Me And Paul Down By The Schoolyard
My life has been filled with Paul Simon.
As a kid, my parents played me one of two cassettes on car trips: Raffi, and Paul Simon’s Graceland. When we lived in Nebraska and my dad preached at a tiny church an hour and a half away, more often than not our return trips would feature Graceland as their soundtrack (that or “A Prairie Home Companion”).
And while my musical tastes grew and expanded over the years, I always loved Paul – especially that magnificent, beautiful, nostalgic whirlwind of African and pop music that is Graceland. I love that album. If you don’t know its story (how Paul worked with black South African musicians despite anti-apartheid sanctions from the U.S. government), you should. The album is a living history of that era that transcends the actual music.
Every song is a masterpiece, from the lyrically wonderful road-and-God-anthem “Graceland”, to the exquisite African harmonies of the a cappella “Homeless”, to the Tex-Mex, Los Lobos collaboration “All Around The World”. And who could forget the upbeat yet lonely “You Can Call Me Al”? (Click the link to see the hilarious music video featuring Chevy Chase.) There is absolutely nothing wrong with this album (except for, maybe, the slightly annoying “I Know What I Know”…), which is why it won a Grammy. And I have my parents to thank – especially my dad – for making sure I’ve loved this album, and this songwriter, ever since I was a kid.
And that’s why, as soon as I heard Paul Simon was playing in OKC, I bought my parents – and myself – tickets. And that’s why I had the privilege of sharing one of my greatest concert experiences with them.
You know how Paul McCartney sounds his age? And how Bob Dylan’s voice has definitely worn down over time? Well, Paul Simon still sounds like a 20-year-old. It’s incredible. His set was fantastic, the band were all excellent, and he still has all his energy (how could he not, at a sprightly 5’2″?) He played all the greats, from “You Can Call Me Al” to “The Only Living Boy in New York” to “The Obvious Child” and “The Sound of Silence”.
But the best part didn’t even take place inside the Civic Center auditorium.
Due to a faulty soundboard, there was a slight delay in getting the concert started. No matter. Paul made lemonade by doing something completely awesome: he played an impromptu set out in the lobby while everything was being fixed.
As soon as we heard the announcement, Holly and I sprinted out to the lobby and snagged a front-row spot. And I’m sure glad we did. As you can see from the videos and pictures, that lobby was packed at all levels, providing an energetic and unique atmosphere as Paul and his band happily played through old favorites he wasn’t planning on playing in the actual show: classics like “Cecilia”, “Mrs. Robinson” and “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”. They were raw, obviously unrehearsed, and featured improvised solos by members of Paul’s opening band, The Punch Brothers. But the raw factor made everything about the lobby set that much more fun.
I shot a couple of videos, which are below. I have no idea who that guy singing enthusiastically during “Cecilia” is. How annoying.
(Just kidding. It’s me. It’s kind of embarrassing. I was just really excited.)
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
We weren’t nearly as close to Paul at the actual show, but it was still amazing. I’ve never been to a more enthusiastic show, or one with a more diverse audience. We joined teenagers on up to seniors in rocking out to “The Boy In The Bubble” and “Kodachrome” like we were all flower children. One of the most touching moments was during his first encore (he did two) when he played a sparse cover of “Here Comes The Sun”. To put it simply: it was beautiful. And at the end, Paul pointed to the heavens and said, “That was for you, George.” I’ll admit it. That got me.
Paul has written music in seven different decades, and yet his music is always timeless. If you’ve never heard any of it, I encourage you to do so soon. An entire history of folk/pop music can be found throughout his numerous albums. I’m glad I’ve experienced it firsthand.