A Night of Nostalgia with Paul Simon

For me and my best friend Robin, Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert was not just any girls’ night out. It was our first and last chance to see Paul Simon on his “Farewell Tour.” Both of us remember listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in eighth grade and discussing the song with our teacher, who preferred “Cecilia.” Countless sleep over dates were spent listening to Paul Simon’s music, one of the soundtracks of our turbulent teen age years.  Now he’s a musical icon, 76 years old, about to retire, and Robin and I are two old hippies snatching some special moments from our youth before it’s too late….IMG_2669

So much about the evening special.  We had “VIP” seats and were required to arrive an hour early to pass through security and pick up our gift bags (a plastic dish and mouse pad emblazoned with a youthful Simon).  Although we were whisked through a special entrance where a security guard peered briefly into our bags with a flash light, we saw huge crowds waiting on line at the main entrance and lobby.  Madison Square Garden had been transformed into an airport experience with metal detectors and people loading their bags into plastic trays for inspection. Gone are the simpler days of seeing Sly and the Family Stone or James Taylor, when you just showed your ticket and walked to your seat without any worries.  Now there’s always the threat of terrorism and lone shooters (however unlikely) lurking in every crowd.

But brilliant and beautiful music sweeps away the ugliness in the world—at least for a few hours—and spans generations. Most of the audience consisted of baby boomers like me and Robin. But there was also a smattering of kids along with 20 and 30-somethings; thousands of us standing and swaying to Paul Simon’s hit songs.

The concert started with the song “America,” Simon’s eloquent-but-gentle way of addressing the current divisiveness in our country without becoming overtly political.  As the evening continued, Simon sang many old favorites, including “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (boy do I remember that one), “Homeward Bound” and “Sounds of Silence.” Often the audience sang along or mouthed the words. We were all united in our appreciation of Simon’s gift to the world.

There were also songs I’ve never heard or don’t remember, like “Rene and Georgia Magritte with Their Dog After the War.” A black and white photo of the surrealist artist with his wife and dog appeared on the screen with the caption that became the song title.  What inspired Paul Simon to write that song? In explanation,  Simon pointed to Joan Baez (sitting in the audience!!) and recalled the time when they were working on a duet and she left the room. While she was gone, he picked up a book on World War II and saw the picture of Magritte and became inspired to write a song about it. After that unusual song, Simon  sang  a ditty called “Wristband” (that I’d never heard before).  No explanation or anecdote was offered for that one.  I turned to Robin. “Wow! I bet he could write a brilliant song about anything, just give him a random word or picture.”

A well-preserved Paul Simon came on stage wearing a silver blazer, black pants and black T-shirt with multicolored lips. By the end of the concert (almost three hours later!) he’d  shed the blazer. Paul Simon was never rock star handsome and stands only 5’3,” according to Google. Yet somehow he managed to hold an audience of all ages spellbound for the entire time he was on stage. While his back-up band was excellent and varied, there were no extraordinary special effects, no smoke, or wildly provocative outfits, and no sexy dancers or eye candy.  Nonetheless, very few people left their seats except for a brief call of nature. (I couldn’t help noticing ridiculously long rest room lines on my way out).

So how did Paul Simon manage to capture the minds and hearts of so many—not just for one concert but for more than 60 years?  The obvious answer is amazing music and lyrics that are timeless.  Less obvious is Paul Simon’s, quiet charisma and confidence combined with unflagging energy. “Watch his hands,” I told Robin. “They are constantly moving.” When Simon wasn’t strumming on his guitar, his fingers reminded me of butterflies, fluttering gracefully all around him.

I’m sad that Paul Simon’s concert days are over, but grateful that I had the opportunity to see him in concert once in my life and that I was able to share it with my nearest and dearest friend.  Simon reassured the audience that he would continue to write songs, though he probably won’t be singing them in person. This announcement made me want to see other artists in concert before it’s too late.  I still haven’t managed to see Billy Joel, and he’s getting long in the tooth. Also on my bucket list are new and younger performers, especially female. I’d love to see Lady Gaga and Pink.  Time to create new memories before I need a knee replacement or a hearing aid.

I guess I’m still crazy after all these years (and want to stay that way).Still crazy



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