You can call me Paul

A satirical conversation between two friends on the meaning of a famous artist's music.

Paul Simon cartoon 521 (photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
Paul Simon cartoon 521
(photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
I have a friend named Paul. Well, he used to be called Paul, when we grew up together in America, but a few years ago he became all religious, moved to Israel, and now goes by his Hebrew name, Shimon. This is very confusing to me. I say “Paul,” and quickly try to correct myself by adding the “Shimon.” In the end, I have given up hope of addressing him correctly and just call him “Paul-Shimon,” which is kind of funny because his favorite musician of all time is Paul Simon.
I ran into Paul-Shimon at an event recently. He was just a naïve as ever.
“You know that Paul Simon is coming to Israel to give a concert in Ramat Gan on July 21, right?” I asked Paul-Shimon.
“Of course,” he answered proudly. “I already got my tickets. I’m taking my wife and kids. The tickets were NIS 650 each, just to sit on the grass, but it’s worth it!” Although Paul-Shimon is a big fan of Paul Simon, I knew he knew very little about his favorite performer.
I decided to have a little fun at his expense.
“So, what songs do you think he’ll play?” I asked as innocently as I could.
Paul-Shimon’s face lit up. “Well, there are the classics, of course: ‘Scarborough Fair,’ ‘The Boxer,’ ‘Cecilia,’ ‘Graceland,’ ‘Homeward Bound’...”
He paused momentarily and I added a few more: “Well, you’ve also got ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,’ ‘Slip Slidin’ Away,’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al.’” Paul-Shimon smiled and nodded. I decided that now was the time to shake things up.
“Of course, he’s got to sing ‘The Sound of Sirens,’” I said, straight-faced.
“You mean ‘The Sound of Silence,’” Paul-Shimon corrected me.
“No, it’s actually ‘The Sound of Sirens,’” I said quite firmly.
“‘Sound of Silence!’” Paul-Shimon insisted, breaking any semblance of silence in the room.
“Don’t you know anything about Simon & Garfunkel?” I began to lecture him. “Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were two nice Jewish boys who grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, New York just blocks away from each other.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know the history.” Paul-Shimon was impatient. “And then in 1964 Paul Simon wrote ‘The Sound of Silence’ in the aftermath of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.”
“That’s just what they want you to think. The original title of the song was ‘The Sound of Sirens.’ It was supposed to be a nod to the State of Israel.
When is the only time that Israelis are silent?” “Never,” Paul-Shimon laughed.
“Not true,” I corrected him. “Israelis stand silently at attention on Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron.
They don’t make a sound when that siren goes off.”
“So you’re saying that ‘c is really about sirens in Israel?” “Yup. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s nothing compared to ‘Mrs. Meyerson,’” I said.
“Mrs. Who?” my gullible friend asked.
“You remember the movie The Graduate? It’s the one with all the Simon & Garfunkel songs in it.” “Sure,” Paul-Shimon smiled, “but that was Mrs. Robinson!” “Right. But the original name of the character in that film and in the song was supposed to be Mrs. Meyerson.”
Paul-Shimon was totally perplexed, which is exactly what I wanted, so I continued.
“Anne Bancroft played Mrs. Robinson in the movie. She was married to a famous Jewish comedy actor-director.” “Woody Allen?” Paul-Shimon guessed.
“No, Mel Brooks. So Mel Brooks thought it would be funny if the character in the movie would be named after Golda Meir.”
“Golda Meir? The prime minister of Israel?” “Yes, but she wasn’t prime minister quite yet. Anyway, Brooks thought it would be hilarious to have the sexy character played by his real-life wife Bancroft be called Mrs. Meyerson.”
“Because Golda Meir was originally named Meyerson?” “Exactly. But even though Brooks and Bancroft’s Jewish co-star Dustin Hoffman were for it, Bancroft, who was not Jewish, said no. Golda was not exactly an attractive woman, you know. She felt that name wouldn’t suit the character, so they switched the name from Mrs. Meyerson to Mrs. Robinson.”
“Are you pulling my leg?” Paul-Shimon asked.
“Of course not,” I said with my fingers crossed behind my back.
I knew it was wrong to lie, but I was having too much fun to stop.
“And you know,” I added, “that Paul Simon’s songs also portend future events in Israel’s history.”
“What? You mean like if you play a Beatles record backward you hear ‘Paul is Dead’? That’s an urban legend.” “Well, do you believe in Torah Codes?” I asked him.
“Well, some of them. There are some pretty amazing things you can find in the Torah if you know where to look.”
“It’s the same thing with Paul Simon. What do you think ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ is about?” “I though it had something to do with Simon & Garfunkel’s tense professional relationship and eventual break-up.”
“Nope, it’s about the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster. Remember when that bridge collapsed and the athletes fell into the polluted Yarkon River in 1997? There you go.”
Paul-Shimon shook his head in disbelief.
“I’ve got another one for you,” I said. “‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.’” “What? Now you’re going to tell me that there aren’t 50 ways? Is that song about Israel, too?” “Look,” I calmed him down. “Paul Simon wrote a lot of songs that were inspired by political events. ‘There must be 50 ways to leave your lover’ can easily be applied to Israeli politics, as there are at least 50 ways to leave the government.”
Paul-Shimon gave me a blank look.
“Think about the lyrics. ‘Make a new plan, Stan.’ It’s talking about Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel. If ‘Stan’ makes a new economic plan and walks out, the government could fall.”
Paul-Shimon looked bewildered.
“‘Hop on the bus, Gus’?” I went on. “That’s about the new bus reform in the greater Tel Aviv area right now. Nobody knows what the hell is going on. The government could collapse about that too – and don’t get me started on the still non-operational Jerusalem Light Rail system.”
“But – ” Paul-Shimon tried to interrupt, but I wouldn’t let him.
I was on a roll.
“‘Just drop off the key, Lee!’ It might as well say, ‘Drop off the key, Lieberman!’ If Lieberman leaves, there goes the coalition!” “Do you mean to say that every Paul Simon song has some connection to the State of Israel, past or present?” Paul-Shimon asked.
“No, of course not,” I consoled him. “Not every song, but most.
Think about it when you’re at the concert, and be sure to share all these ‘insights’ with your fellow Paul Simon fans at the stadium.”
“Okay,” he said as he turned to leave.
“It was good seeing you,” I called out after him. “Next time remind me to tell you about another Jewish rocker, Billy Joel.”
“The Piano Man?” Paul-Shimon asked as he held open the exit door.
“He wasn’t always called ‘The Piano Man,’ you know. Growing up in The Bronx, he was originally called The ‘Falafel Man.’ True story.”

The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.