Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Year In Live Music 2018, Act II: Paul Simon -- Tell Me That Crazy Story One Last Time


In the late 70s, Ann Waggoner, my high school the guitar teacher, selected a grouping of Paul Simon composed music to be presented at the annual spring concert.  That bit of chance caused me to learn how to play half a dozen or so songs made famous by Simon & Garfunkel. These were older songs, but Paul Simon had recently started his second career as a solo act, releasing his Still Crazy After All These Years album (and making a lot of appearances on Saturday Night Live).  Songs from that period served to provide the soundtrack for the last of my high school years as well as my time in college and a few years beyond. 

As time went by, Simon's music changed as he welcomed other musical influences into what he was composing affecting the types of songs and rhythms he produced. It was somewhere between the albums Graceland and The Rhythm of The Saints that Paul and I parted ways. My admiration for him was more as a songwriter than a performer, and I didn't relate to the newer music the same way. It was an amicable breakup because his songs remain a significant part of the soundtrack of my life.  He was and is a great storyteller.

Recently, when he announced his farewell tour, Homeward Bound, my attendance became a must. However, three minutes after tickets went on sale I was utterly heartbroken when I went online to find the better tickets were entirely gone. What upset me wasn’t their prior sale but those choice tickets were already back online for sale at three times the face value. So much for Ticketmaster's goal of making sure fans and not scalpers got a fair shot at tickets. Pissed off, I gave up and closed my laptop after typing up a blistering review of the ticket selling process. A few days later I was contacted by someone who had read what I wrote offering to sell me her tickets for the now all but sold out show.  She wasn’t going to be able to attend and offered me her tickets at the face price – fan to fan. I quickly obliged with much gratitude.

Homeward Bound, The Farewell Tour

This was my first concert of the 2018 season at DTE Energy Music Theatre.  I didn’t notice any massive changes to any of the facilities inside the venue, but this is also the largest crowd I’ve ever been part of at the facility. 15,000 seats is a lot of people.  I didn’t have the best seats, or actually any seat, as the tickets were for the hilltop and not under the pavilion. The hill is not a bad place to see a concert there is generally more room than in the pavilion seats, on the hotter evening’s there’s a cool breeze, and once you get beyond the first 50 or 60 rows, you are watching the big screens and not the stage anyway. I placed my chairs on the last strip of grass the concrete walkway, but before the concert, there were three more rows of folks behind me.  It was a full house.

There was no opening act, but there was no need for one. The crowd was ready to listen, Paul was prepared to play, and the band was tight and ready to be heard. He started with America putting the audience on notice that his voice was better than ever and he was there to give a memorable show. He moved on to 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  Realistically, both songs could be seen as a low-key way to open a show, but then this was a Paul Simon show, so they were perfect choices.

Paul shifted gears and decades performing The Boy in the Bubble, Dazzling Blue, and That Was Your Mother.  I admit I was unfamiliar with all three songs but found them enjoyable. He played Rewrite next, and in it, as an author, I found some new music and a story I could easily love.

The rhythms picked up as he gave great performances of both Mother and Child Reunion and Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.  I said before that I thought his voice sounded as strong as ever, and indeed it did throughout the show. He, like many other performers who are getting up in years, has started to morph some of the ways he sings to ensure he does not come off sounding bad.

His song Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War has to have the most unusual title of any, having stolen it from a photograph.  While still in the smaller tableau of musicians, he sang a semi-reggae version of Bridge Over Troubled Water which he said was the first time he had performed the song during the tour.  

I’d heard the story behind Wristband before hearing him perform it live.  Love the story behind the song, I can only imagine what the bouncer feels like being immortalized for having locked the star out of his own concert for lack of a wristband (my man). 

The next four songs were more titles I was not familiar with, having been featured on albums I’d never heard. I really don’t think it’s a bad thing to walk into a concert and not know all the music, it gave me a chance to discover something new some of which I liked some of which I didn’t.  

It was somewhere in here Paul took a moment to talk about Dr. E.O. Wilson, his foundation, and book Half Earth.   He spent all of 30 seconds and suggested people check out the book and its author. As activist statements during the middle of performances become more the norm, I am glad Paul was classy, civilized, and professional enough to keep it minimal and nonconfrontational.  

Paul moved back into more familiar music with the performance of You Can Call Me Al and Graceland.  Many of his songs are favorites but the next two he performed, Still Crazy After All These Years and Late in the Evening, are both part of my life’s soundtrack that accent treasured memories. There can be nothing more satisfying than hearing music like that live for the first time.

The first song of the encore was Homeward Bound, one that any former military member who has deployed can appreciate.  From there he moved on to the only song I’m aware of which is also a trademark for a consumer product: Kodachrome.  The Boxer, American Tune and The Sound of Silence rounded out the rest of the encore for what was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

Paul had stated publicly he had mixed emotions about doing his final tour when he was still giving great performances. Having recently retired myself, I understand the feeling. Even though this may be the last live performance we see from the man, I think we will continue to hear new music from him for years to come. I hope so. If this tour comes to your city. GO!


In the mid-80s, and I was deployed to Egypt working in cargo and passenger operations for the Air Force. Late one night I was sitting out on the flightline with a friend of mine waiting for cargo to be brought out so we could load a plane. I’m still unsure of why, but both of us had our guitars in the government vehicle, and when the loading operation was delayed, rather than going back into the ready area we remained at the darkened aircraft and took advantage of the time.

Taking out our guitars, we sat on the end of the cargo deck of a C141 and started playing songs we usually performed when together. The overall feeling eerie, because most of the lights on the flightline were off for security reasons and with nothing going on, it was very still and quiet. After playing a bit, I asked my friend to teach me to play the instrumental opening to the song Homeward Bound, which I had heard him play before. After we practiced it several times together, he let me take the lead, and after I played those opening notes, we continued to play the rest, singing it in two-part harmony. It was a total blues moment feeling the pain of being away and wishing you were headed home.
When we finished the song and the last note was still ringing -- the silence was broken by the sound of one-person clapping from down the flightline. It was quickly joined by several others and then a few cheers. Even though the flightline was empty of activity, there were still many Security Forces troops out there with us – sitting in the dark and feeling the melancholy of the song. It’s a memory I will always carry with me – – one which was possible only because of the master storyteller and songwriter Paul Simon.


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