Paul Simon’s Graceland was released just a year before I was born, and I’m sure I was just days old the first time I heard it. Though I have clearer memories from ten years later when he released Songs from the Capeman, containing Paul’s own performances of the songs he wrote for his musical, The Capeman, a commercial bust that ended up losing money. But for my young ears, the explicit lyrics were intriguing, full of slang I didn’t yet know, and the layered doo-wop vibes, rock ’n’ roll, and Puerto Rican rhythms transported me to a different world.
Now, at 31 years old, I had the immense honor of breathing the same air as Paul Simon, inside the Moda Center (formally the Rose Quarter Arena) in Portland, Oregon. In a deep purple suit jacket, he welcomed the screaming fans to his Homeward Bound: The Farewell Tour!
“About that last part,” he said, “The ‘farewell’ bit…” the crowd yelled their appreciations, “I lied!” he admitted!
Loving the reaction from the fans, Paul continued, “I said it to boost ticket sales!” He looked around, spread his arms wide and continued, “And look! It worked!” Another roar from the crowd - this time laughter. Paul assured us that he’s not going to stop writing or recording music, and confirmed he’s not saying he will never play live again. He said he is most excited for the unknown of what-to-do-next, not wanting to repeat anything he’s done before.
Appropriately timed, Paul’s next album will be a Rarities Collection of song demos spanning his entire career. A bridge, I suppose, into what I guess now will be considered his “later years.”
Though, at 75 years old, the guy has still got it going on. Voice smooth as ever, and never loosing his breath, he had some pretty quick feet and slick dance moves. I’m not even making it up! He must be watching Justin Timberlake videos on Youtube. Though through most of the show, he stood at the head of the stage playing his 6 string acoustics, or his electric, or his 12 string acoustic guitar. He conducted his 15 (or so) piece ensemble with his hands in the air as if they floated outside a car window on a long highway drive.
I was hoping for some songs from 2000’s You’re The One, including Darling Lorraine, or Old. He didn’t play those two, but it was okay because instead, we got 27 songs spanning his entire career in almost 3 hours. Paul opened the night with a goosebump inducing, America, straight into 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. Songs like That Was Your Mother as well as Mother and Child Reunion were brought to life with a reggae edge and a Big Easy bounce. Though it was Rewrite I ended up with stuck in my head the entire next day.
“Any requests?” Paul asked. A wave of song titles were thrown at him starting from the stage, screaming all the way back from the 300 section where we were seated. Paul put his hands up, palms out. The crowd continued their pleas. Paul shook his head, and eventually quieted the crowd…
“I don’t do requests.” He says and launches into the next song.
My request would have been Wristband, from Paul’s last album, Stranger To Stranger. When it was released in 2016, I listened to the album for about 6 months straight, hearing something new almost every time. A true masterpiece.
Regardless of what he was about to play next, I felt so grateful to have the opportunity to watch the legendary Paul Simon, live in action, rocking the songs I’ve been listening to my entire life. My friend, Molly and I sang along with Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, though it was the group yMusic, a sextet chamber ensemble from New York City that stole middle of the show. We were familiar with yMusic from their extensive work with Ben Folds on his 2015 album, So There as well as The Staves’ 2017 album, The Way is Read. What a fucking treat to see them in action!
Paul created an intimate moment with yMusic, standing in the middle of their semi circle to sing a moving version of Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War and the most epic version of Can’t Run But from the album, The Rhythm of Saints, changing the xylophones out for a riveting string arrangement.
Paul laughed as he told the story of his strangest titled song ever, Rene and Georgette Magritte... My friend, Angela, retold the story on social media:
“He tells about the time he was asked to play the Bread and Roses Festival in Northern California (this was in 1981, I looked it up), and he’s hanging out at Joan Baez’s house because they needed to rehearse a song they were going to perform together (The Boxer, I looked that up, too). Joan had to take a phone call, so — side note: in the course of my research, I learned that Joan Baez’s father invented the x-ray microscope. Just over here casually changing the course of history, the Baezes. anyway — So Joan Baez gets a phone call and leaves the room, and Paul Simon sees a book of the painter René Magritte, ‘who I admired, and still admire,’ on her bookshelf and starts flipping through it.
He stops on an image captioned, ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war,’ and he says to himself, ‘Man, that’d be a great name for a song.’
You know, the thing about Paul Simon is that there is no hint of a guy trying to recapture glory days or relive some former incarnation of himself. Seeing some older performers can feel that way. The heyday gone, the magic mostly over.
If anything, here the magic is bigger and more present. More rooted. More real. More epic. Paul Simon is not trying to be anything. Paul Simon just is. I mean, he’s Paul Fucking Simon. You know? He’s just casually the greatest.
I cried straight through ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte.’ I knew I would, even before he finished telling the story, because it got me right. there.” Here is a video from the Vancouver show!
Their photo was shown on the screen at the end of the song, and I must admit, I teared up as well. It is quite cool that he gets to take Rene and Georgette on tour with him after all these years. Paul also remembered that once he settled on the song title, he knew he had to write something “as obscure as René’s paintings.” So he thought back to his favorite 50’s R&B bands and layered vocals in the studio, “narrowing the targeted audience down to about 175 people,” he joked.
and The Five Satins
For now and ever after
As it was before
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog
After the war”
After the absolutely gripping Can’t Run But, yMusic and Paul’s band settled back into their spots to play my telepathic request, Wristband! Now, the Portland show was only the third show of the tour, and Wristband had not yet been played! I feel like there is a lesson here, like, ‘silence is louder than impatience.’
It was worth the wait and after a couple more songs, an instrumental version of Si and G-funk’s El Condor Pasa (If I Could) sent chills through the venue and pivoted the tone of the show. Midway through an 8 minute version of The Cool, Cool River, Paul forgot his lyrics and requested a prompt from the band, “Anyone know the words?!” Picking up where he left off, the song was set on fire and burned smooth to the finish. Though Paul wasn’t impressed with himself. “Because I made a mistake and forgot the lyrics to that song, I’m going to penalize myself. I’m going to sing one of my songs that I loathe. Just bring me my six string!” Speaking to the band he says, “Guy’s if you don’t want to play, you don’t have to.”
“Okay, this will teach me, because I just, I hate this song.” Before he started plicking at the strings, I wondered if this was all part of the show, but it really seems as though the band isn’t quite sure what’s about to happen…
“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy”
THIS ARTICLE actually picked up my Youtube video this morning and created a whole story. Not my intention, but it's out there now!
The main set ended back on track with Diamonds of the Soles, and Call Me Al. With every familiar song, a reminder the show was far from over, even when he left the stage for the first of… THREE encores! It just. kept. going. And I never wanted it to stop.
Classics like Kodachrome, Mrs Robinson, Still Crazy, Graceland, and the Boxer were scattered over the first two encores. I thought the multiple encores was a genius idea. If I were Paul, I’d want a water break, a pee break, and a sit break after the 2 hour mark too! Homeward Bound was another standout - perhaps my most anticipated song of the night. Full of nostalgia, choked up and wide eyed, this song brought me back to long weekend drives with my Dad through Leominster, Massachusetts, up to Trap Falls, listening to Paul’s Homeward Bound, the Indigo Girls’ World Falls, or Joni Mitchell’s You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio. Indigo actually went on to record their own version of Homeward Bound with Alison Brown in 2005.
The main set ended with Late in the Evening. They say you always want to keep them wanting more. And we did. Just Paul and his guitar for the final two songs of the night. He spoke about Half Earth Foundation, created by E. O. Wilson, who said, “If we take care of the planet, by the next century we could be living in paradise.” In his book, he lays out a plan to save our planet. Paul told us that all the proceeds from his last tour went to the Ed Wilson foundation and encouraged us to save endangered species and ecosystems. He played an acoustic, Questions for the Angels. Then, without skipping a beat, he bid us adieu with a haunting version of The Sound of Silence.
My friend Angela weighed in on the show’s finale, 2 nights before in Vancouver, BC:
“He started: ‘You know, we live in a weird time. I’ve been thinking about… well, all the same things all of you are thinking about. Racism. Sexism. Gender issues. Equality. About the difference between a free society and an authoritarian one. Hmm… am I allowed to talk this much?’ (crowd wildly asserts that Paul Simon can talk as much as he wants.)
And he continued: ‘There were 3.5 billion humans on the planet when I was a kid. There are 7 billion now. It’s projected to grow to 9 billion soon. So actually, despite everything, we’re thriving. Humans are thriving. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I don’t know, but… well, anyway, we are thriving. And for the younger people in the room, especially: If we don’t take care of the planet, all our other problems and struggles will be moot anyway.’
Throughout the night, I kept wondering, with such a beloved songbook of material to choose form, what the final song was going to be.
I’m not sure, now, how I thought it could be anything other than The Sound of Silence. ’This is incredible. This is the best version of this song that I’ve ever heard,’ I said.
And then, like that, it was over. So many songs. I could’ve listened to an easy three dozen more.
His parting words, after the bows, the guitar handoff, and right before leaving the stage: ‘I learned this saying once when I did a tour in Spain. It’s this: ‘We’re not mountains, so we’ll meet again."