University of Nebraska Medical Center

Paul Simon unlikely to perform live again due to sudden hearing loss attributed to a severe case of COVID


Paul Simon says he suffered sudden hearing loss while recording his new album, making it unlikely that he will ever be able to tour or perform live again. 

The 81-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician and co-founder of the folk duo Simon & Garfunkel told the British newspaper the Times that the hearing in his left ear deteriorated while he was in the studio working on “Seven Psalms,” which came out May 19.

“Nobody has an explanation for it,” Simon 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, who performed one of his last live shows at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival in 2019, added that he recently survived a severe bout of COVID-19, which has been linked to sudden irreversible hearing loss in some patients. 

“Boy, have I been beaten up in these last couple of years,” he said. “But I look good, right?” 

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon performs at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Aug. 11, 2019.Photo: Paul Kuroda/Special to The Chronicle

Even though his hearing has yet to recover, Simon — who is best known for classics like “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “You Can Call Me Al” — said he felt a sense of relief in being able to step away from the stage.

“The songs of mine that I don’t want to sing live, I don’t sing them,” he said. “Sometimes there are songs that I like, and then at a certain point in a tour, I’ll say, ‘What the f— are you doing, Paul?’ ” he said. “Quite often, that would come during ‘You Can Call Me Al.’ I’d think, ‘What are you doing? You’re like a Paul Simon cover band. You should get off the road, go home.’ ”

Simon technically retired from the road following his 2018 “Homeward Bound” farewell tour, but he took the Outside Lands headlining spot a year later with the intent of donating the net proceeds from his appearance to a pair of local environmental nonprofits, the San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest. 

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon performs onstage during Global Citizen: The World on Stage at NYU Skirball Center on Sept. 22, 2016, in New York City.Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen

“Seven Psalms,” Simon’s latest album, marks his first release in seven years. The 33-minute composition consists of seven movements inspired by the Psalms of King David. The album features notable musical contributions from the vocal ensemble Voces8, renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, various chamber musicians, and Simon’s wife and fellow singer, Edie Brickell.

Simon, who asks that fans listen to the album uninterrupted, said the song “Wait” unintentionally forced him to contemplate his mortality. 

“It’s a spooky thing to be writing something and just be thinking, ‘Oh, this is what the song needs,’ ” Simon said, tearing up. “And then it’s, ‘By the way, this is about you. You’re actually the subject of this.’ It’s just the age we’re at. Gordon Lightfoot just passed away; Jeff Beck, too. My generation’s time is up.”


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