Ryman Simon Round-Up


Paul Simon at the Ryman. Photo by Heather.

Last week I said I was planning on posting a few more thoughts from the Paul Simon concert Heather and I went to at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, but then I got distracted by the whole getting-engaged thing. Here then are a few more-reviewy details. (I’m basically just typing my notes as I made them, so it’ll be the set list, interrupted by thoughts.)

— We got there a little late, unfortunately, so don’t know what he opened with. The first song we heard was “Dazzling Blue,” followed by “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” He then stopped to do his welcoming comments, including a nice remark that there are few concert halls that make you feel humble just to be playing there, but that the Ryman was definitely one of them.

— After that, “So Beautiful or So What,” which is probably my favorite song from the new album. He had an eight-or-so piece band with him, and it was amazing how lush the arrangements were. But we’ll get back to that later.

— “Slip Sliding Away” reminded me of the Simon & Garfunkel performance I went to last year. During that concert, which was, logically, mainly Simon & Garfunkel songs, I wondered what it was like for him to get up and do a show like that. The songs they were doing were things that he had written forty to fifty years earlier, and he’s done a whole lot since then. Does he have the same affection for the older material? Would he rather be doing newer stuff?

That’s something you read about artists having to deal with — writing a song early on that becomes a hit, and so they have to play it years later to make people happy when they have sort of moved on from it and are getting tired of it.

Point being, that did not seem to be the case at all at this show. Paul seemed to genuinely love and enjoying playing these songs, be it his older classics or the ones from his newest album. And that was neat to see.

— Next up was an unreleased song about Viet Nam, which drove home that we were some of the younger people at the Ryman, albeit not the youngest by far. It says something, though, about the strength of a songwriter when you hope that they’ll play some of the songs that weren’t “good enough” to make an album.

— I’m not sure why, but “Mother and Child Reunion” gave me a bit of perspective on the timeline of his career — the first concert in Central Park was in 1981, he did another a decade later in 1991, and now I’m watching him in concert two more decades later in 2011. I was a bit young to remember the first one, but remember being excited watching the second one.

— There was a similar moment during “That Was Your Mother.” I remember driving to see a good friend in Lake Charles, Louisiana 15 years ago and making a special stop just so I could stand “on a corner in Lafayette,  state of Louisiana” like in the song that I’d loved for years already at that point. The song took on a different significance when I dated a woman from there for a while. And now, with Heather, having kids in my life for the first time, there are slightly different resonances — “You are the burden of my generation; I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight.” Never the same river twice. I’d wondered if I should enjoy the song the same way after the ex connection, but, you know, hearing it there, it’s just too fun to not.

— Also, one of the fringe benefits of being a successful musician, to me, would have to be that you get a free pass on your dancing being cool. You ever been to a concert and see a singer dancing in a way that, if they were just some man or woman in a club, you’d laugh at them, but because it’s their concert, they get to be cool? Totally apropos of nothing, I assure you.

— During “Hearts and Bones,” I made a note about the versatility of the band. Often you might have a horn player who plays different horns, or whatever — different instruments, but in the same family. It makes sense given the diversity of the instrumentals in his songs, but the band he had with him was crazy versatile — almost all of them at different points playing instruments that had nothing to do with each other. It was pretty impressive when you paid attention to it.

— Um, up next was a cover that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t recognize. It had almost a Johnny Cash sort of country feel to it. After that was “Rewrite,” and then another song I didn’t know, and then “The Obvious Child,” which for me was the only point during the concert that I felt could have been better. I love the song and so probably had a very high standard, but the arrangement they did that night just seemed a little fast, lacking the range of the texture of the original. It’s a very high energy, driving, generally up-tempo song, but with moments that border on brooding, and those moments seemed to get lost in the energy of the live performance. Still awesome, though.

— After that, “The Only Living Boy In New York,” followed by “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” which to me was far better live than on the album for the same reason “Obvious Child” wasn’t — it was even more raucous and high-energy and fun. After that, “Questions for the Angels.”

— And then, “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” I was more than a little impressed, at the opening, that he and the band he had nailed the depth of the vocals. It was funny to see, though, that even his improv is scripted — they deviated from the studio version of the song, but very closely followed the almost-as-old Concert In Central Park live version, with the stretched out “tananananananana” riff.

— During “Gumboots,” a guy was drumming the strings inside a baby grand piano like a xylophone. ‘Cause they were just that awesome. This was the last song before the first encore, which you knew was coming, because there was no way a Paul Simon concert would end with “Gumboots.” Nothing wrong with it; it’s a good song, but just not a show-closer.

— That said, I assumed the first song of the encore really would be the end — Paul Simon, alone with his guitar, singing “Sounds of Silence” on a barely-lit stage. Powerful.

— The next song could have ended it, too — “Kodachrome.” Its status as a classic was reinforced for me that night when I realized I was listening to Paul Simon sing Kodachrome in an era in which they really have taken his Kodachrome away — the song has outlasted its inspiration.

— Up next was “Gone At Last,” followed by “Here Comes The Sun.” The latter made me wonder briefly what it would be like if somehow The Beatles had recorded music in the last couple of decades. Both The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel began their careers recording brilliant but relatively simple songs, and their work became more complex as they matured. Compare early S&G with “Graceland” or “So Beautiful …”, and there’s a world of difference. Really, the same is true of The Beatles from the beginning to end of their career, but it’s still interesting to think “what if…”

— “Late In The Evening,” as I wrote in my last post, was just a great, fun rock concert performance. It wrapped up the first encore, which was followed by a second, starting with “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Don Everly came out and joined Simon for “Bye Bye Love” and then Jerry Douglas joined him for “The Boxer.”

— The show concluded for real with an awesome performance of “The Boy In The Bubble,” which made me happy with a cool space video playing in the background. Not that it wouldn’t have made me happy otherwise; it’s another favorite. I love how it still rings true years later — twenty years after it was written, it still makes lasers in the jungle sound like miracle and wonder.

So baby don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.

May 27


NOTE: I originally published this a year ago today, and then republished it a year ago with a few additional thoughts.. I’m republishing both parts of the post as they originally appeared.


One of my quirks, I remember dates. They get lodged in my head, and I can’t get them out. Some useful, like birthdays (though I’m getting worse with adding those), and some not, like the anniversaries of days certain things happened. It’s a reflex, to the point where, apparently, it can be annoying.

Anyway, May 27 is one of those dates, from events that occurred in two consecutive years.

On May 27, 1992, I graduated from Huntsville High School.

Doing the math, I graduated from high school 17 years ago today, when I was about two months shy of my 17th birthday. In other words, high school is now just over half my life ago. I’ve lived more since that day than I had before. It’s just weird to think about; I certainly don’t feel twice as old as I was then. I’ll admit that my days at HHS are a distant and remote memory at this point, but I’m still young, right? From graduation until our 10-year reunion, sure, a good bit of time passed. But the reunion was hardly any time ago at all. And now the 20 is just around the corner. Where does it go?

On May 27, 1991, Beth Ladner died.

Beth was a member of my class at Huntsville, was a fellow part of the staff of the school newspaper, and ran against me for senior class vice-president. She was brilliant, pretty, and a genuine and easily likeable person, with a promising future, most likely as a marine biologist. She died in a car accident right before final exams.

And that fact has always stayed with me. This was high school, and final exams were huge — the studying, the stress, the work. If the accident had occurred a week later, she would have gone through all of that. And still been dead. The effort all in vain. We all know we’re going to die, and that it could happen at any time, but Beth’s death was such an object lesson in that. We strive, we struggle, we hurt, we laugh, we dance, we love, we cry — all for a tomorrow that one day won’t come.

Beth’s loss made us all the less. But the rest of us took final exams, and went on. And went to college. And married. And divorced. And had kids. And got jobs. And strived and struggled and hurt and laughed and danced and loved and cried. More of us have been lost along the way. But the rest continue to continue.

And hopefully the world is better for it.


May 27, 2010 coda — Since I wrote this a year ago, it has become one of the most-viewed posts on my blog. Someone even linked to it yesterday, and it was viewed a few times because of that. Because of that, I decided to republish it today in hopes of these words continuing to find homes.

It being a year later, I have to add a couple of additional thoughts since I first wrote this. First, and obviously, Beth was loved. I wrote this purely for myself, to let out what was in my heart, some of it had been with me for quite a while. I never really thought about it resonating with anyone else, and certainly never imagined people sharing it with others. But it’s been amazing to see how many people still remember her and still care. It’s an incredible tribute to who she was, and the lives she touched.

Second, perhaps less obviously but more importantly — you are loved. I can’t imagine it; if things had been reversed, if it had been the other candidate for senior class vice-president on that road that night, I can’t imagine that 18 years later anybody would be writing about me, and that so many people would still be reading that 19 years later. But, you know, I doubt Beth would have imagined that either. She’s been gone from this Earth now longer than she was on it. I doubt she would have dreamed that she’d touched so many lives, that so many people cared, so that more than her lifetime later, people would still be remembering her fondly.

The lesson of all of that? Yes, that Beth was loved. Yes, that she was special. But, also, this: Right now, there are people out there whom you have touched in a way you have no clue about. Right now, there are people out there who care about you more than you realize. Right now, there are people out there who will remember you long after you could dream they would.

Right now, you are loved, more and by more people than you know.

Beach Time


More catching up from the month or so I missed:

It’s all relative, you know?

Arguably, it wasn’t a great shuttle launch trip.

Heather and the boys and I rode down to Titusville late last month with our friends the Meeks to watch the launch of the STS-134 space shuttle mission.

And Endeavour decided not to launch.

We got as far as the NASA Causeway, where I was waiting in line at the souvenir stand hours before the scheduled launch when we got the word that there would be no launch that day.

We ended up having to stay the following day and into the next before we found out for sure that the launch would be delayed too long for us to stay.

And, yeah, there were a few moments where it was frustrating.

There was one in particular when I was dealing with the disappointment of the scrub, the uncertainty of what would happen with the schedule, the challenge of keeping boys entertained while we were waiting, balancing the needs and desires of the four of us, the couple we traveled with and the family we were staying with.

And I realized —

Back home, Huntsville was still dealing with the effects of the major storms that had just come through. Everyone was without electricity. People were worried about water. Businesses were closed. Figuring out how to eat was a challenge. The city was under curfew.

If we weren’t there for the scrub, we’d be dealing with that. Instead, we had a free place to stay in Florida, power, water, food, things to do and places to go.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you can feel sorry for yourself while you’re standing on a sunny beach.

I’m just grateful I was able to remember that perspective in time to enjoy the sun and sand.

Because it really was a nice beach.

Just Write (via The Faery Inn)


If you write, read this.

All I really want to do everyday, at some point, is sit down and write. Why I feel this driving need to have something profound to say in every post is beyond me. I have read post after post, by good writers, to those of us working on it, that to be a good writer, I just need to write. A lot. Yes, May has been ridiculously busy for me, and I simply haven't had as much time. At the same time, I have figured out that I am a better person when I wri … Read More

via The Faery Inn

Fifty Years Ago Today


We live in interesting times when it comes to human space exploration.

I daresay there has not been a crossroads more vital in the field since Kennedy gave that speech than there is today.

The shuttle has only one launch remaining. The future is still unwritten.

For many, the idea of recapturing the accomplishments that followed this speech is difficult to imagine.

But, the truth is, while I, too, have a hard time imagining anyone reaching the moon in eight years, I think we are closer today to recreating that sort of magic than we have been in a very long time.

I do not think that magic will be the result of the marshalling of the formidable American will as it was 50 years ago.

Rather, I think it will be a different sort of magic, created by a handful of dreamers.

Space is shifting from the hands of government into the hands of industry.

And, increasingly, there are those out there — people who grew up watching Apollo and believing in magic — who have the ability to create a little of their own.

The tipping point has not quite yet arrived.

But, when it does …

Interesting times, indeed.

There Goes Ryman Simon


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I reserve the right to post a more detailed review later, but this was the thought going through my head during Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville:

Whatever I do next, I want to love it in the way that Paul Simon appears to love music.

In fact, forget limiting that to career. I want to love Heather the way Paul Simon appears to love music. I want to love the boys that way. My church. Improv. Everything I care about.

I read an article 20 years ago about the 1991 concert in Central Park arguing that Paul Simon is much more a studio musician than a concert musician — that he’s very much a deliberate perfectionist who focuses on getting things “just so” on the recording. Live shows, then, are just an impossible attempt to recapture what was done perfectly in the studio.

And I would agree with that assessment of his studio work. If I had any criticism of his most recent album, “So Beautiful Or So What,” it’s that at times it’s seems too meticulous, too deliberate, too intentional, too perfect; that at times the combined artistry and craftmanship seem to have lost a very little of the feeling.

But I was aware of that perception of his concerts — as well as a perception that he can be a bit dour, dating back to old SNL appearances and the “You Can Call Me Al” video — when I saw him solo for the first time at the Ryman.

I was surprised at how much fun it was.

I guess maybe I was picturing music appreciators sitting respectfully in a performance venue while a respected artist shared classics of the medium.

Late in the evening, Paul Simon played “Late In The Evening,” and it captured the mood perfectly.

When I come back to the room, everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play

It was late in the evening, and I blew that room away

It was like he was that kid again, with his funky electric guitar, having fun rocking for a crowd that was eating it up.

We were having fun. He was having fun.

“Love Is Eternal Sacred Light,” from the last album captured the dichotomy for me. It’s perfect on the album. It’s raucous live. Both are great. They’re just different.

And that’s how Paul Simon seems to love music.

He loves it devotedly.

He loves it as a studio musician who pours himself into it, studies it, wants to understand it, wants to do it right, wants to be dedicated and meticulous and deliberate. He invests, and works, hard.

But he also loves it passionately.

When he was on stage Thursday night, he looked like there was nowhere he would rather be. He looked like he couldn’t be having more fun that night than he was having on that stage playing those songs.

And that’s what I want — I want a job that I can love in a way that engages me and I’m absolutely dedicated to doing and doing well, but that I enjoy. I want to be to Heather and the boys someone who loves them devotedly and works hard for what’s best for them, but who also can’t imagine anything more fun than being with them.

Devotion and passion. I don’t think that’s too much to strive for.

Song Challenge Day 3 — A Song That Makes Me Happy


To make the Post A Day 2011 challenge a bit more bearable, I’ve set up a couple of regular features. Saturdays are for reviews (yesterday being an exception) and Sundays are for song lyrics. But I’m out of song lyric ideas, so I wanted a new regular Sunday feature. Keeping the music theme I’ve been using, I’m undertaking the 30 Day Song Challenge as a weekly project.


Week 2 — A Song That Makes Me Happy

“Song of Hope,” Robbie Seay Band

This song makes me happy.

It’s like crazy catchy and peppy and fun. So that goes a long way.

It says you should sing a song of hope. And, conveniently, it IS a song of hope. It’s like a prescription that’s also the medicine.

The lyrics may be a bit repetitive, but they’re repeating stuff like sing and hope and God and heaven. So there’s that.

I’ve got to be in a pretty bad mood that I can’t just turn this song on, crank it up, roll down the windows, and sing along badly and feel better as a result.