The former Simon & Garfunkel performer was at TIFF for the world premiere of “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon,” his documentary with Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. The film follows the folk icon as he recorded his new album, “Seven Psalms.”
Simon said the album’s concept and lyrics for his first full-length recording since 2018 came to him in a series of dreams. He described the 33-minute recording, released as a single track, as “an argument I’m having with myself about belief or not.” But for the first time in his career, his hearing loss has kept him from his normal routine of touring once an album is complete.
During the panel discussion, Simon shared the difficulty of performing and singing along with other instruments, such as an electric guitar or drums, due to his deaf left ear. He called the situation “frustrating,” but said he can still hear himself play the guitar.
“I play the guitar every day,” Simon said, remaining hopeful that he could still find a way to perform live and tour. “It’s the instrument that allows me to express myself creatively, but it’s also where I go for solace if I’m temporarily wounded by life.”
Simon decided not to watch the film, but took part in the discussion afterward alongside Gibney, whose documentaries have taken on Scientology, the CIA’s torture of prisoners in Afghanistan and Elizabeth Holmes’ fraud. At one point, the “Sound of Silence” performer jokingly mused whether he had missed “a standing ovation,” which drew the crowd to their feet in laughter and applause.
“Something that happens to you, when you have some sort of disability that changes your awareness, that changes your interaction with facts of life,” Simon said, reflecting on his hearing loss. “You just see things with a different perspective, and you’re surprised by the change. I’m not sure, at this point, that I can say what it is I’ve learned, but I’m getting new information in a way that is new to me.”
Simon revealed his deafness in a May interview with the Times of London, sharing that his hearing went while he was writing “Seven Psalms.” He said doctors have been unable to explain the reason for his hearing loss, which initially left him frustrated and annoyed, but not angry “because I thought it would pass, it would repair itself.”
He said the possibility of no longer performing isn’t completely a bad thing, commenting that not all of his songs are even meant to be sung live.
“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.’”