Paul Simon, the treasured American singer-songwriter, has lived a lifetime of acclaim in his art. Last year, he declared in a revealing interview on CBS that he feels he has written enough songs and isn't really interested in adding to his catalog. What Paul Simon loves is new thoughts and new sounds, and bringing them to the stage in powerful, unforgettable ways. His May 24 performance of “Questions for the Angels” on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert stands out among that collection of powerful and unforgettable moments. Any listener through the timeless moments of this live performance had to be glad to be awake, to be alive, to be blessed to hear this song that speaks so much in these turbulent times.

On a lighter note

Paul Simon and Stephen Colbert shared a lighter mood in these stressful times just before the host’s buoyant introduction. Paul Simon divulged that he would be performing his “Angels” song for the first time ever on the revered stage. Stephen Colbert mentioned that he seldom hears “The 59th Street Bridge Song” anymore. “I loathe that song,” moans Simon. The songwriter insists that the “Feelin’ Groovy” tune evokes the “wrong mood.” Colbert and Simon collaborate on an improvised version that seems more fitting, all for smiles.

After the politically savvy host takes a verse about impending bombing by North Korea and running for the shelters, Simon takes his turn with an environmental focus, singing “the Arctic is melting, the seas are boiling” while Colbert chimes in “these aren't the first pants that I'm soiling.” As musical director, Jon Batiste and the tuba player take seats on the couch after an election--referenced refrain, the conclusion comes “we're all doomed, but feelin’ groovy.”

Paul Simon provides true sustenance for the soul when it comes to the stage to close the evening.

Angels in the midst

Paul Simon is an artist who rarely takes to the talk show stage. When he makes issues public, it's because they matter, and are very personal for the musician. In a brief talk before his performance, Simon described how Edward O Wilson's book, Half Earth, had reinvigorated his passion for the planet, and his view of humankind.

When Paul Simon begins his tour in late May, the proceeds will benefit Wilson's Biodiversity initiative, committed to bringing half the earth back to nature.

Paul Simon unassumingly took the stage, strumming gently to open “Questions for the Angels.” Bill Frisell is acclaimed in his work as composer, producer, and bandleader.

Under these blue lights, however, he was the immaculate accompanist. His delicate fingering laid the perfect sonic palette for “the questions that he copied from his heart” that Simon depicts in his moving ballad. The song probes life, love, and the greater purpose for all, asserting that “pilgrims and fools” believe in angels. Its theme questions what the contemporary world esteems as valuable. Its final inquiry is if “even one zebra tear” would be shed at man’s passing. The global community is encompassed from the streets of Brooklyn to the pilgrimages humankind makes through life, and finally to the African plains, filled with zebras. Only Paul Simon can ask big questions so casually.

Anyone wanting to listen to “Questions for the Angels” can listen to the 2011 version, recorded on the album, So Beautiful or So What. Paul Simon will be revisiting the song on an album that's currently in the works of past songs possibly overlooked, so now “angels” may receive proper notice, in more ways than one.