“I play the guitar every day. It’s where I go for solace”: Paul Simon shares the challenges of his unexpected hearing loss

Paul Simon
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Paul Simon has revealed more about the impact that hearing loss is having on his career and well-being, and said that he still played his acoustic guitar every day, finding the instrument a source of comfort in difficult times.

The legendary American songwriter’s condition is serious enough that he has threatened to force his retirement from the stage, but speaking at the premiere of In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon, the Alex Gibney documentary that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, Simon said that he is not ready to call it quits just yet.

As reported by the Hollywood Reporter, he told the audience at a post-screening Q&A that he still picks up the guitar every day and is exploring ways that he can still perform live.

“I haven’t accepted it entirely, but I’m beginning to,” admitted Simon. “I play the guitar every day. It’s the instrument that allows me to express myself creatively. But it’s also where I go for solace. If I’m feeling… ‘whatever.’ So it’s a very crucial thing to me.”

Simon’s latest album, Seven Psalms, was released in May, and now he finds himself in the unusual position of having released new material and being unsure if he will be able to perform it live.

Furthermore, in a sense, that leaves the songs unfinished for him, explaining that it is only when he plays it in front of an audience, with other musicians, that the song matures and evolves.

“A week from now I’m going to try and work with two guitarists who will play the parts that I played on the record, and see if I can sing the piece,” he said. “I’m not sure how I can integrate my voice with the guitars.”

Simon’s hearing loss, which affects his left ear, arrived suddenly and without warning as he was writing his latest album, Seven Psalms. He told The Times in May that he thought it might only have been temporary.

“Quite suddenly I lost most of the hearing in my left ear, and nobody has an explanation for it,” he said. “So everything became more difficult. My reaction to that was frustration and annoyance; not quite anger yet, because I thought it would pass, it would repair itself.”

Simon’s diagnosis is life-changing but it hasn’t stopped him writing. In that same interview, it concludes with the news that, within a couple of days, he would sit down with drummer Steve Gadd and write another song, which may or may not be the track, When I Learned to Play Guitar, that he told the audience about at TIFF.

In Restless Dreams… follows Simon during the making of Seven Psalms, and over three-and-a-half hours it offers his reflections on some of the biggest moments of his career, including his era-defining songwriting partnership with Art Garfunkel, some essential live footage, and ultimately offers an intimate perspective on Simon’s process. A process that continues today, hearing loss or not. 

In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon is released October 7. 

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.