Tuesday, June 6th, 2017: The day my bucket list became a little shorter.
You see, last week I was #blessed. I was able to see my artistic idol, live in concert. This is a person who I consider to be not only one of the most talented musicians in history, but also one of the world’s greatest living poets. This person is none other than Paul Simon.
Graceland has served as the soundtrack to every happy moment in my life for nearly as long as I can remember. Those travelling beats took me to the coast every summer with my family. There is nothing like driving Highway 12 South, with the widows rolled down, the smell of salt and hot asphalt under the tires, surrounded by water and the sounds of the angels in the architecture of Paul Simon’s lyrics. I love the mystery of his words, never quite feeling certain of their meaning, but completely understanding them, anyway.
As I got older, I soaked up all the Paul Simon I could get my hands on. I bought Simon & Garfunkel albums at F.Y.E. (remember that relic of the ’00s?) while people stood in line, waiting for Usher or Justin Timberlake to drop their latest hits. I moved linearly through Simon’s music, appreciating each album, working to decipher their messages.
Shortly after I started college, I purchased a book of Paul Simon’s lyrics, containing every line he’d ever lent to a song since 1964. It’s worn and weathered now. It has survived a dog attack by a rambunctious pup with a taste for paper, water damage from the time I dropped it in the tub when I was reading it while taking a bubble bath, and some sort of burn, which I don’t recall. Still, it’s one of my most treasured possessions. I keep it on my windowsill and often consult it when I need some inspiration or insight into the happenings of my own life.
I think you’re probably getting the picture. Paul Simon is to me as David Bowie is to Lorelai Gilmore. (If you’ve not watched Gilmore Girls, please do, so that you fully grasp the weight of this comparison.)
Kayla and I learned that Paul would be gracing our humble city back in March. We prepped for the day that tickets would go on sale. I wouldn’t have access to a computer that morning so the pressure was on Kayla to get in and checkout with record speed. The show sold out within minutes but she was able to snag us two tickets just in time!
Flash forward to June 6th. I was a ball of nerves. What if I had built this up so much over the years that I was destined for disappointment? That couldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen. Right?
We arrived at the venue about an hour early, anticipating the heavy traffic. We bought sodas and giant pretzels, found our seats, and settled in. Slowly, the amphitheater filled. Every inch of space was occupied, from the front row to the fence enclosing the back of the lawn. The sun began to set and palpable anticipation rolled off of the audience. There was no opening act. The waiting stretched on and on.
Suddenly, the stage was washed with light and there, emerging from the shadows, was Paul Simon himself. He was older than he appeared on his album covers, yes, but somehow only superficially. Without uttering a word, he managed to radiate vibrant energy. The crowd was on its feet in an instant. Paul chose a guitar and launched into his first song: The Boy In The Bubble, my favorite. All of my fears were put to rest with the strumming of a single chord and I spent the first four songs actively fighting back tears. I’m not sure what the tears meant, but I think they were a combination of awe and joy.
I’ve always loved the possibility that exists within Paul Simon’s music. It transports the listener, leading us to believe that anything is possible, that pain is beautiful, struggle is purposeful, and magic is real, residing inside the people and places we can’t live without.
As I was swept up into this suspension of reality, Kayla turned and yelled over the crowd, “Let’s get a picture!”
I hesitated, not wanting to take my eyes off the stage for even a moment, but I turned my back and we tried to fit ourselves into a selfie with Paul in the background. After a failed attempt, a woman in the row behind us said, “Here, let me!” Kayla thanked her and handed her the iPhone, while we leaned in together.
As I smiled at the camera, my eyes took in the face behind it for the first time and I cried, “Oh my god, Ms. Shannon?!”
She stopped and looked and me, shouting, “Oh my god! Mary Faith?!”
She almost dropped the phone in our abrupt embrace, and this is the picture we ended up with. I want to frame it, just for its unpredictable story.
I turned to Kayla and explained. “This is my elementary teacher from Montessori school! And Shannon, this is my wife, Kayla!”
Shannon smiled and grabbed Kayla in a hug as well, before turning to the woman beside her and telling us, “And this is my wife!”
We all shook hands and decided to catch up after the show because we were missing Hearts and Bones.
Kayla and I spent the rest of the night singing and dancing with thousands of strangers, as well as some no-longer-strangers, with whom we had been temporarily united through the mystical, serendipitous power of Mr. Paul Simon.
The show unfolded perfectly. Before too long, the band was bowing as they backed out of the spotlights. Unwilling to accept this, the audience hammered the backs of their seats with their hands and chanted for an encore. We were quickly appeased and Paul was back to serenade us a bit longer. This cycle continued four times.
As Paul stepped forward for what would be his final tune, he was alone. Draping an acoustic guitar around his neck, he began to pick at its strings. And he began to speak.
Looking out at us, he said:
“I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to take advantage now that I’m old and people feel like they have to listen to me… Anger is an addiction. The brain likes it. It likes it. It gets all that adrenaline going. Right now, we are a nation of addicts. And who is the dealer? Who are the dealers? The media. Don’t give into it.”
Then, he began to play The Sound of Silence. It was a short speech, but it was powerful. And as with all of Paul Simon’s words, I felt that I understood what he meant.
When we live in the age of alternative facts, when we can choose what information we’d like to be told, when news networks don’t even pretend to report without bias, we have to be careful. If we are not aware, if we choose to place ourselves on the far side of the divide, then we contribute to its increasing growth. We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed apart by corporations that are chasing ratings. We must think for ourselves; we must think about our neighbors; we must consider perspectives other than our own. We must work together to build a bridge over the troubled waters that we might otherwise succumb to.
It’s difficult to continue to vilify the media, without allowing our elected officials their fair share of the blame. Certainly it’s not all one-sided. But if this one beautiful concert proved anything, it’s that we are capable of unity. We as humans, as a society, as Americans, can come together to celebrate goodness. We can be surprised by unexpected wonder. We can stand beside our wives, our husbands, our children, and we can respect and connect with those around us.
Absolutely anything is possible. As always, Paul Simon found a way to add a melody to that truth.
P.S. 100% of proceeds from this tour will benefit the Half-Earth Project, a foundation which conducts research into protecting our planet and its biodiversity. Consider buying a ticket or official merchandise to support the cause. Remember, there is no Planet B!