I got my first CD player during Christmas 1995. I was 13. Up until this time, music to me had been limited to whatever I could find on the radio (which I couldn’t rewind), Disney princess movies, other fluffy movie and show soundtracks.
My grandmother had season tickets to Broadway musicals and Classical Series and so I drowned in those, willingly. That music also made up the majority of my tape collection. On the way to school I was able to hear the radio but my mother preferred country against our “harder” choices. We would bond over many of the bands from her time but I still never had what I considered true musical freedom until Christmas 1993 with the arrival of my first CD player.
I see this as a definitive moment in my musical development and the start of a major addiction. I was 15, had allowance and I needed things to spend my money on. I would eventually join Columbia House, BMG Music (both no longer in existence as CD selling companies)and all the other companies that gave me music on the cheap. I would scam them using multiple names, ending up with tons of CDs and not enough time to devour them all. It was the start of my searching; searching for music that filled a hole.
I was given two CDs with my new CD player. My parents, knowing my love for singing and pop culture, gave me Mariah Carey‘s Music Box. My Uncle John (unsure of his motivation) gave me Simon and Garfunkel‘s Bridge Over Troubled Water.
I would come to memorize every one of the songs on both CDs within days. I fell IN LOVE with Simon and Garfunkel while Mariah Carey disappeared in the back of my CD case after a few months and eventually from my memory.
I was immediately turned on emotionally and spiritually by Bridge Over Troubled Waters. I was 13. I struggled with anger and teenage angst and this CD connected with me on so many levels. The voices, the lyrics, the music. A simply stunning CD. More importantly, it opened me up to a time period in music that I had missed…the 70’s. A few months later, I would find Jerry and the musical hole within me would be filled.
There is so much to say about it but I won’t bore you with my run-on stories. My point is that my connection with Simon and Garfunkel runs deep. Paul Simon is sort of my Bob Dylan. I can hear you all screaming now but it’s true. He may not win in your books for the highest award of lyrical and/or song construction but in my book, he is #1.
The Auditorium Stravinsky stage, described in full in my Overview of Montreux Jazz Festival Post, was littered with musicians. I noticed an accordion, a xylophone, a piano, three guitars, a percussion section, one bass, two drummers, a piano and keyboard, horns, and a violin (I think).
Paul Simon’s desire to incorporate multiple multi-cultural instruments is a huge selling point for me being someone who likes to see change and diversity in her musicians. Simon ranks up there with Bela Fleck for going out in to the world to be the hungry learner, the constant musical hunter. I find so much beauty in musicians like that. We need more musicians like that.
Paul Simon @ Montreux Jazz Festival
This would be my first time seeing Paul Simon live. This was an epic moment for me. I felt giddy, like a school girl (pun intended) going to see her first musical crush. I imagined seeing Paul Simon many times in my life but I never thought the first time would be in this amazing auditorium in Switzerland. I had to cross the world to make it happen and I couldn’t be happier.
The show was in The Auditorium Stravinsky and we were in the #3 box seats instead of #4 from the night previous. I wondered if any stars would surround me again. Esperanza Spalding and Paul Simon had been my box neighbors just a night earlier as I watched The Miles Davis Tribute.
Tonight’s show would consist of multiples titles off Simon’s latest CD, So Beautiful or So What. The CD is built around his acoustic guitar and as the title suggests, the songs consist of views on extremes. However, his projections find themselves somewhere in the middle. His songs lie between the worlds of love and indifference, good and evil, hope and heartbreak. He speaks on everything from Christmas shopping to suicide bombers to Global warming. It speaks of his nephew, who has been on multiple tours of duty to Iraq to Jay-Z and Jesus.
The Making of So Beautiful, So What
Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was listening to a box set of old American recordings one day. Among the songs, he found a Christmas sermon bearing the voice of Atlanta’s Rev. J.M. Gates, a hugely popular preacher in the 1930s and ’40s. That sermon stayed with Simon, who turned it into a song.
“It really struck me, not only because it was really an unusual way of having a Christmas sermon, because it’s very dark, it’s like a warning,” Simon tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, “but also … there was a real rhythmic pulse to it … it sounded so natural. I lived with that for a while, and then I thought, ‘I could write a song called “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” and find a way of making verses that lead up to the sermon and then follow the sermon.’ “
~ Excerpt from NPR’s interview with Paul Simon (04/12/11)
Boy in the Bubble
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover
So Beautiful or So What
Slip Sliding Away
Peace like a River
The Obvious Child
Only Living Boy in New York
Learn To Fall
Questions for the Angels
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
Sounds of Silence
Kodachrome from 1973
Here Comes the Sun
Still Crazy After All These Years
Call Me Al
Simon started his set with “Boy In The Bubble,” the opening song on his 1986 album Graceland. Simon’s lyrics deal with the complex human consequences of modern technology. Do you recall the Boy In The Bubble from the 1980s? Ironically, this was a perfect start to a show that would continue on with songs highlighting intense issues.
“Dazzling Blue” followed and was the first song performed off Simon’s latest album. The song has a heavy African vibe; the stage was cast in a blue curtain of light with the majority of light on Simon alone. Beginning with a talking drum from India, the audience was immediately given access to the love that Simon has for different styles and texture of sound found in various cultures around the globe.
Miles apart, though the miles can’t measure distance
Worlds apart on a rainy afternoon
But the road gets dirty and it offers no resistance
So turn your amp up and play your lonesome tune
Maybe love’s an accident, or destiny is true
But you and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue
~ Lyrics from “Dazzling Blue”
American rock drumming initiated the beginning to “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” a 1975 hit song from his album Still Crazy After All These Years. The stage was filled with green light and Simon sang about the song’s mistress and her humorous advice to a husband on ways to end a relationship.
Fun Fact: G. Love covered the song on his album Fixin’ To Die (2011) which he recorded with the folk-rock band The Avett Brothers. ~ Thanks Wikipedia
And then Paul spoke…
“Hello my friends. I am so happy to be here. This is my fourth or fifth time here.” ~ Paul Simon to his audience
The bluesy title track, “So Beautiful or So What,” off Paul Simon’s latest album, began with two wooden bars being clapped together. The song verbalizes a lesson about life being what you make of it.
Bemoaning human frailty:
Ain’t it strange the way we’re ignorant
how we seek out bad advice
How we jigger it and figure it
mistaking value for the price
And play a game with time and love
like a pair of rolling dice.”~ Lyrics from “So Beautiful or So What”
I swear I heard a telephone ringing as part of the chorus. It was totally prevalent but I am not sure it was part of the song. At the time, it didn’t surprise me but it made me curious. I loved this song, with its full sound and rock sensibilities. There was a spoon on metal solo, accordion overlay, beaded shakers kept the beat and Paul showed his picking skills. One thing about Paul’s music, the sounds he conjures out of the various worldly instruments he employs in his music is what truly sets each song apart from the next.
Using his mouth in an unusual way to intro the song, Paul Simon chose another oldie, “Slip Sliding Away.” The best way I can describe these mouth sounds would be like when the drawings in the cartoons would take two coconuts to make the sound of a horse walking. It was gorgeous…until there was an equipment malfunction. Paul paused, tapping his fingers on his guitar until his other guitarist strapped in. Flutes and harpsichords were being played but I couldn’t figure out who was playing the beautiful sounds. Simon accompanied the beauty with whistles and the song ended with acoustic scaling and whistling by Simon.
“Peace like a River,” the 7th song of his 2nd studio album, highlighted the piano. Paul’s voice cut right through me. There is something so calming and soothing about his sound. The softness is romantic yet there is fierceness in his delivery that comes off as pure professionalism and eagerness to be different.
I found an eight minute video of the performance which shows nothing, but you can hear Simon on stage clearly and that is what matters:
Four drumsticks counted off as both drummers began the lead into “The Obvious Child.” This song is defined by it’s Latin-inspired rhythms and is off The Rhythm and Saints album released in 1990. Reminiscent of a Big Band feel, we started moving in our seats. Paul Simon knows what I like, he truly does. Bright red lights blew up the stage as Josh was so moved he got up to dance.
Did Paul know his favorite fans were in the audience from NYC? Did he know that the NYCers who were there loved this next song? Perhaps not! But I like to think he did as he broke into “The Only Living Boy in New York.” This song touched me deeply as it was the only song sung off Simon and Garfunkel’s 1970 release, Bridge Over Troubled Water, one of the greatest albums to ever grace this planet.
The irony was not lost on me that on the album it is Art Garfunkel who sings the song while Simon takes a secondary position in the delivery. Not this time. Not tonight.
Bridge Over Troubled Water fun facts:
- Fifth and final studio album by Simon & Garfunkel
- Reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 28, 1970
- Won 1971 Grammy Award for Album of the Year
- Won 1971 Grammy award for Best Engineered Recording
- Title track won the 1971 Grammy Award for Record of the Year
- Title track won the 1971 Grammy Award for Song of the Year
- Won Best International Album at the first Brit Awards in 1977
- #51 on The Rollings Stones ‘Greatest Album of all Time’ List
The tears trickled down my cheeks freely now. It had only been a matter of time before I knew this would happen and I did think it was going to happen sooner then it did. It took eight songs to rip into my heartstrings. I was immediately transported back to being 12 and hearing his voice for the first time and I prayed that he would sing more songs from this album but it never happened.
“Learn How To Fall” was full of horns and fierceness. It was jubilant yet with a serious message of needing to “Learn How to Fall” before you can “Learn How to Fly.”
Then perhaps my favorite song of the performance was next, a song I had never heard before. A song off the new album called “Questions for the Angels.”
On “Questions For The Angels,” a middle-aged man strolls across the Brooklyn Bridge searching for heavenly help, only to be confronted with a Jay-Z billboard for a reply.
A pilgrim on a pilgrimage
Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
His sneakers torn
In the hour when the homeless move their cardboard blankets
And the new day is born….
The pilgrim is passing a billboard
That catches his eye
He’s got a kid on each knee
He’s wearing clothes that he wants us to try
~ Lyrics from Questions for Angels
Can I just give props to Paul Simon for picking on Jay-Z? I don’t want to condone any negative tension but I find it hilarious, although not surprising, that Paul Simon chose these lyrics. It makes me recall the feud between NAS (who I am seeing tonight with Damien Marley) and Jay-Z. Would this bring Jay-Z down on Simon? Will there be retaliation through lyrics? Can you imagine that going down? Now, that is some musical drama that I would be interested in seeing take place…just saying.
Speaking on religious material making it’s way into the album:
“It’s not so much that it pops out in a larger way … it’s more frequent. I really had no plan to do that,” Simon says. “They begin as stories, and where they go is just a path I follow. Sometimes spiritual or religious imagery will be part of the story. It’s seldom the point of the story, but it’s a presence that lingers.”
~ Excerpt from NPR’s interview with Paul Simon (04/12/11)
It was back to the old school, this time with songs from Simon’s most famous album, Graceland. At this point I just couldn’t take notes anymore. I had to dance this out. Other members of the audience felt the same way as they were lifted out of their seats during the dueling drummers solos during “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” The song is a pure classic about a short relationship Paul Simon had with a diamond mine owner’s daughter, while recording in South Africa. She was very rich and privileged, yet she acted very down to earth, like a poor girl. The drummers were amazing playing off each other and I longed for a concert of just drummers. Can you imagine? I can.
The Lady Smith Black Mombazo inspired song “Gumboots” kept the dance party going. This song reminded me String Cheese meeting Bela Fleck. There was picking on the guitars and a violin entered the mix. The piano player got up and played the inside of his piano. There was such a wonderful mixture of sound and it kept us all on our feet. It’s a beautiful song inspired by The Gumboot Dance which is an African dance that is performed by dancers wearing Wellington boots. In South Africa these boots are more commonly called gumboots.
The rest of the band joined the stage for “Kodachrome from 1973” This song left the hall so full of sound. Great sound. My friends and I were all up dancing in our box. There was no calming us down.
There you have it 🙂 The end of the set. Exiting the stage to monstrous applause, the entire band left. The entire audience began clapping in unison without letting up. Shortly after, Paul came out alone on his acoustic guitar.
When the notes trickled from the stage and the audience heard “Sounds of Silence,” the Auditorium went silent. You could hear a pin drop. “Hello darkness my old friend”…and with that, the tears flowed freely again.
This was definitely the most intimate song of the night. It tore at the heart strings, it made people smile, scream and feel something inside of them stir. Paul’s music does that to you. It’s such a classic song that everyone on the planet knows and is touched by it.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
~ Lyrics from “Sounds of Silence”
Then the audience joined in by humming the lyrics. A single man and his guitar was standing alone on one of the world’s most famous stages and had the entire placed entranced. It was magic. It was awesome. It was music at its simplest. Music at its best.
“Here Comes The Sun” was the second choice with accordions and two guitars with Simon backing the melody. And with that, the stage emptied again.
The following video has “Sounds of Silence” into “Here Come The Sun.” Enjoy!
!!!!!!!!!! ENCORE #2 !!!!!!!!!!
Everyone walked off stage and for a few minutes the audience just chanted in unison. Paul Simon came out yet again for a second encore. There was no end in sight and that was awesome.
I took out Josh’s Iphone and video taped “Crazy Love” in it’s entirety with GREAT quality. Enjoy!
“Still Crazy After All These Years” was next. Paul didn’t have an instrument for these songs. Just his voice.
“We’re living in a certain time, and we’re aware of it. And that’s part of what we’re aware of, along with our own personal aches and pains,” Simon says. “The dialogue between what’s going on in the world and what’s going on internally seems to be a natural thing — well, it’s natural to me, anyway, to have these thoughts.” ~ Excerpt from NPR’s interview with Paul Simon (04/12/11)
“Call Me Al” ended the set. Everyone was finally up dancing now. Dancing down below me and clapping. The flute player moved to the keys. There was a major bass rage. Only a few seconds but so funky! You know the bass line I’m speaking of??
“One of my favorite poets is Philip Larkin,” Simon says. “Philip Larkin didn’t write for several years before his life ended. And when he was asked why he didn’t write, he said the muse deserted him. It sort of scared me. That’s why I think I have no right to assume that some thought is going to come. … But I think, in my imagination, if it is it, there will probably be something else I’m interested in.”
At 70 years old, Paul Simon shows no signs of slowing down. He is a master of his art, with a soft, intelligent voice, that attains an unmatchable sense of melancholy and tenderness. Regarding his latest cd, anyone who can take a sermon and build an entirely new outlook on life through it by music is stellar. I was moved and inspired by this show and I hope that this article touches you in some way that makes you go out and purchase the new album or perhaps invest in seeing him live. Simply Phenomenal.