A couple of weeks ago, I watched a 60’s folk concert on PBS called, “My Music: This Land Is Your Land.” The show was hosted by the Smothers Brothers and featured folk revival staples like the Kingston Trio, Judy Collins, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, and others. Although the musicians that played on this show are great and deserved to be remembered as such, they seemed a product of their time. The music hasn’t evolved haven’t evolved, dooming them to be thought of as strictly 60’s music.
It is not hard to imagine Paul Simon and even Bob Dylan being relegated to this type of fate. Heck, Art Garfunkel basically succumbed to being this type of act. They each could have had their hits with “The Sound of Silence” and “Blowin’ In The Wind” and rested on their laurels, repeating the same songs to an audience grasping at their youth. Yet, unlike the musicians from the PBS special, musicians like Paul Simon continue to grow and evolve every decade, making their sound fresh for each generation.
That is what struck me most about Paul Simon’s performance at the Blue Hills Pavilion on June 24th: just how multigenerational it was. Older parents who grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel were with their children who listened to their parents’ rundown Graceland cassettes. A crowd of twentysomethings also populated the audience whom I like to think, like me, were hooked on Simon’s music after watching “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” as the perfect accompaniment to Gene Hackman, joyously playing through New York with his grandkids in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
Music that can bridge this generational gap is uncommon. I thought it innate in every child to hate their parents’ music. Even while just waiting in line to get into the venue, I saw a father and son talking about their favorite songs. The son, who looked to be around 18 or so, looked at his dad and asked, “Where have all the lonely people gone? Where do they all come from?” The dad angrily responded, “That’s Paul McCartney. You blew it!” Who knows how much correctly quoting a Paul Simon song may have benefitted this son’s relationship with his dad. Such is the potential power of Simon’s music.
All kidding aside, Paul Simon’s staying power and influence is not to be taken lightly. His songs are in the Great American Songbook alongside those of Gershwin. And his most recent record, Stranger to Stranger, came out last month. It’s quite good. At 74, Simon still makes music that lives up to the expectations of his fans, a nearly monolithic task. His melodies and rhythms are catchy and interesting, and by some act of God, his voice still sounds pristine, particularly compared to contemporaries like the cigarette and gravel tone of Bob Dylan’s voice on his recent second album of Frank Sinatra covers.
Simon’s indelible influence on world music was also on prominent display throughout this show in Boston. His African-inspired Graceland and Brazilian-inspired Rhythm of The Saints introduced millions of listeners to the sounds of musics from across the world. Even in his earlier albums, Simon mixed Reggae and Zydeco into his folk-oriented sound. This concert worked as a mirror of his career, weaving a wide range of musical styles and instruments, while also retreating to his early sound to appease his fanbase.
Simon’s music taps into a vein of nostalgia while simultaneously bringing you somewhere new. It is quite a trick to behold, a brand of magic I hope we still get to see for years to come.