Advertisement

Paul Simon Tells Stephen Colbert Why “Feelin’ Groovy” Makes Him Cringe, How He Learned To Love Frank Sinatra’s “Mrs. Robinson” Cover, And His Outlook For Performing ‘Seven Psalms’ Live

Nearly 60 years after the release of “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” Paul Simon still cringes at the song.

The 1966 Simon & Garfunkel classic features “a line that I hate,” the singer-songwriter told Stephen Colbert on Wednesday at the DGA New York Theater. “As it’s coming up, I’m thinking, ‘Here it comes, here it comes’ – ‘Life, I love you.’ Ugh! ‘All is groovy.’ Oh!” Simon recalled with evident disdain having to “sing it with Artie all the time because it was a hit. In my own shows, I don’t do it unless I make a mistake and I do it to punish myself.”

More from Deadline

The crowd erupted with laughter at the singer-songwriter’s recollection and many others he delivered after a screening of the first part of Alex Gibney’s In Restless Dreams, a two-part documentary debuting Sunday on MGM+. Gibney was also onstage to discuss the project, which MGM+ acquired last year after its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. The talk was in many respects a warm-up for Simon’s appearance Thursday night on The Late Show for a performance and an interview with Colbert.

Conceived in 2019 and filmed in subsequent years as Simon recorded his latest album, Seven Psalms, in his Texas recording studio, the docuseries intercuts a rich trove of archival material with an unusually intimate look at Simon’s creative process.

After Simon admitted that he has not yet watched In Restless Dreams, Colbert asked if he had seen any of the Oscar-winning Gibney’s other films, citing Sinatra: All or Nothing at All. Simon said he “loved” that HBO two-parter, prompting Colbert to ask if he had ever met Frank Sinatra.

He said he had, but the question wound up eliciting a sardonic anecdote about Sinatra’s 1969 cover of “Mrs. Robinson,” a defining hit for Simon & Garfunkel released just one year earlier. “He changed the lyric,” Simon recalled, calling out the swingin’ substitution for “Jesus” in the Sinatra version. “‘And ring-a-ding-ding, Mrs. Robinson / Jilly loves you more than you will know.’ … I said, ‘You can’t do that!’ I said, ‘I’m stopping the record.'”

After threatening legal action, Simon said he finally relented when a Warner Bros executive called and issued a plea for leniency. Over time, Simon’s initially frosty response completely thawed. “In later years, I fell in love with that record,” he said, punctuating his remembrance with a big-band flourish. “You know the music that comes on after the concert’s over? That’s the first song we play. ‘Ba-da-ba-BAH!”

While the conversation yielded plenty of laughs, it also included a number of stirring passages. Simon discussed, as he does in the film, his recovery from devastating hearing loss during the making of Seven Psalms. Friend and collaborator Wynton Marsalis, in one moving section of the film, is shown encouraging Simon to not “fix” any resulting false notes but instead to preserve the “struggle” in the recording session. (Colbert commiserated by noting that he is deaf in one ear.) At the age of 82, Simon has not toured in several years and his latest album’s soulful meditation on mortality and spiritual themes has prompted speculation that it could be intended as a final artistic statement.

Flashing a bit of the Queens-bred resolve that has propelled him through a lifetime of peaks and valleys, Simon spoke about his outlook on gradually returning to more sustained live performances. While he stopped short of making any predictions about any large-scale concerts, he said, “Next month, I’m going to try to do a rehearsal with the entire ensemble of Seven Psalms.” The album, a suite presented as a single 33-minute track, features a range of woodwinds, strings and percussion layered in with Simon’s voice and acoustic guitar. “I’ll see if I can get through the piece. I’ll see if I can sing it for 35 minutes and hear properly. And I’m optimistic that I can.”

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.