The New York Times Should Fire Tom Friedman and Let Paul Simon Write His Column Instead

Mustachioed aspic Tom Friedman has written a thousand words in today's New York Times about Paul Simon. The point of the column seems to be, basically, that there's a new documentary about Simon's album Graceland, and also Paul Simon is Tom Friedman's friend.

Which, whatever — what's the point of having a Times op-ed column if you can't brag about your famous friends? — because what the column really does is draw attention to the fact that Friedman and Simon have been writing about the same thing for years now, and one of them is a terrible and embarrassing hack and the other one is one of the great song lyricists of the last half-century or so.

I mean, "You Can Call Me Al," which you can listen to at left, is basically about Tom Friedman, Columnist, a decade before the Times even gave him a column:

A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the Third World
Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound
The sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen and Hallelujah!

And "The Boy in the Bubble" is like a classic Friedman jawn about The Age In Which We Live, and how Technology Is Changing Everything, only, holy shit, instead of being glib and self-satisfied it's good, and despite being (I think, at least) ambivalent about Our Epoch is actually kind of convincing in its awe at Modern Times:

And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry baby, don't cry
Don't cry

All of Simon's 80s stuff — his peak period — is shot through with this same awe, this Koyaanisqatsi feeling of reverence and dread and excitement at the size and speed of the world. And a fascination with the next generation!:

Me and my buddies we are travelling people
We like to go down to restaurant row
Spend those Euro-dollars
All the way from Washington to Tokyo
I see them in the airport lounge
Upon their mother's breast
They follow me with open eyes
Their uninvited guest

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

Too many people on the bus from the airport
Too many holes in the crust of the earth
The planet groans
Every time it registers another birth

(Not that the Simon/Friedman shared obsessions are limited to Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints; Simon's been writing about American identity and the decline of American power since he was singing with Garfunkel in the 1960s.)

If we were going to be really kind to Friedman, we might say that he's trying to write the Times column version of "The Boy in the Bubble" or "Born at the Right Time." And while he gets some of it — he clearly shares Simon's wonder at, and his fear about, the future — he misses Simon's sense of openness, of compassion, of fascination. Friedman's columns are unthinking and smug. He writes in meaningless instructions and empty platitudes. He's the "flat earth" guy; Simon is the "lasers in the jungle" guy. I know which metaphor I'd want to read in the paper!

(As an added bonus, Simon, like Friedman, loves rich people, and especially rich New Yorkers. He just makes them and their parties sound ridiculous and funny! And not, like, profound or important or whatever.)