Friday, June 3, 2011

Oh Paul!

I’ve just spent the past half hour trying to reconstruct a timeline for my relationship with Simon and Garfunkel, the 60’s folk-rock duo, but it’s hopeless. I thought surely somewhere on the internet there resides a article with all their touring dates, but so far I haven’t found it. I know I’ve seen Paul Simon five times now in concert in my lifetime, but I can’t be positive of the dates. This makes the 60’s seem like ancient history. Maybe someone will read this blog post and set me straight if there are any errors in this account. All I can say is I’ve tried my best to remember when things occurred.
Maybe the exact dates aren’t that important. When I try to accurately remember the concerts themselves, however, I’m not much more successful. What I can remember, of course, are the songs. Layered with the songs are feeling and emotions from over forty years ago. It’s more difficult that I thought it would be to put those old feelings into words.

The first time I saw them is actually the most vivid, although I don’t remember the concert itself. They performed at Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis, probably sometime in 1966. I know I went to the concert with Cathy, Fran and Debbie. I know we were terribly excited, but we tended to get terribly excited about all kinds of things, especially various rock stars and TV personalities. 
What I remember most is the end of the concert. While waiting for which-ever parent was supposed to pick us up, we wandered around the auditorium. Graham Chapel is not that large, and it quickly became almost completely empty. We noticed a piece of paper onstage lying next to the stool they had used during the concert. In a fit of bravery one of us ran onstage and grabbed the paper. It had a phone number on it! Giddy with excitement, we ran out the back of the auditorium and down a hallway. As we slowed to a walk some people were coming down some stairs in front of us. In the group of three or four people stood Paul and Art!
Why we actually had their album with us (Sounds of Silence, of course) I will never know, but we got their autographs on our albums. They were nice-looking young men, new enough to fame to not mind stopping for three young girls. And of course it has to be said, Paul Simon is really, really short, Danny Devito short. He stood on the step above me, which made him barely come up to my 5’5” tall 8th grade head.
I saw them twice more in high school, and the main thing I remember is a very personal feeling of pride in their success, demonstrated by the increasing size of the auditoriums they were able to fill. The next time we saw them it was at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis. Recently renovated and renamed the Peabody Opera House, this 3,500 seat theatre was a prominent step up from a college campus concert. I am going to guess that this concert was sometime in 1967, after Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme had come out. 
The last time I saw them as an adolescent they played at Kiel Auditorium, a much, much larger venue that used to be attached to the opera house, but has since been torn down. By the time of this concert they were big-time stars. I’m going to guess that this was in 1968, after their songs had been used as the soundtrack to the movie The Graduate.
Simon and Garfunkel were not the only rock and roll stars that I liked in high school, of course. In my agitated hormone-ridden state I could scream and cry with the best of the teeny-boppers over the likes of Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Monkees, The Stones, The Doors and yes, The Beatles. Mark Lindsay, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison and John Lennon all made my heart beat faster. It’s confusing and not a little embarrassing to remember now, but really I have to consider that I was only 13 or 14 years old. Lusting after a cute boy in a rock band was actually a very safe outlet for the beginnings of those sexual feelings.
The saving grace in all that over-the-top behavior was the music. My actions and those of my friends were often silly, but the music was flat-out good, and there was a lot of it too. There was just a pent-up creative burst in the 1960’s and 70’s. As Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel ended their relationship as a singing duo, Simon branched out on his own. His solo albums in the 1970’s and 1980’s were not always good, but some of them, notably “Paul Simon”,  “There Goes Rhyming Simon” and “Graceland” were great. As a composer and an artist he branched out, incorporating world music and world-class musicians into his compositions.
In 1999 Paul Simon went on tour with Bob Dylan and came to Riverport Amphitheatre in St. Louis. By this time I was a grownup married lady with two preteen children, but even after thirty years, the thought of seeing Paul Simon in concert again made me tremble. I can actually remember this concert in some detail. The lights, the drums (there were at least two drum sets on the stage) and the diminutive singer with the amazing songs. When he walked out on stage I actually felt like screaming “OH PAUL”. I remember almost physically restraining myself. The old crazy excitement came back, if only for a moment.
My husband and I both agree that was the best rock concert we ever attended. He played for hours, each song better than the last; the crowd on its feet, dancing and singing along. And we promised ourselves that given half a chance we wouldn’t miss any future opportunities to hear him play. When he announced a concert tour for this year with a date in Boston, we knew where we would be on June 1st. I bought us tickets as soon as I could.
So a couple of days ago we went to see Paul Simon at the Wang Theatre in Boston. He has a new album out and its very good, one of the best ones in years. The Wang is not very large, so it was intimate in a raucous rock ‘n’ roll sort of way. The crowd was mixed, from middle-aged music lovers in their fifties, sixties and yes seventies, to younger people that probably grew up listening to their parent’s Simon and Garfunkel albums.
I surprised myself when he walked out on stage, as tears darted into my eyes. I didn’t feel like screaming, but vivid images of those teenage girls from forty years ago flickered in front of me. Snatches of songs drifted in and out of my consciousness. Before I knew it the concert had begun and I was back in the present, enjoying the music of a spectacular artist.

Oh yes, remember that phone number on that stool on a stage, many years ago? Well we called it when we got home. It was a taxi service. It’s probably just as well. If Paul or Art had answered the phone back then we probably would have passed out!

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