Here's an excerpt:
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Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was listening to a box set of old American recordings one day. Among the songs, he found a Christmas sermon bearing the voice of Atlanta's Rev. J.M. Gates, a hugely popular preacher in the 1930s and '40s. That
sermon stayed with Simon, who turned it into a song.
"It really struck me, not only because it was really an unusual way of having a Christmas sermon, because it's very dark, it's like a warning," Simon tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, "but also ... there was a real rhythmic pulse to it ... it sounded so natural. I lived with that for a while, and then I thought, 'I could write a song called "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," and find a way of making verses that
lead up to the sermon and then follow the sermon.' "
That song now leads Simon's new album, So Beautiful or So What. The sermon that inspired him warns of someone "coming for your boy" on Christmas Day.
"Everybody's thinking that Christmas is going to be a joyous occurrence, but what is
also going on is that you may not even make it to Christmas Day," Simon says of the sermon he samples in the song. "Don't plan on this, because there are all kinds of dangers that surround Christmas Day."
"We're living in a certain time, and we're aware of it. And that's part of what we're aware of, along with our own personal aches and pains," Simon says. "The dialogue between what's going on in the world and what's going on internally seems to be a natural thing — well, it's natural to me, anyway, to have these thoughts."
Religious imagery runs throughout So Beautiful or So What. Simon has always peppered his work with religious themes, but he uses it to support the stories in his songs.