Friday, May 20, 2011

Still Crazy-Awesome After All These Years

I don't know about the rapture predicted for Saturday, but I can tell you about a rapturously wonderful evening at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last night.

This venue with its long history of country and gospel greats -- can I get a witness? -- was home to Paul Simon in his spring 2011 sweep of the known world yesterday. If you have listened to American music since the mid-1960s, you've heard his music. If you're temporarily unfamiliar, Google or Youtube ... say... Mother And Child Reunion, Kodachrome, The Sound of Silence, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes for a sampling.

Hard to list only a few. I've already left out some favorites: Julio. Graceland. You Can Call Me Al. It's a wonder that I can think at all.

The anthology of his work is impressive as a composer, vocalist and guitarist. Triple threat and then some. He shows mastery of rhythm, percussion, syncopation. And the team of musicians playing with him? Spellbinding.

I feel like I've fallen and I can't get up when I begin waxing about this man, Paul. It might also be said that I don't get out much. But you know how we just want to tell the story of something so right before we're all just slip slidin' away? There must be fifty ways to tell an American tune. His music takes us to the Mardi Gras and speaks of peace like a river. He writes of mother and child and father and daughter. Hearts and bones are exposed before we're gone at last. And he keeps on writing. The landscape moves from Puerto Rico to Memphis, from Louisiana zydeco to Brooklyn and even under African skies; the world is his canvas.

Late in the evening, I had a dream fulfilled in Nashville: I got to sing The Boxer right along with him, as the Ryman's audience joined in without embarrassment. Did we look like those old people in the audiences on MTV's fundraising nights? Probably so. But some of these baby boomers also had their college age kids in tow. A University of Michigan sophomore drove with her dad from Indianapolis and sat beside us, loving the show. She got it. There were also many twenty-somethings gathered among friends having a huge time. The enthralled audience rose to its collective feet in thunderous applause and wild whoops and whistles early on, raising the roof on that 1892 wooden pew-lined house and savoring the night with profound appreciation for the the artist known as rhymin' Simon.

He said one of the joys of playing in Nashville was being able to reunite with some music legends whom he then invited onstage to play with him. A good time was had by all, as we say in the country.

Can one be a living legend? I think so. In fact, I've just seen it done.

I'm grateful for my husband's gift from the heart of the tickets for this little slice of heaven. A heart full of music provides a soundtrack for any occasion -- soulful, melancholy ballads, songs of devotion or searching, and spirited, joyful accompaniments for all of life's journeys. Paul Simon's songs are going on six decades now. And he showed no signs of letting up. The man's a true performer: two and a half hour show with no break. Guitar change with each song. No one went away empty as a pocket.

This prolific writer and composer has devoted much of his interest later in life to developing the theme of love and its many manifestations, including the spiritual dimensions -- a pursuit that has many searching for the meaning within his music.

I close with his image in a lesser-known song that corresponds to a train whistle, a beloved sound from my childhood often imitated by my grandfather from his days at the old Illinois Central line:
Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it's true
What is the point of this story?
What information pertains?
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly
Into our hearts
And our brains
I am thankful for the way music lifts our spirits and moves our hearts as we experience myriad messages of love and manifestations of God's loving kindness in this life. We walk a shared journey and must choose for ourselves which spirit voices to heed.

(Baby Boomer Bonus: If you were a “Highlights” reader, you may remember Hidden Pictures. Twenty-five titles or lines from his music are found above.)


  1. this is such a beautiful description of a very memorable evening. i'm so happy you were able to attend!!

  2. Sounds amazing. I love your description and I know the feeling of leaving the Ryman filled to the brim with musical joy like what you have experienced was way more than just songs. That's why we go back every year :) Something so special about that place.