I arranged my Facebook feed just so on a recent Sunday, then called my wife.
A picture was showing, but you couldn’t see the name at the top of the post or any message. I wanted to get her reaction.
The picture was of a man holding a guitar.
“Who is that?” I asked.
My wife looked at the screen but then went to get her glasses. Without those glasses, she can’t see any better than I can.
When she came back with the glasses and had a good look she still had no idea who the man was.
I scrolled down a little so she could see whose post it was. Then my bride uttered the same three words with the exact intonation I had moments before.
“That’s Paul Simon???!!”
I hadn’t seen Paul Simon recently. Apparently, neither had she.
“Click on it. I want to hear this,” she said.
I clicked. Then 78-year-old Paul Simon started into “Slip Sliding Away.”
My first reaction was Paul, my brother, out of all the songs in your catalogue, that is the last one I wanted to hear at this point.
Many entertainers have posted songs on social media, to perform the only way they currently can because of the virus, to comfort the world and themselves. It’s great to hear from these heroes of ours, old friends in shocking times.
Mostly their words have been calming, soothing, encouraging. Slip Sliding Away? That one was jarring.
But the more I thought about it, what exactly did I want to hear from Paul Simon at this time? “Kodachrome?” “Baby Driver?” Evocative songs but not lastingly helpful.
Paul Simon is a brilliant songwriter. With or without Art Garfunkel he is an all-time great. “Slip Sliding Away” shows Simon at the height of his songwriting powers.
I see the song as Simon saying that we’re all missing it. “The nearer your destination the more you’re slip sliding away.” In other words, after you’ve worn yourself out achieving or acquiring what you think you need, the farther you are from it.
A Google search brings this explanation: “The Paul Simon song Slip Sliding Away tells what can happen if we don’t live deliberately.”
“Drifting is just existing, coasting along without purpose or direction. Even if we have a desire dream or purpose, we spend most of our time not working towards our dreams.”
That’s kind of my thought. But in the words and the flow of the song is a sense of inevitability. It’s is a song that perhaps could have been ripped from the book of Ecclesiastes, you know “vanity of vanities” and all that.
Simon himself sees the song as flawed in how he put it together. On songfacts.com he is quoted as saying, “The last verse is a powerful one, but the chorus, it keeps coming back to the chorus.”
“I always felt it should be shorter but I didn’t know which verses to take out. Either the last verse or the father-child verse. But they all seemed like they had to be in there, so I left it.”
The song is a perfect, (if perfectly bleak) picture of our shared human reality, but only if your worldview doesn’t go any higher than the clouds.
Where I depart from the song is at a line near the end: “God only knows. God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.”
That just isn’t true.
God’s information is abundantly available. It starts from the pages of the Bible but is in no way limited to ink on a page.
As a consumer of music and as a songwriter myself, I love Slip Sliding Away. But neither you nor I can afford to say God’s information is unavailable and just leave it at that, unexamined.
Sunday on Page 7 we’ll continue this discussion, going into greater detail about God’s voice and how to hear Him above the static.