We have reached the promised land, and, by the looks of the #1 song on our top 10 songs of 2011 countdown – so has Paul Simon. A hypothetical heaven, though, one scribbled down by the consummate raconteur who knows the meaning of excellent music. “The Afterlife” is a keen, hilarious, zany, unexpected, metempirical, almost practical (I cannot list enough adjectives to describe the song’s utter beauty), take on heaven and dying.
“The Afterlife” appears on So Beautiful or So What, Paul Simon’s first studio album in five years. Simon is a musical anomaly. There are not many musicians who have the ability of producing critically acclaimed albums consecutively. He has been releasing such albums since the mid-60s – beginning with his folk duo with Art Garfunkel – and advancing forward with perspicacious solo albums. So Beautiful or So What, which was released in April, is the latest example of Simon’s genius. And I don’t use that term lightly.
I am watching the Twilight Zone currently. Rod Serling, the creator of the show, focused much attention on the unknown and alien aspects of humanity. The ultimate was, and still is, death. Much of man’s existence revolves around his inevitable fate. There is simply no way to avoid death. Yes, this may seem like a sobering and unfortunate reminder – especially on a celebratory day like New Years. But I do think there is some beauty in recognizing and understanding the ineluctable nature of our being. What comes after is a matter of faith and opinion. Some believe heaven. Some believe something else. Some believe nothing.
Paul Simon painted a humorous, bureaucratic picture in his song “The Afterlife” of a heaven where filling out forms and waiting in line is necessary before salvation can be reached. But underneath the humor is a seriousness that is emitted best in the third verse.
Buddha and Moses and all the noses
From narrow to flat
Had to stand in the line
Just to glimpse the divine
What’cha think about that?
Well, it seems like our fate
To suffer and wait for the knowledge we seek
It’s all His design
No one cuts in the line
No one here likes a sneak
Lord, Be Bop a Lula? Or ooh Papa Doo?
Be Bop a Lula