How Paul Simon Parodied Bob Dylan

via Simon & Garfunkel / Youtube

Comparisons between musicians are inevitable, but when it came to Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, the comparisons were met with mixed feelings. Dylan, known for his distinct style and poetic lyrics, often found himself imitated by aspiring artists. Simon, on the other hand, didn’t hold a particularly warm sentiment towards Dylan. In an act of musical satire, Simon penned a song titled “A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission),” which playfully parodied Dylan’s vocal and lyrical styles while including a few pointed jabs at the folk icon.

The Parody Song

“A Simple Desultory Philippic” initially appeared on The Paul Simon Songbook in 1965 and was later recorded by Simon & Garfunkel for their album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. The song was a clear parody of Dylan, from its title to its lyrics, tune, and Simon’s droning vocal delivery.

Direct Jabs at Dylan

Within the lyrics of the song, Simon didn’t hold back his criticisms of Dylan. He sings, “Not the same as you and me, He doesn’t dig poetry, He’s so unhip when you say Dylan, He thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas, Whoever he was, The man ain’t got no culture.” This verse seems to mock the perception that Dylan was a great poet. Additionally, Simon references Dylan’s song “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” by singing “It’s alright, Ma.” The song concludes with Simon saying, “I’ve lost my harmonica, Albert,” which serves as a reference to Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman.

The Title’s Insult

The title “A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)” further reflects Simon’s critique of Dylan. The word “desultory” suggests a lack of consistency or order, while “philippic” refers to a speech of bitter denunciation. By combining the two terms, Simon implies that Dylan’s political rants in his early songs were disjointed and lacking coherence.

Frustration and Inspiration

Simon’s frustration with Dylan extended beyond the parody song. In interviews, he openly expressed his disapproval of the way Dylan “dumped on” people with his music. Furthermore, Simon felt slighted by Dylan during a performance. Dylan and writer Robert Shelton attended a Simon & Garfunkel show, but they spent the entire time laughing at the bar rather than engaging with the performance. This incident left Simon feeling hurt and unrecognized by an artist he admired.

Shelton wrote in his book No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan:

“At the bar, Bob and I had been doing quite a bit of drinking and we had an advanced case of giggles over nothing. We weren’t laughing at the performance, though Simon perhaps thought we were.”