In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon is Definitive

Paul Simon performing during the Graceland tour. Courtesy of MGM+.

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon is a complementary companion to Paul Simon’s 2023 album, Seven Psalms.

A montage to a Wimberley, Texas’ KWVH intro sets the tone for the next 200+ minutes to come. In as much as the documentary is about Simon’s work on his new album, it is also about the singer’s life. And yet, it’s possible that there’s a universe where Simon does not go into music. His father–a double-bass player–did not want him going into rock and roll. He thought that rock and roll was dumb. Meanwhile, the singer has lost most of the hearing in his left ear but this isn’t stopping him from writing new songs. How much more we’ll get from him is unknown but everything from Paul Simon is a gift.

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon
In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon key artwork. Courtesy of MGM+.

When one talks about the best American songwriters of all time, Paul Simon is probably in the top ten. His work alone with Art Garfunkel is extraordinary but then he would set off on his own solo career following 1970. Simon’s career just happened to be in a different place by the time they reached Bridge over Troubled Water. He was focusing on a movie career and Garfunkel just wasn’t in a place to spend months waiting for Simon. As such, they broke up. Sure, they would reunite later on down the road but their partnership, more or less, was over. Listening to the song now really puts a new perspective on it.

It’s impossible to discuss either Paul Simon or Simon and Garfunkel without bringing up The Graduate. The film’s hit song, “Mrs. Robinson,” just happened to be the result of a happy accident. Simon’s song was unfinished while the film was in production as he says in an archival clip.

“It was made up on the spot. That was originally supposed to be a chase scene and they wanted guitar music. I was playing–I don’t know what I was playing. I was just riffing on guitar…and I had been fooling around with a song–I was singing, “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson…”

The resulting guitar riff would certainly turn into one of the best songs in the Simon and Garfunkel catalog. Joe DiMaggio making his way into the song–well, that’s certainly a different story. Paul Simon just happens to write with a stream of consciousness. It’s also possible that this has to do with Simon growing up with baseball.

Simon and Garfunkel would be in the lineup of the Monterrey International Pop Festival in 1967. Their folk music style was probably not a good fit for the festival. To put it lightly, they were performing in a music scene where rock music was clearly shifting. Folk music will always stand out in that sort of scene. A few years later, the duo would release Bridge over Troubled Water, their final album–before breaking up–with arguably two of their best songs. But despite rock music shifting, the duo were a part of the counterculture in the late 1960s.

Part 2 dives into some of Simon’s appearances on Saturday Night Live. Remember the time in which he took on the Hawk in basketball? You can watch it here while “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” plays. There’s also the SNL appearance with George Harrison. Obviously, it’s hard to give Simon’s SNL appearances a true sense of justice but Gibney and the editing team does its best.

Simon and Garfunkel would reunite in Central Park after Simon’s film, One-Trick Pony, ended up flopping. Despite the breakup, the two didn’t lose a step since breaking up over a decade earlier. It was a very different NYC at the time but people showed up to the tune of half a million. They even show the clip of a guy rushing the stage while Simon debuts “The Late Great Johnny Ace.” What’s weird is seeing Garfunkel standing off to the side and not doing anything. Meanwhile, the concert would lead to a reunion tour between the two. It would have led to their first album since 1970 but then Simon took Garfunkel’s vocals off the mix and released his own album. At the same time, the 1980s were a tough time for Simon. It wasn’t only that movies were flopping but his marriage to Carrie Fisher ended in divorce.

The second part also dives into Simon’s work on the Grammy-winning Graceland album. Simon came across a tape of mbaqanga and the studio traced it back to South Africa. As Simon and the musicians started jamming, magic started happening. None of the songs had any lyrics at the time and eventually, the singer would make his first visit to Graceland. I mean, if you’re going to name your album after the Elvis Presley mansion, it makes sense to visit the place!

Verse One is a down-to-earth 90ish minutes. As for Verse Two, it runs closer to 2 hours in length. Lengthy documentaries seem to be all the rage these days but subjects such as Paul Simon and Steve Martin are worth it. The only downside is that there are no contemporary interviews with Art Garfunkel in the film. Lorne Michaels can be heard discussing Simon. Wynton Marsalis appears on camera while Simon works on his recent album.

In as much as In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon is about his new album, it is also the definitive documentary of the singer-songwriter.

DIRECTOR: Alex Gibney
FEATURING: Paul Simon, Lorne Michaels, Wynton Marsalis

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon is now streaming on MGM+. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.