“And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered or driven to its knees
But it’s alright, it’s alright, for we live so well, so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong, I can’t help it I wonder what’s gone wrong”
It’s late and I just got home. For the past three hours I’ve been in a very different place. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Elaine and I had tickets for Simon and Garfunkel at Philips Arena.
On the drive down 75, exhaling a bit from all the holiday pressures and things we have to do before certain deadlines, Elaine wasn’t sure she ever really liked Simon and Garfunkel, but okay, “it might be fun”. She knew she liked some of Paul’s songs when he was a solo act. I bought the tickets, but I wasn’t sure either. I liked them in high school, but later, during the early seventies my tastes had changed. I was into serious blues, and bands like Led Zeppelin and the Velvet Underground. America was still in chaos and kids my age were still coming home from Vietnam in body bags. It was really a very depressing time, to be honest, by the time of my draft physical in 1971, Simon and Garfunkel had become, well….quaint.
But last November, when I bought the tickets, I was remembering that first, and only other time I saw them, at Cornell University in 1967. My high school English teacher took me. She was a professional folk singer who taught high school for a day job. I was an aspiring musician and, like most teenage boys, was praying to be abused by an older female teacher. Unfortunately, she brought her husband along, a bearded guy, the second part of the folk duo, so that fantasy didn’t go anywhere. But, teenage fantasies aside, I remember being overwhelmed by Simon and Garfunkel: two voices and one guitar. That was it. No drums, no amplifiers. Just one of the best guitar players I had ever imagined and two unbelievable voices, on a low stage about 10 feet from our seats in the front row. It’s one of my best memories.
Tonight, I guess I started out cranky. The traffic was a hassle and a cop made me drive around the block two more times before I could cut into a parking lot. The seats in Philips Arena were much higher up than I expected after paying $87 each. And the band started late, but hey, bands don’t ever start on time, and I probably would’ve been upset if they *did* start on time. I was wondering if there would be a lot of traffic to dodge after the concert and thinking about next week. When Paul and Art came on, they started with “Old Friends”, and they looked kind of like old friends, at least the old part.
But then, I felt myself losing my thoughts and taking in the music. They went into “I am a Rock”, Sounds of Silence, Scarborough Fair, American Tune and on and on. This isn’t a concert review; I won’t even attempt to list the songs or what order they came in or whose voice cracked here or whatever happened there and how much money they made. Other people get paid to do nitpick all the “really important things”. As a fan, sitting in a high bleacher seat, there was something way beyond that happening.
They touched me. The music and the lyrics and the sounds picked me up in a way that I haven’t experienced in some time. In many ways, it may have been the first time I really connected with some of the lyrics. I found myself wiping away tears all through the concert. I found myself feeling some of the pain and hope and struggle from a past that in many ways isn’t all that different from the pain and hope and struggle we’re all living with today in America. Strange thoughts and emotions tugged at me from all sides. I found myself thinking of the planes slamming into the World Trade Center and of the terrible and so very sad events that have taken place since then. It occurs to me that I may never have really actually felt that profound sadness that we all carry with us these days.
“And I dreamed I was flying,
and high up above my eyes could clearly see
The statue of liberty, sailing away to sea,
and I dreamed I was flying”
And I felt the presence of the thousands of fans around me, all caught up in the same moment and applauding wildly. Clapping with the beat and singing along is something I just don’t do at concerts. It’s some unwritten rule I picked up somewhere. But there I was, singing harmony with my cracked voice, on I don’t know how many songs and not caring about the poor people around me, who were probably singing along with their terrible voices too….Somehow I don’t think it was just me. There was comfort in sharing that experience with the people around me. Later we’d return to our isolated lives, but tonight we were together. I started thinking about the MoveOn.org meeting I went to a couple of weeks ago, and the feeling of community among strangers. “There’s something happening here but you don’t know what it is….”
At some point, and it couldn’t possibly have been time for the show to end, they went into “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. That song, that overproduced-PhilSpectorized monster that I used to turn off every time it came on the radio, was the pinnacle of the evening for me. This time, I didn’t want it to end. And neither did the crowd. We clapped wildly for a good ten minutes after they left the stage. It was so long that I started thinking they wouldn’t come back. But I realized that after doing “Bridge”, there wasn’t really anything else that could top that. It was the showstopper. But come back they did. And they treated us to “Cecilia” and then “The Boxer”, the final song of the evening.
“In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
‘I am leaving, I am leaving.’
But the fighter still remains”
Yeah, it looks like I’m still here too after all these years. And probably still crazy.
And maybe even a few others…..