If you know me, you know I am Paul Simon’s #1 fan. Not in a Kathy Bates Misery kind of way, but definitely in a Nick Hornby High Fidelity crazy obsessive kind of way. Tomorrow night, I will see him live in concert for the fifth time. Fifth!* According to my records, I’ve been attending his shows since 1999. I think the only show I missed that took place within a few hundred miles of my home was the Simon & Garfunkel tour, and yes…yes I do regret that. #whatthehellwasIthinking?
I’ve also spent an extensive amount of time writing about seeing Paul Simon live. Again, after checking my records, I found I have two complete stories about seeing Paul live the first two times, and one incomplete and unsure-of-itself story about the third time. Re-reading the third story reminded me that I was in France when the tickets went on sale, and had to call home to get my parents to purchase the tickets for me. I apparently did so from a pay phone. My oh my, how times change.
I thought there would be no better way to honor my fifth show than by sharing the story of my first show. But dammit all if the second story isn’t a little better. It is definitely young, and a little bit angsty, and parts of it make me cringe at how young and angsty I was (I wrote this when I was in college!), but there’s good stuff in there. Lines that I read and recognize as my own writing style. As I admit in the essay, I enjoyed the second concert more and was able to retain more details, which naturally makes the story better. So I share it with you today, in all its angsty glory. (After the pictures.)
*The shows, in order:
The Gorge on June 13, 1999 (with Bob Dylan)
The Paramount Theater on November 11, 2000
The Gorge on June 9, 2001 (with Brian Wilson)
The WAMU theater on April 15, 2011
Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery on May 29, 2016
by Jennifer Scott
18 January 2001
~After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm and the roots of rhythm remain~
About seven years ago when I was in high school, I saw my favorite band live in concert. The show left me on a fanatical high which inevitably spiraled into a severe low. The following weekday, I sulked around the band room, touting the intense fun I had and lamenting that it was all so quickly and cruelly taken away from me. This solicited a comment from my band director. Citing his own concert experiences, his advice was just to take the show and others like it as neat little “extras” life occasionally tosses in the mix. “After all,” he said, “That’s all they’re meant to be.”
A few years later, I heard Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard for the first time. I already liked Simon’s earlier work with Garfunkel, but there was something different about Me and Julio. It was better than any of the rock ‘n’ roll I was familiar with up to that point, and there was just something different about Paul Simon. So began my obsession. I can’t explain, even to myself, what attracts me so intensely to Paul. The combination of his music, his lyrics, and all that I know of his off-stage persona, appeals to my most innate and basic instincts. He seems like a home for all the thoughts and creations inside me with no direct means of expression. He is someone with whom I feel a passionate personal connection, but that I’ve never even met.
My second encounter with Paul Simon live in as many years is less than six hours away. Counting down time to the show by surfing the internet, I learn that the potential crowd for this show is “baby boomers and their grown children.” Sounds about right to this grown child of baby boomers. After the first concert, in the precursor to this essay, I described a dream I once had of an opportunity to talk with Paul, comfort him and soothe his worries, and experience him as a person, not a celebrity. It is to this day my favorite dream and the best thing about the night to come is that it is not a dream. Even metaphorically it is less like a dream than the last time when seeing Paul live was a dream come true. This time, I know Paul is real. He exists not only outside my imagination but outside of New York.
As my friend and I approach the concert venue, we see the marquee, brightly lit with radiating red letters that spell “Paul Simon.” It is outdone in glamour only by the divinely decorative inside of Seattle’s Paramount Theater. As predicted, the evening’s crowd is mostly middle-agers with a few generational exceptions interspersed. Paul, still touring at 59, is getting up there himself. Taking the theory of relativity into account and aging with a grain of salt, he reminisces through his new song “Old,” trying to convince us that in the great scheme of history, he’s not exactly ancient. Rather than feeling old, the night’s audience is transported back to the first time Paul’s literary lyrics touched their lives. Minus a sufficient way to express his elation upon hearing, “I’m sitting in a railway station,” the opening line of Homeward Bound, the older gentleman in front of me buries his head in his hands, eliciting worried looks from his friends and reassurances that everything will be okay. This is a mildly amusing display until Paul launches into American Tune and the tables turn, my friend now wearing the vaguely confused expression and wondering why his chest is the recipient of my violent enthusiasm. Out of all the great performances tonight, this is my favorite. American Tune, with its achingly beautiful harmonies and painfully truthful lyrics, has a sentimental strangle hold on my heart. Fusing classical music (the verse melody is from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion) with trademark Paul Simon arrangement, this song is the embodiment of what music can be. Seeing it live is beyond-description amazing.
Fusion is of course one of Paul’s great skills, brought to a powerful peak of professionalism with Graceland. Graceland songs are by far the best received this night and the only songs, save “Me and Julio” and the encore, that bring the mature crowd to their feet.
I’m happy to report that the audience at this concert is much more spirited than at the last concert. My one complaint is the sole comparison I can make between the two groups, and once again stems from an apparent lack of geographical knowledge. The cheers were deafening when Paul sang, “I stepped outside to smoke myself a jake,” and the entire audience correctly responded to Paul’s musical question “First time I smoked, guess what?” with an emphatic “paranoid.” In fact, I like that Paul never explicitly says pot. It’s funnier, and the audience certainly seems proud to be in on the joke. Yet, when he plays “The Coast” and paints the portrait of “The pearl grey morning sunlight that settles over Washington” I am the solo screamer. I do not understand this. HE’S SINGING ABOUT US, PEOPLE! Isn’t that supposed to elicit cries of joy and, more importantly, recognition? WE LIVE IN WASHINGTON AND WE’RE ON THE COAST! Oh well. I’m sure Paul doesn’t know what city he’s in, so why should the audience?
As the lights came up after the fourth and final encore of the evening, so did the chatter. Amongst the barrage of voices filtering into my head, I deciphered a few glowing reviews of the performance. One man, who apparently caught Paul at the backstage door, left the theater relentlessly screaming that he kissed a legend on the cheek. (But, as he iterated, NOT on the lips.) He entertained my friend and me by telling us his story in explicit detail several times. With no one to express his excitement to except complete strangers, he left me wondering if he would take the night home and log it in a memory book or wish that the brief, hollow encounter could have been more. In order to preserve my spiritual sanity, I eventually lost my taste for fleeting encounters with celebrities. After meeting a few mildly famous people I learned that no matter what the circumstances, I will without fail find some way to make an ass out of myself. A million thoughts cloud my brain and I am left with neither the time nor the motor capacity to sufficiently express even one of them, for there is just nothing I can say in two seconds to convey the impact a person such as Paul has had on my life through hours and decades of music.
The mood of the night emanated from the profoundly excited man who kissed Paul Simon. Describing himself as star-struck, my personal favorite emotion, I realized this was the aura disseminating throughout the theater. Beyond amusement, beyond elation, these people were knockdown, drag-out impressed to be in the presence of tonight’s unassuming Paul Simon. The incredible and unmatched ability of music to move people goes double for Paul, whose deceptively accessible lyrics so readily capture our lives. Just as I have a story of how American Tune affected me, and the man who sat in front of me has a story of how Homeward Bound affected him, so everyone in that theater must have a similar story. Being there somehow made them that much more real.
The aftermath of this concert left me pondering the effects of my two Paul encounters on my life and my psyche. Although I can’t plainly express the difference between my reactions, I think this show produced a happier vibe within me. Minus the self-inflicted pressure of seeing Paul for the first and what I thought would be only time, I felt freer to relax and enjoy the music. Last time, I left upset because the concert followed a formula that I already knew from watching videos and reading reviews. Not only were there no surprises, there were no discernible variations. Paul’s shows, from the songs he plays all the way down to his hand gestures, are almost identical. Yet this time, knowing the formula and knowing the concert would follow that formula turned out to be a psychological advantage right from the start. I knew what to expect and, more importantly, what not to expect. Leaving the audience with less than two dozen words, Paul isn’t much of a talker. (Too bad since I adore his speaking voice so much. With its unique drawl and ever-so-slightly-nasal timbre, this is another love of mine beyond any cogent explanation, except to say that those short, New York, Jewish sensibilities are once again rearing their heads.) The lack of banter between songs is a complaint of most Paul Simon fans, myself included. However, when the reviews of a musical performance are reduced to talking about not talking, they are officially nitpicking. In Paul’s case, I think the fans are just stunned that the man who communicates so eloquently in song speaks so little onstage.
Perhaps Paul has come to the decision he’s said it all and says it best in his music. This is the conclusion I have come to that I can live with. I have my Paul Simon records and through them I create my Paul Simon. My Paul Simon – the one with whom I have the passionate personal connection – has been an influence, a mentor, a therapist, and a soul mate. My Paul Simon changed my life. Literally. It was Paul, through Graceland, who led me to a degree in ethnomusicology. (Paul, my parents would like a word.) The Paul Simon I saw on stage – the living, breathing, human Paul Simon who at some point in the day must communicate verbally – that was probably a different Paul Simon. I would like to know him too, but that would require me to separate the man from the person who speaks to me through those records. Oh, I’m still convinced that it’ll happen one day, let’s not forget who’s talking here. In the meantime, and for the first time in my life, I’m able to accept this concert as a little something extra life tossed my way.
~And I could say Oo oo oo
As if everybody knows
What I’m talking about
As if everybody here would know
Exactly what I was talking about~