. Presley sang and learned guitar as a grade-school kid, singing mostly gospel and country music. The family moved to Memphis when he was 13. Despite little encouragement from friends, family or teachers, Presley began performing at school and in talent shows. At 19, he recorded a few tracks at Sun Records, where he was discovered and nurtured as a pioneer of the new hybrid musical genre known as rock and roll. Presley died in 1977 at age 42.

#10: Stevie Nicks

The future star in Fleetwood Mac’s late ’70s lineup was born in 1948 in Phoenix. Nicks was taught by her uncle to sing melodies and harmonies by age four, and her mother instilled a deep love of fairy tales and fantasy literature. Her family moved often, living throughout the West and Southwest US, eventually settling in the Bay Area, where Nicks joined her first band at 19 and met musical and romantic partner Lindsay Buckingham in 1970. Nicks remains an active recording and performing artist at age 73.

#11: Jerry Garcia

The man later known as Captain Trips as leader of The Grateful Dead was born in 1942 in San Francisco to parents of Spanish and Irish-Swedish ancestry. His father died when Garcia was only four, and he and his brother were sent by his mother to live with their grandparents for five years, a period when Garcia was exposed to country music through Grand Ole Opry radio shows. He learned to play piano, guitar and banjo when the family was reunited and lived in Menlo Park, CA. He grew fond of rock and roll and R&B in 1959-60 and and soon met the musicians who would make up the Grateful Dead in the mid-to-late ’60s. Died in 1995.

#12: Diana Ross

Ross was born in 1944 in Detroit as the second oldest of seven children. The family lived in a few different neighborhoods in the Detroit area, and Ross excelled at a magnet school where she learned skills to become a fashion designer. At the same time, she pursued an interest in singing by joining The Primettes, a female offshoot of the male group The Primes, and won a talent contest in Windsor, Ontario. The Primates won an audition with Motown in 1959 and soon became the chart-topping Supremes. Ross is now 77.

#13: Neil Young

Young was born in 1945 in Toronto, Canada. His family lived in the small rural town of Omeemee, about 100 miles northeast of Toronto. At age seven he contracted polio during the last outbreak of that disease there. When his parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Winnipeg in the prairies of central Canada, where joined his first band at age 15. He later joined The Squires, who played hundreds of gigs all over Canada in the early-mid 1960s. He met Stephen Stills and later moved to Los Angeles to form Buffalo Springfield. Young is still a very active singer-songwriter at age 76.

#14: Joni Mitchell

Born Roberta Joan Anderson in 1943 in Alberta, Canada, Mitchell and her parents also lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Like her fellow Canadian Neil Young, she contracted polio at age nine which limited her activities to painting and other art forms. She taught herself guitar, and because the polio had weakened her left hand, she devised alternate tunings to compensate. She grew to enjoy country, jazz and rock music but first pursued folk at coffeehouse venues in Canada and then the US. Her marriage to Chuck Mitchell in 1965 was over by 1967. Mitchell no longer performs due to health issues but still makes public appearances at 78.

#15: Bruce Springsteen

The Boss was born in 1949 in Freeport, NJ, as part of a working-class family of five. Springsteen had a difficult relationship with his father, from whom he sought refuge in playing rock guitar, first inspired by seeing Elvis Presley and then The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. He became passionate about playing in rock bands and writing his own songs at age 19, heading up four different bands between 1969 and 1972 when he won a contract from Columbia Records. At 72, Springsteen is still writing, recording and performing with and without his collaborators in The E Street Band.

#16: Mick Jagger

Born in 1943 in Kent, England, Jagger was part of a middle-class family of four. He resisted following his father’s career path as a physical education teacher and gymnast, instead committing to being a singer, both in church choirs as well as pickup rock bands. He did well in school and attended the London School of Economics, and even thought about becoming a politician but chose to return to music with his old friend Keith Richards, joining forces with Brian Jones in Blues, Incorporated. Still active, 78.

#17: Jimi Hendrix

In 1942 in Seattle, Al and Lucille Hendrix had their first son, Johnny, who they renamed James Marshall Hendrix when he turned four. An unstable family life led him to retreat into music, mostly ’50s rock and roll. He learned guitar by ear, practicing relentlessly while listening to blues records. He served in the Army for less than a year, then pursued as musical career with a vengeance, playing in bands led by King Curtis and Little Richard. He moved to England in 1966 to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience, constantly seeking new techniques and sounds from his guitar. He died in 1970 at age 27.

#18: David Bowie

He was born David Jones in 1947 in Brixton, England. He showed significant early aptitude for dance, and his half-brother exposed him to jazz, philosophy, Buddhism, Beat poetry and the occult. He learned guitar, recorder, sax and piano by the time he was 14, and sang in school choirs and vocal ensembles. By the time he was 20, he changed his name to David Bowie to avoid being confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees. Always eager to learn and try new things, his career was marked my numerous stylistic changes. He died in 2016 at age 69.

#19: John Lennon

Lennon was born in 1940 in Liverpool, England. His father abandoned the family and his mother felt unable to handle the responsibility of a child, so Lennon was raised by his strict aunt, although his mother lived nearby and exposed him to rock and roll records and taught him the banjo. He drew cartoons and wrote inventive prose for his school paper, later forming a band called The Quarrymen. He met Paul McCartney at age 17 and formed The Beatles in 1959. Lennon was shot and killed in 1980 at age 40.

#20: Gregg Allman

Allman was born in 1947 in Nashville as the younger of two sons. His father was killed when Gregg was only two, forcing his mother to return to school to become a CPA, which necessitated the Allman brothers attend a military academy. Going to concerts and discovering blues from a neighbor’s record collection set both boys on a path to music, first in Florida, then California before returning to Macon, Georgia, where they formed the Allman Brothers Band in 1968. Duane Allman died at age 24 in 1971 as the band was becoming a success. Gregg Allman died in 2017 at age 69.

#21: Brian Wilson

Wilson, born in 1942 in Inglewood, CA, was the oldest of three brothers. They enjoyed singing and harmonizing with their cousin and friend, under the tutelage of their father Murry Wilson, a songwriter and aspiring business manager. Brian could learn songs by ear and had perfect pitch, and his father supported his dreams of success in the pop music business, although his volcanic temper traumatized Brian, later requiring years of psychotherapy. The Beach Boys became the country’s most popular group in the early/mid ’60s. Wilson’s brothers Carl and Dennis died in 1998 and 1983, respectively, while Brian is still active in the music industry at age 79.

#22: Carole King

Carol Klein was born in 1942 in Manhattan. Her mother, a teacher, played piano, and it was discovered when Carol was only four that she had perfect pitch. She had a natural talent for playing and singing songs from the radio after hearing them only once. In high school, she changed her name to Carole King and began writing songs, competing with New York contemporaries like Neil Sedaka and Paul Simon. With then-husband Gerry Goffin, King wrote dozens of hits for other artists before striking out on her own in 1970. At age 79, she still performs occasionally, sometimes with longtime friend James Taylor.

#23: Glenn Frey

In 1948 in Detroit, Frey was born into a suburban family who encouraged music education. Frey played piano in grade school before switching to guitar in order to play in at least a half-dozen different rock groups in his high school and college years. He learned how to do harmony vocals working with a regional vocal group, and met and became close friends with up-and-coming rocker Bob Seger. He moved to L.A. in 1968 at age 20, where he eventually met Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Don Henley, and formed The Eagles. Frey died at age 67 in 2016.

#24: Janis Joplin

Joplin was born in 1943 in Port Arthur, TX, as the oldest of three children. She was bullied and regarded as an outcast by fellow students in high school, which led her to hang out with other like-minded kids, one of whom had a huge record collection of blues singers like Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. Exposure to these artists inspired Joplin to seek a career as a blues singer. At 20, she hitchhiked with a friend to San Francisco, where she became enamored by the vibrant music scene there. Seven years later, she died of a drug overdose in 1970 at age 27.

#25: Bob Dylan

Robert Zimmerman was born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, the older of two boys. He was raised most of his childhood in nearby Hibbing, where his mother’s family roots were. He formed bands while at Hibbing High School, playing Elvis and Little Richard covers. He changed his last name to Dylan, moved to New York City and switched from rock to folk music “because the songs were more serious. I liked the deeper feelings.” He began his career in 1961, becoming arguably the voice of his generation through his original music and lyrics. Dylan is still going strong at age 80.

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To accompany these “deep photos,” I’ve assembled a playlist of 25 deep tracks, one by each of the 25 artists. These aren’t songs you hear very often, but they’re favorites of mine. Enjoy!

A poet and a one-man band

I’d say there are less than a dozen true geniuses of song craftsmanship in popular music, and among that rarified club, Paul Simon is my personal hero. Essentially, he’s the reason I wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar — so I could sing his songs around campfires and in back yards with friends and family.

From the delicate melodies and wistful lyrics of his early days with Art Garfunkel through his use of an ever-broadening palette of musical styles and rhythms and vocabulary-rich lyrics as a solo artist, Simon has astonished and impressed critics and the public alike for nearly six decades. This week, he turned 80, and although he has retired from touring, and might not record another album of new music, he can rest comfortably in the knowledge that he is broadly acknowledged as one of the two or three best songwriters in our lifetimes.

He has not been a prolific composer. While contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison have each released upwards of 40 albums of new material since their debuts in the mid-‘60s, Simon has fewer than 20 (five with Garfunkel and 15 on his own). He has tended to labor a long time between records, struggling with his perfectionism and occasional writer’s block issues. Consequently, his work has, in my view, been more consistently excellent than his peers who, while capable of monumentally strong songs and albums, have numerous duds in their catalogs. I would venture to say Simon’s portfolio contains only two LPs that could be considered below average.

“Tom and Jerry” in 1957

Born and raised in Queens in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, Simon claims to be essentially a rock ‘n roll kid, cutting his teeth on ‘50s rhythm and blues, doo-wop and Buddy Holly. With his middle school pal Garfunkel, he worked on tight harmonies in The Everly Brothers mold and even won a modest recording contract while still in high school, and the duo, calling themselves Tom and Jerry, had a minor hit (#49) called “Hey Schoolgirl” in 1957. That was essentially a “one-hit wonder,” however, and the two eventually parted ways to pursue their own paths in college and elsewhere.

By the time he was 22, Simon was starting to emulate Dylan’s penchant for writing meaningful lyrics that expressed much more emotion and weight than the standard pop songs of the day. He and Garfunkel regrouped in 1964, now under the auspices of Columbia Records, and released their debut album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” a mix of traditional folk songs and promising Simon originals. The duo’s perfectly blended voices were their key attribute, and critics noted the depth and sophistication in songs like Simon’s “The Sound of Silence”… but the album stiffed. Garfunkel returned to academia and taught high school algebra, and Simon headed for England to hone his craft and try his hand at performing on street corners and in small cafés.  

Once “folk rock” became a thing in 1965, when lyrically relevant material was recorded by bands playing electric guitars to rock arrangements, a producer at Columbia took the quiet recording of “The Sound of Silence,” grafted on some electric guitar, bass and drums, and voila! Simon and Garfunkel went to #1.

The duo promptly regrouped to record and release their second album, “Sounds of Silence,” which included the hit single and an impressive array of originals Simon had been writing, including the follow-up hit “I Am a Rock” and introspective works like “April Come She Will,” “Kathy’s Song,” “Leaves That Are Green” and “A Most Peculiar Man.” A third Top Five hit, “Homeward Bound,” anchored the duo’s elegant third album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme,” a sumptuous buffet of delicate melodies and harmonies, with lyrics that alternated between melancholy and soothing: “The Dangling Conversation,” “For Emily, Whenever I Might Find Her,” “Cloudy,” “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall” and their fine interpretation of the olde English folk song, “Scarborough Fair.” In 1967, three sprightly S&G singles, all written by Simon, kept them high on the charts — “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Fakin’ It” and “At the Zoo.” Clearly, this was a composer worth taking seriously.  

And yet, he had only barely scratched the surface of his songwriting abilities. In 1968 and 1969, masterpieces like “America,” “Old Friends,” “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Boxer” demonstrated an entirely new level of musical maturity and lyrical storytelling. The song cycle on the first side of the “Bookends” album (including “America” and “Old Friends”) is an incredible achievement, with songs that depict the human condition from childhood to old age, and “The Boxer” includes a verse (deleted on the original recording, but restored in concert ever since) that is unusually prophetic for a man still in his 20s: “Now the years are rolling by me, they are rockin’ evenly, I am older than I once was and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual, no it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same…”

He and Garfunkel truly became household names when Simon’s music was used as an integral element of the seminal coming-of-age film “The Graduate.” But it was the game-changing, Grammy-winning 1970 masterpiece “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” acclaimed worldwide as a picture-perfect example of gospel songwriting, that elevated Simon to membership among the elite composers of his time. The album offered a broader variety of musical styles, from quasi-bossa nova (“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”) and shimmering acoustic (“The Only Living Boy in New York”) to driving folk rock (“Baby Driver”) and sweet balladry (“Song For the Asking”). It sold upwards of 25 million copies.

I was among the many diehard S&G fans who protested loudly when the duo chose to part company following the “Bridge” concert tour in 1970. Just as The Beatles dissolved amid the tension of being together 24/7, Simon and Garfunkel had also grown apart, eager to pursue separate passions. Simon the songwriter felt constrained by what he viewed as S&G’s limited format. “I was fascinated with the idea of exploring other musical genres,” he said. “I was eager to write music that wouldn’t have worked in the S&G context.” Savvy listeners saw this coming in the duo’s final singles — the use of Peruvian instruments and rhythms on “El Condor Pasa” and the bold, raw percussion that dominated “Cecilia.”

Simon’s first two solo albums — 1972’s “Paul Simon” and 1973’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” — offered a veritable cornucopia of rhythms and textures far removed from the typical S&G songs: the reggae influences in “Mother and Child Reunion,” the Hispanic street beat of “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” the doo-wop/gospel hybrid of “Loves Me Like a Rock,” the blues of “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” the jazz of “Tenderness.” And the lyrics continued to provide uncommon insight. Consider how beautifully he captured the angst and malaise of the mid-’70s in “American Tune”: “Well, we come on a ship they call the Mayflower, we come on a ship that sailed the moon, /We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune, /Oh but it’s all right, it’s all right, we can’t be forever blessed, /Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day, and I’m trying to get some rest…”

Simon’s Grammy awards continued with 1975’s Album of the Year, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” which chronicled the dissolution of his first marriage with extraordinary melodies and lyrics that were simultaneously heartbreaking and whimsical: “I Do It For Your Love,” “Gone at Last,” “My Little Town,” “Have a Good Time.” On the deep track “You’re Kind,” he offered this summation:  “So goodbye, goodbye, I’m gonna leave you now and here’s the reason why, I like to sleep with the window open, and you keep the window closed, so goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…”

This is a crucial point about Simon’s work — the balance between poignancy and playfulness.  Some observers pigeonholed him (at least at first) as a man obsessed with loneliness and depression, but his catalog also includes dozens of songs full of lighthearted, effervescent words and rhythms:  “Feelin’ Groovy,” “Baby Driver,” “Duncan,” “Kodachrome,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Punky’s Dilemma,” “Late in the Evening,” “You Can Call Me Al,” “Proof,” “So Beautiful or So What.”  Far from a buzzkill, Simon has composed many tunes that overflow with joy and delight: “I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep, I’m dappled and drowsy and ready for sleep, /Let the morningtime drop all its petals on me, /Life, I love you, all is groovy…”

He fell out of favor for a period in the early ’80s with two projects (the 1980 film and soundtrack “One-Trick Pony” and the somewhat uninspired “Hearts and Bones” in 1984) that didn’t quite grab the public’s attention as his earlier works had. Still, there are marvelous tunes to be found on those albums by those who take the time, even now, 40 years later: “God Bless the Absentee,” “Jonah,” “One-Trick Pony,” “Train in the Distance,” “Hearts and Bones.” I’m especially fond of “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” Simon’s ode to a ’50s R&B singer that deftly works in a verse mourning the loss of another “Johnny Ace”: “On a cold December evening, I was walking through the Christmastide, when a stranger came up and asked me if I’d heard John Lennon had died, /And the two of us went to this bar and we stayed to close the place, and every song we played was for the late great Johnny Ace, yeah yeah yeah…”

In between those two LPs came a satisfying reunion with Garfunkel before 500,000 people in Central Park, which spawned an HBO special and a successful live album. The duo even went on a brief US tour in 1983 and made noises about a new S&G studio album, but as it turned out, the two weren’t getting along well, and Simon chose to return to his solo pursuits, which angered Garfunkel, the record company and many fans.

Simon’s restlessness sent him searching for new inspiration, and he found it in the compelling rhythms coming out of South Africa.  He found himself embroiled in controversy at the time by dancing around the boycott of the country’s repressive apartheid government, but he firmly resolved to expose the world to the insistent beats of the African artists he was working with.  The result, 1986’s phenomenal “Graceland,” won widespread praise, chart success, and still more Grammys.  “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “The Boy in the Bubble,” “Under African Skies” and the indelible title track, among others, firmly reestablished Simon as one of the crown jewels among American songwriting musicians.

For “The Rhythm of the Saints” (1990), Simon used West African and Brazilian instruments and rhythms to build on “Graceland’s” momentum, producing a thoughtful, nuanced record that, while less commercially successful, maintained Simon’s stature with irresistible tracks like “Born at the Right Time,” “Proof,” “The Obvious Child,” “She Moves On” and “The Coast.”  

From there, he made the rather curious move to immerse himself for nearly five years in the dark story of a Puerto Rican teenager known as The Capeman who was convicted of two 1959 murders, and he wrote an entire song cycle (interesting but repetitive) and spearheaded an ambitious Broadway play about it all.  Sadly for him, it debuted to disastrous reviews in 1997 and closed within weeks, leaving him bruised and unsure of himself.

Stung by this experience, he retreated from view for a while, but re-emerged in 2000 with “You’re the One,” a triumphant return to form with classic Simon songs (“Darling Lorraine,” “Old,” “That’s Where I Belong”) that offered a vibrant mix of pathos, intricate melodies, understated elegance and wry observations:   “Love, we crave it so badly, makes you want to laugh out loud when you receive it, and gobble it like candy…”  The industry and the buying (downloading) public had moved on to other things, for the most part, but the LP still managed to break into the Top 20.

In light of the stormy split with Garfunkel he initiated in the ’80s, I was surprised but pleased when Simon gave in to those who clamored for a comprehensive Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour in 2003, captured on a beautifully produced double CD with DVD in 2004. It was a dream come true for S&G fans like me, especially because they unearthed favorite deep tracks like “The Only Living Boy in New York” and added spirited instrumental codas to classics like “Homeward Bound” and “America.” They even invited their early idols, The Everly Brothers, to join them for a few numbers each night.

S&G may have put on fine shows that were rapturously received, but it was apparently just that — a show. Behind the scenes, it was another story, with many tensions rising between them. They’d clearly outgrown each other, and whatever friendship had existed seemed to have dissolved by tour’s end. They don’t have much nice to say to or about each other anymore…

Since then, Simon has given us four new solo releases. In 2006, he partnered with atmospheric producer Brian Eno, of all people, and the result was “Surprise,” a challenging record that marries Simon’s observational oeuvre with Eno’s ambient musical structures. I found it jarring in places; “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” has typically wry Simonesque lyrics, but the music sounds like…well, someone else. I preferred the album closer, “Father and Daughter,” a love song to Simon’s daughter, Lulu, which had actually been written in 2002 for the animated film “The Wild Thornberrys Movie.”

I regard his 2012 release, “So Beautiful or So What,” as his most consistent work of the past 20 years. He showcased the mesmerizing title track on a “Saturday Night Live” appearance that year (his 14th, by the way), and also gifted us such fine tunes as “Dazzling Blue,” “Rewrite” and the tongue-in-cheek “The Afterlife,” on which Simon mused about what we might all expect when we die:  “I thought it was odd there was no sign of God just to usher me in, then a voice up above sugar-coated with love, said ‘Let us begin:  You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line…‘”

The hit-or-miss nature of his “Stranger to Stranger” LP in 2016 was a bit frustrating at first, but these songs grow on you. As has been the case throughout his solo career, Simon has shown a tenacious desire to discover and create new sounds, typically beginning with unusual rhythms, achieved by trying different percussive instruments. He brought in remarkably creative collaborators like Italian electronic artist Clap! Clap!, who participated on cool tracks like “The Werewolf” and “Wristband,” a hilarious look at how even the star of the show can’t get past security without a damn wristband.

His most recent release, 2018’s “In the Blue Light,” is actually a radical reworking of some of Simon’s lesser known songs, using very laid-back arrangements.  They’re interesting in their own way, particularly “Can’t Run But” and “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” but they certainly don’t improve on the originals. When I saw him at the Hollywood Bowl that year, I was hoping for a liberal dose of these more obscure tracks, but he chose to stick with the tried-and-true that most people came to hear.

So now, at 80, Simon appears to have cashed in his chips. After serving as one of society’s keenest observers for six decades, he will evidently be watching from the sidelines from now on. As a staunch devotee of Simon’s music, I greedily wish he would continue, but he has most definitely earned the right to retire. His albums are there in my collection (some vinyl, some CD, some both!), and I will still strum his songs in my back yard to anyone who cares to listen. For those who know only his radio hits, I urge you to delve deeper into the Spotify playlist I assembled and familiarize yourself with the many dozens of recorded gems written by this superbly gifted man.

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