Driving and singing: Paul Simon, “Peace Like a River”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Singing is cathartic for me. I can’t imagine not singing. I do most of my singing while driving, listening to my favorite songs on my car stereo.

When I was a boy, even a teen, Paul Simon was my hero. I didn’t know anything of him personally, and except for one appearance on late-night TV — was it Saturday Night Live? I can’t remember — I’d never seen or heard anything of him but the songs he recorded. But his songs so often went straight to the heart, to things that mattered, and I loved him for being able to write so truthfully and articulately about relationships and the inner life.


My college years coincided with the introduction of the compact disc. Lots of people were selling their records to buy CDs, and like a gleaner in the fields I followed along behind them hoovering up great records on the cheap. I bought the entire Paul Simon catalog that way, including his self-titled solo debut, fresh from the breakup from Art Garfunkel. Unlike the lush, highly produced work the duo produced toward the end of their career, this album sounded spare and a little unfinished, from songwriting to instrumentation to production. Still, it produced the hits “Mother and Child Renuion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.”

But my favorite song from this record is “Peace Like a River.” I don’t know why this song resonates with me and I can’t even figure out what this song is about. But I love how the beat and guitar work create a dark mood, and I love the raw emotion I hear when he sings “I’ve seen the glorious day.” It brings tears to my eyes. And I sing aiee-e-e-e right along with him right out loud, sometimes shredding my vocal cords if they’re not warmed up.

I would die to hear Paul play this live. The closest I’ve come was a few years ago when Paul did a concert in Bloomington. I don’t remember why I couldn’t go. But local radio station WTTS broadcast the show live and I listened to it all. Unbelievably, he played this song. I just cried. I couldn’t believe it. Such an obscure old thing, but a song that has always moved me for reasons I can’t reach.

Click Play to hear Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River.”


4 responses to “Driving and singing: Paul Simon, “Peace Like a River””

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    I like Paul Simon a lot. A Greatest Hits collection that covered up through his Graceland album was one of the first 3 cds I bought when I got my first cd player.

    I had actually not heard this song before, but it fits Simon’s thing of writing and performing stuff that is musically interesting.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I still buy Simon’s albums, although usually well after they’re out. He’s still doing solid songwriting.

  2. hmunro Avatar

    I used to know this great street musician who played a lot of Paul Simon (beautifully, I might add) and one of the few worthwhile things he ever said to me was, “You don’t have to understand what Paul Simon’s songs are about to understand what they’re about.” I must admit I’ve never actually *listened* to this one — but now that you’ve encouraged me to actually consider the lyrics I can see why you’re so moved by it. I’m glad you got to hear a recording of Simon playing it in concert, but I’ll still keep my fingers crossed for you that one day soon you’ll get to hear him play this live.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How perfect: you don’t have to understand what his songs are about to know what they’re about! And thanks, yes, I hope I get to hear him play this live one day soon, too.

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