“The Afterlife” by Paul Simon – A Memorable Song off of So Beautiful or So What

20 Apr

Elvis Costello wrote a laudatory review of Paul Simon’s new release So Beautiful or So What for The Huffington Post. In the review he commented that, “Throughout the record, I kept coming up against what I can only call, rock and roll surprises; not some orthodox formula but indelible, hypnotic guitar motifs and swinging, off-center rhythms tipping your expectations into a new kind of thrill.” Costello concluded that So Beautiful or So What, “rejects the allure of fashionable darkness and the hypnosis of ignorance – better to contemplate and celebrate the endurance of the spirit and the persistence of love.”

I find Costello’s review to be apt. He, a fantastic musician himself, targets two constant musical traits that Paul Simon explores. One, a propensity for zany guitar swings and lyrical fearlessness, and two, an immutable driving “spirit.” Both of these attributes find their way into the tracks of So Beautiful or So What, and Simon’s 12th studio album and first release since 2006 enters listeners and serenades them with creative music. Paul Simon is a consummate musician who has been honing his skill for over 40 years, only now to have reached the zenith of his talent.

“The Afterlife,” track two on the album, is a great example of Costello’s praise. The guitar riff is “hypnotic” and “swinging.” Let me add a few adjectives. The riff is also effervescent, sweet and toe-tapping. It’s strong rhythm sticks to listeners like a lollipop, fruity and inviting. The beat persists through the 3:39 piece and compliments Simon’s folk croon well.

In the song, Simon sing:

“Buddah and Moses and all the noses from narrow to flat, had to stand in the line, just to glimpse the divine, what you 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”

This, the third verse, is followed by the chorus, “You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line,” which is repeated throughout the song.

The verse/chorus is my favorite lyric in Simon’s “Afterlife” lyric. It is candid religious commentary from Simon, and it is not polemic or argumentative, like some religious thought is. Simon sings that everyone must wait, no matter who you are. It is our “fate” to wait in line for the “knowledge we seek.” In the next verse, when Simon’s narrator finally meets god, he is so awe-struck that all that comes out is, “Lord is it, Be Bop A Lu La or Ooh Poppa Do.” And, if I had to guess, Simon would probably pose this question to god if he meant the omniscient being.

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