Apologies to Paul Simon
Don’t know why the Pul Simon concert made me so teary-eyed and even two days later I was wallowing a bit in nostalgia.
We dashed from our 7:30 arrival from San Diego to the concert Tuesday night. For mom and pops days our son had bought us tickets for the show. In spite of trepidation of a late arrival, we missed only ½ of Paul Simon’s opening of America. The audience was all ready engaged, attentively listening, as we fumbled into the wrong seats, stirring the ire of those all ready comfortably reposed at the ACC
We had great seats. The crowd was large and because of the venue, ( although Massey hall would have been more intimate), we had a sense of the man, the singer- song writer, even his soft grin, but no real clear penetrating look into his eyes.
This music is not harsh, or requires boisterous playing. Rather thoughtful strumming, intelligent and quirky. It rocked me back, suggesting lullabies for the 70’s grownups as it does not jar, rather caresses. To refer to Simon’s tunes in this way is not disrespectful, rather the music of our life, the soulful notes that surprise when you least expect them, evoking a time of love, of friendship, of meaningful transitions. As my son, Jordan stated,”It’s about growing up” .
My first remembrance of Paul Simon is the coupling of the dark haired boy with the wildhaired Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge, a breakthrough movie when I was a boomer , young and impressionable.Not sure as I write this: why the movie stopped time for me and focused me, maybe something about the carelessness of love; I cannot say for sure . Critics in 2004 had written,” Ah, the sweet smell of ’70s American cinema when anything was possible” and “[Carnal Knowledge], misunderstood by critics and viewers, Nichols’ satire of male chauvinism is by turns witty, provocative, funny, and depressing…” Roger Ebert weighed in, commenting,”…within that universe, men and woman fail to find sexual and personal happiness because they can’t break through their patterns of treating each other as objects.”
Garfunkel once said of Paul Simon,
“He was really a great joker… was kind of like Lenny Bruce – tearing hypocrisy off of the American cliché. And it brought out my funny side. I’m not bad myself, I have a good ear for the absurd. So we kept each other going. We became each others’ pals.”
And the music says all that, a bit absurd, but not bitingly so. Tales of incongruity, sudden flashes of insight and the repetitive refrains. We heard the songs in the 70’s as a witness to a developing America on relationships, setting out, observing the incongruities of love, friendship, politics, almost erasing the singers who quietly sat back, looked out over their country, contemplated and played with melodies and words.
With the writing of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, in 1969, a tv show “Songs of America” mixed live footage with political rallies and the American landscape, depicting Bridge as a response to the heavily politicized turmoil of the preceding decade. It was the time of Vietnam and Woodstock, MLK and RFK, Cesar Chavez and the Poor People’s March.These political images were controversial, especially coming from the gentle folksingers Simon & Garfunkel.The show was a commercial failure, beaten in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice-skating special. Yet instead of commentary for many of us, the songs sparked internal personal imagery associated with the significant moments of growing up.
Kept for the end of our June 12, 2018 concert, Kodachrome stimulated the excitement of a kid’s first camera, and how wondrous it was to be able to frame and shoot pictures, making the selection, feeling empowered, even in a small way . My own first camera was a little black box of a Brownie with a leather handle. After taking pictures, I took the film to the drugstore, waited a week or two for the processing and then in black and white, back then, I sorted through the pictures attached in a little blue book : my pictures, of friends arms looped around one another at funny angles, blurred images of my cousins, often causing me to wonder why I had selected those particular shots in the first place. But we, were crazy in delight to commandeer technology that put us in charge, even if the results were less than had been imagined.
The song says,
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.
He repeats the last line, much as an annoying kid would, begging and badgering for a new roll of film, a classic moment as the mother doles out change from her worn wallet, thinking that somehow this is developing a talent, or getting the kid out of her hair.
And the kid, cherishing that camera, feeling pretty fierce, strides away with his new toy, a petulant adolescent thinking everything force-fed in school was a waste of time,
When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
Then the antidote to homework, annoying sweaty hours staring at the blackboard, learning useless information about English kings and incomprehensible math equations and more useless school stuff is proclaimed in Simon’s Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.Real life, the kid believes, happens by just hanging out at the park, usually after dinner, playing ball, being carefree at the mall or hanging with friends, or with bestie Julio in the schoolyard. Yup, it’s aimless, unprogrammed , open ended and freeing.
Still mothers, to be ignored, hang from windows, screaming , “ Do your homework. You’re going to land in jail”. But the kid just wants to hang out on cloudless nights on the basket ball court, or meet friends at the park.Simon chants,
Well I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m going
I’m on my way
I’m taking my time
But I don’t know where
Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona
Just hanging out.
Even the choruses, soothes, like humming, repetitive sounds melodically bangs around in your head; it’s a way to avoid teachers, moms and all else of that annoying stuff that gets in the way of just being. The flow of words is easy, good background to the kid’s thoughts and just kicking up some dirt.
From hanging with the friends, Simon moves into other relationships of first love or infatuation, all the messiness of adolescence that sweeps you off your feet.I remember the music of Scarborough Fair through a slow twirl of fuzziness as if unwinding a gauzy scarf or viewing sepia photographs of a beloved, yet there’s a formal English country mood, of formal politeness, established in the repetition and rhythm of “Parsley sage rosemary and thyme”, even a shyness of enquiringly whether your friend will be going where you are headed. Maybe you linger at the bus stop or bike by her house, hoping to catch a glance and run into her by accident. Scarborough Fair was not part of the song list that night, but the pervasive hope of expectant tentative young love was present in his oeuvre.
But then, from wishful dreaming, you grow up and get serious and you encounter that first( or second ) real love that turns into disaster. So you deal with the irony of lost love, ending those romances that somehow did not persevere from the initial heart- thrumping glance that infatuated, tickled your heart and made you experience something you had not ever known before. So 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover provides an exit strategy from that fall from innocence,
Get on track, Jack Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan
Don’t need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me
Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.
In shaking off the ball and chain, there is freedom, joy even in the rhyme as Everyman Paul Simon plays with lyrics and demonstrates copious fun with words. Being cocky, self assured, you dump that person and stride off, cockily. It’s all part of growing up.
From impetuous first love to seductive affairs, Paul Simon explains in The Graduate , the very perplexing entanglement of an older lover in Here’s to You Mrs. Robinson, her allure as an older woman. We put precise pictures to words as we envisage a young and very awkward Dustin Hoffman and the black shocking stocking of Anne Bancroft’s seduction, but more so, the youthful Hoffman dashing across many miles , banging at church windows to his wedding, abandoning the mother for the daughter. Oh my! Shoop Premium writes, “Throughout the film, we are reminded of the mess the older generation has made of the world, from the artificiality of their vision—‘one word: plastics’-to the emptiness of their marriages. Mrs. Robinson epitomizes it all. Worn out and a drunk, possessing everything but feeling almost nothing,”her life riddled with secrets.
When the love interest is special and unique, as was Elaine in The Graduate, the beloved seems to sparkle as if s/he has twinkling diamonds on the soles of her feet, barely touching the ground.S/he is the next door neighbour, the tomboy, the one who hung with the guys. And all of a sudden and with a flash of a smile, the bounce of a ponytail, you were smitten, the caterpillar incredulously transformed into the butterfly as the object of your affections unexpected, an epiphany. Simon proclaims,
People say she’s crazy
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Well that’s one way to lose these
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes
She was physically forgotten
Then she slipped into my pocket
With my car keys
She said you’ve taken me for granted
Because I please you
Wearing these diamonds
And we think of the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the charges of music appropriation. Yet the music reflects the moments of life, sudden bursts of insight and even now these lyrics trigger the music, never to be forgotten. And reflect on Picasso and how his use of African masks enlivened his work, too, making something new.
Oh, little darling of mine, I just can’t believe it’s so
Though it seems strange to say, I never been laid so low
Such a mysterious way and the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again.
Boy in the Bubble moves beyond just personal perspective. Using the freeze frame of the camera, we move slowly even scene stopping to reflect and ponder meaning. One website chat presented numerous interpretations of the song, ranging from the literal in terms of a boy with an autoimmune disease unable to live in society to insights on South African society to bomb blasts in Nevada. Like a good piece of Abstract Expressionism art, the artist gives you the canvas and the viewer or listener creates their own interpretation,
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all( boy in the bubble)
Then that societal critique and awareness, that frozen moment as Simon looks through his lens, empathizing with “the other” in Call Me Al.The words say it all,
A man walks down the street
It’s a street in a strange world
Maybe it’s the Third World
Maybe it’s his first time around
He doesn’t speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Juxtaposing sobering thoughts, the memories of Elvis, trekking to Graceland, the Elvis story- because growing up, the hip shake of the master was seen as provoking young people to sin, and his love story with the kohl-eyed Priscilla and her inflated beehive hairdo were in the news that made us gawk and gyrate with abandon. And of course from the newspaper enlarged photos, we knew he was a soldier too.
So too the lilting clear sounds and lyrics in Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War underscore the days, reminding us of all the forbidden fruits we have been told not to covet,
They dance by the light of the moon
To The Penguins
and The Five Satins
The deep forbidden music
They’d been longing for
Homeward Bound returns us to the performer, Paul Simon, suitcase in hand, fresh from one night stands, he longs for home, a place of quiet and calm,
I wish I was,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.
That concept of where is home? and how to get there? has been threaded through books and songs forever. In Grade 13, I studied Robert Frost’s poem,The Death of the Hired Man, for our provincial exams,” Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”: likely the only line of poetry from Grade 13 that had made meaning for me and actually stuck. At the arrival towards our own home, I would always repeat this line until my children would murmur,” Yes mom, we know…home is the place…”
The final Sounds of Silence at the concert’s end was particularly brutal. Of course silence can connote alienation, distance, withdrawal or death and the ultimate conclusion of the journey .For Paul Simon at 76, his journey continues, providing the boomers with more than sounds of silence, echoing through the unforgettable songs bits and pieces of their growing up that resound with the happiness and awareness of lives well lived in periods of turmoil , confrontation, challenges but also excess, evolution and experience.
Guess I’m still Feelin Groovy😘