Paul is probably my favorite pop songwriter of all time. The first time I saw him perform was in Central Park in 1979 with Art Garfunkel. My second Paul Simon concert was his Graceland tour with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This past Memorial Day, I saw Paul at the Hollywood Bowl for his “Homeward Bound—the Farewell Tour.” And it was by far one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
Is Paul Simon still crazy after all these years? How does he keep it all going? Well, it turns out that Paul, in his early career, may have had some form of PTSSD—post traumatic singer-songwriter disorder. When the sales of the Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. album did poorly, he left the country. A reporter said, “Dismayed by the failure of Simon & Garfunkel's first album, Paul Simon headed to Europe.” Did the reviews or the low sales of the album keep him from wanting to move forward with his music? We know he took a break. Even sang on street corners in Europe and slept under a bridge. Was that the seed of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters?” But he came back.
Before going to his recent show, I was concerned that, at 76, Paul’s voice and playing chops wouldn’t be up to par. I heard he had great musicians on stage with him. I thought that might be a cover. In my mind, I kept hearing his 1967 song, “Old Friends,” playing in my head. “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly. How terribly strange to be 70. Old friends.”And yet here he was—an old friend himself anxiously wanting to share his music.
Throughout the concert I watched Paul’s hands. He couldn’t stop moving them—not so much directing the amazing musicians but as his way of participating in what the other musicians were playing. His voice was perfectly suited to the new arrangements of older material and perfectly matched for the new material he shared. It was an eclectic assortment to be sure.
In song after song, and for over two and a half hours, Paul never once had to prove himself. He simply shared his music—and all from a place of his current enjoyment of it. “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War” was supported by a show-stopping chamber arrangement of instruments. After that song, Paul simply sighed and said to the audience, “This is why Music.”
Paul seemed to get better the longer he was on stage. Even after completing his third encore set, he didn’t want to stop. He was enjoying the music on such a personal level. It was inspiring to see someone play for the sake of playing, for the enjoyment of the music itself.
We’re all still crazy. Recently my "Rewind" band members were discussing people who earlier in our lives tried to shut down our musical desire. So we felt we had experienced, like Paul, our own touch of PTSSD. But each of us has a unique voice—whether we use it to write or sing. And music’s gift to us is that it will keep on giving. It doesn’t have a sell-by date or a shelf life. It’s here, now, for each of us to enjoy and participate in. So don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough to make–sing–perform music. Music is yours for the taking. No reviews required. And if you don’t know what to answer to Paul’s query ‘why Music,’ it’s never too late to dig deeper and find your own answer to that very important question.