Still (not) Crazy

I am not crazy. And if anyone tells you different, it’s just semantics.

I’ve never been crazy, and yet I love “Still Crazy After All These Years.” It’s not a song I truly identify with—because I’m not crazy, remember—but it’s a song that latches on to me. And it hangs heavy. And sweet. Bittersweet, maybe.

The song was not a huge hit for Paul Simon. It peaked at No. 40 in late May 1976—right at the time I was finishing high school. “Still Crazy” didn’t grab me until later, though. Maybe it took a few years to sink in.

Along the way—after all these years, I guess—the song has become part of my soundtrack. One of my lifesongs.

I love the instrumentation. The mellow tones of the electric piano have a pulsing, almost haunting vibe. In the single, the flute and strings float around during the bridge to the point where you almost lose the sense of the song, and then the saxophone rides in, dynamic and soaring. In this version, the sax solo verges on spiritual.

There’s an old Saturday Night Live show with Paul performing “Still Crazy” (not in the turkey suit). I can’t find the video, but I can still see the SNL bass player in a final jam, walking the song home. I love it.

It was watching Paul sing “Still Crazy” on SNL40, the reunion show, that inspired me to examine my relationship with the song. Paul’s voice is weaker, naturally, but it doesn’t diminish the song’s nostalgic intensity. It’s a sort of performance art. With his hands, he tosses off a line here and there, he directs, he cajoles, and he ten-finger stabs an imaginary keyboard.

I don’t know enough about writing music to understand how chords and keys are chosen, but I know the progressions and changes in this song strike a chord within me. Inside me. Paul gives insight into the song’s composition in this session with Dick Cavett.

That’s the music. But what about the lyrics? They speak of several scenes: encountering an old girlfriend, a late-night soul-search, and a late-life listlessness—or restlessness. And there’s an introspective verse about being steadfast and solitary. But nothing about those thoughts or actions sound crazy.

I’ve done things that might fit some colloquial definitions of crazy without being clinically insane. I constantly play for laughs. I take “You’re crazy, Bob” as a compliment. And while I’ve been clever and bold, I’ve also been obnoxious and cutting. I’ve shown poor judgment. I’ve been lazy. I’ve been overserved and irresponsible. But I haven’t been insane.

And still this song speaks to me, and here’s why: I don’t hear Simon sing crazy and think insane. I hear crazy and think longing. (Heck, he says “longing.”) I hear still crazy and think still searching. And I am, too.

I’m still searching. Still learning. Still yearning. After all—that’s right—after all these years.

I don’t worry about doing “some damage one fine day.” But I want to do something in my life that counts. Something that helps. Something that matters … to a jury of my peers. I’m still yearning for that.

I’m sentimental. I’m nostalgic and wistful. I might even be restless. But I am not crazy. And it’s not crazy to be touched by a tune and moved by the music of an electric piano. It’s a lifesong, and it’s part of who I am.