“The first thing I remember, I was lying in my bed
I couldn’t’ve been no more than one or two
And I remember there’s a radio, coming from the room next door
My mother laughed the way some ladies’ do
Well it’s late in the evening, and the music’s seeping through”
I don’t remember not knowing Simon & Garfunkel. How old was I when I first heard El Condor Pasa? “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail…” I don’t think I ever didn’t know that song.
I remember when I became aware of Paul Simon as a solo artist. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when I found out this guy with this catchy song on the radio was the “Simon” from “Simon and Garfunkel.” I went back to check to make sure he wasn’t also the “Paul” of “Peter, Paul & Mary,” another fave of the time. It would have been, what, 1986. Halfway through middle school.
“A man walks down the street, he says, ‘Why am I soft in the middle now? Why am I soft in the middle; the rest of my life is so hard.'” I’m not going to claim that I really understood the song about a roly-poly little bat-faced girl and dogs in the light and being someone’s bodyguard and calling them Betty.
Heck, for that matter, it would be decades before I really began to really understand the song at all. “Whoa my nights are so long. Where’s my wife and family? What if I die here? Who’ll be my role model, now that my role model is gone, gone?” I needed a few incidents and accidents of my own.
And that’s long been the appeal of Paul Simon for me. Yes, he’s a musical genius, with an uncanny ability to synthesize musical styles into something that becomes entirely his own, crossing genre from one song to the next in an album while still creating a cohesive whole. Whether the musical style is from South Africa, South America or south Louisana, it’s still, without question, a Paul Simon song.
But for me, that’s lagniappe. For me, the appeal that crosses through that, what makes a Paul Simon song a Paul Simon song, is that he’s one of the most brilliant lyricists of our time. He’s a brilliant writer, with an uncanny ability to capture the human condition, and the fact that he can make that writing fit music is incredible.
My musical tastes have changed over the years. Artists come and go. Entire genres come and go. Paul Simon remains. From the time I had developed having tastes of my own until today, there has never been a point where Paul Simon was not one of my favorites, because there has never been a time when his music doesn’t speak to something deep within me. With most artists, I eventually tire of their music or outgrow it. With Paul Simon, I grow into it. Every year that passes gives me a deeper understanding, a deeper appreciation, a deeper identification.
This month marked the first time I met my old lover on the street last night. Well, granted, it wasn’t the street, and, frankly, she didn’t seem so glad to see me she just smiled. But it was that much more real. Still crazy after all these years, indeed. (And, of course, she was from “Lafayette, state of Louisiana” and loved the sound of a train in the distance.)
It turns out that losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. And, sometimes, even music cannot substitute for tears.
Fat Charlie the Archangel was right about filing for divorce. And I don’t want no part of this crazy love either.
But that’s all part of it, isn’t it? I’m older than I once was, but younger than I’ll be; that’s not unusual. Paul Simon gets that. He’s marked the passage of time, and its effects on us, from the very beginning. He was twenty-one years when he wrote a song about the leaves that are green turning to brown. He’s sixty-eight now, but he won’t be for long.
And that was what made seeing Simon and Garfunkel in concert Saturday such an interesting experience. I’ve long wanted to, and for the longest time believed that even just seeing Paul Simon was an unreasonable goal. But in January, I crossed off the penultimate item on my concert wish list and so decided it was time to look seriously at the ultimate one. When I saw they were going to be at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, I had to go.
It was an amazing concert. It was incredible hearing the songs live. It was great knowing that I was seeing them live, in their presence, for the performance. It demonstrated how blessed I was to be hearing live songs I had listened to with Heather at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland just three days earlier.
But it added something to the experience that not only was I seeing Paul Simon, not only was I seeing Simon & Garfunkel, I was seeing them in 2010. When they were 26, the duo released a song where they talked about how terribly strange it would be to be seventy. Now, that’s only a year and a half away.
That song wasn’t sung Saturday, but, intentionally or not, the theme was present from the very opening line of the concert — “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me.”
I’ve grown up with their music. Heck, they’ve grown up with their music. Most of the songs they did were 40 to 50 years old. Can you imagine? But there, that Saturday, there we all were. Memories brushing the same years.
For a while there, it seemed the years had not rocked so easily while rolling past Art Garfunkel; the voice that came out when he began singing was not the perfectly smooth, beautifully sweet one of the albums. But it turned out that it wasn’t age that was the issue; he was sick. Despite that, he poured his heart into the concert, getting everything out of his still-amazing voice that he could. It was obvious to the audience how much he was giving, and it was deeply appreciated — I had the rather unusual pleasure of being at a Simon & Garfunkel concert where the star of the show was indisputably Art Garfunkel. And it was obvious that meant a lot to him as well.
The duo closed the show, pre-encores at least, with Bridge Over Troubled Water, which is completely driving by Garfunkel’s voice. And he poured himself into it, obviously struggling, obviously suffering, but pulling it off. And during the song, Paul Simon looks over, sees him, and just rests his hand on his shoulder, finishing the song that way.
Old friends, indeed.