Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Favorite Concerts: Simon & Garfunkel 1967

As a music journalist since the 1970s, I’ve attended more concerts than I can remember. Some, though, have etched indelible memories and continue to inspire. In the My Favorite Concerts series, I share these recollections and I invite readers to post their favorites at the end of the blogs. To download songs, click on the blue links.

When I was 14, we lived near the towering Uniroyal tire alongside I-94 on the way into Detroit. My parents had taught at the University of Detroit in the 1940s, and one of my mother’s colleagues lived across the street. One cold afternoon she stopped by to ask if we wanted three tickets to see Simon & Garfunkel at the university.

That Christmas, my parents had given me a Sears Silvertone – my first guitar – and I’d already learned the opening notes of “Sounds of Silence.” Even though we were grade schoolers and the concert was on a Sunday night, I managed to talk my mom into taking my sister Nancy and me to the event. We’d only seen one other concert before this, the Four Seasons, about six months earlier.

When we showed up at the box office, we discovered our tickets were front row center, with backstage passes. Hip and respectful, the gathering crowd seemed more beatnik-folkie than the hippies we’d been visiting with around Plum Street. We settled into our seats in the University of Detroit’s gymnasium, the lights dimmed, and Simon & Garfunkel walked into a spotlight to thunderous applause. Their microphones were less than ten feet from my chair. Art Garfunkel, dressed in brown leather pants and a rust turtleneck, sat upon a stool. Paul Simon, in turtleneck and jeans, stood as he quickly checked the tuning on a Martin 6-string guitar so polished it reflected the spotlight’s glare into our eyes. His string-ends looked like little butterflies perched atop the tuning pegs.

The duo launched into breathtaking renditions of “Scarborough Fair,” “Cloudy,” “April Come She Will,” “He Was My Brother,” “Bleeker Street,” “A Poem on the Underground Wall,” “Patterns,” “Richard Cory,” “I Am a Rock,” “The Dangling Conversation,” “59th Street Bridge Song,” “Anji,” “Homeward Bound,” “Sounds of Silence,” and an early version of “Mrs. Robinson,” reworked later that year for The Graduate. My favorite moment was when Simon switched to a 12-string guitar for a thrilling “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.” Their voices created some of the best harmonies I’ve ever heard.

After the show, we were led down a corridor backstage and asked to wait. About twenty minutes later Art Garfunkel came out and warmly greeted my mother, sister, and me. Paul Simon showed up a few minutes later. I remember him telling me that Davy Graham had written “Anji,” that he liked Martin guitars the best, and that his brother Eddie also played guitar. My mom, with typical wry humor, asked Garfunkel if his leather pants were hot under the stage lights. As we were leaving, the musicians pulled two posters off the walls and autographed them for my sister and me.

The next day, we bought all three of their albums – Sounds of Silence;Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.; and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. I’ve loved Simon & Garfunkel’s music ever since. Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, this concert set a pattern that would repeat  countless times in the decades to come: Watch a performance, take notes, and go backstage to talk to the musicians. In essence, I was able to turn this unforgettable night into a career.

Coincidentally, something else happened in popular music while we were at the concert: The Rolling Stones performed “Let’s Spend the Night Together” on The Ed Sullivan Show, changing the song’s refrain to “let’s spend some time together” to accommodate the censors.

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