LIBERTARIAN SUS: American Tunes
Susan Ryder thinks it was worth the wait.
Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera”
I’ve loved the music of Simon & Garfunkel for a long time. When travelling the USA via Greyhound bus some 20 years ago, I often recalled those lyrics from America on account of the, shall we say, colourful clientele the bus-line attracted.
The depots were always in the nastiest part of town and the schedule saw buses arrive and depart in the wee small hours. Navigating the restrooms – a misnomer if ever there was one – involved avoiding the junkies shooting up in the dim light. And it wasn’t much better out in the relative safety of the waiting room, where it was not uncommon to trip over the winos and prostitutes who didn’t make it to the restrooms.
Most Americans either flew or drove long distance. Amtrack was okay, but limited in its coverage, so the rest pretty much used Greyhound. There were repeated rumours that civic authorities would round up their homeless and present them with one-way tickets to warm places like Florida with whispers of fruit-picking jobs at the destination to neatly and cheaply ship them out, rather than go to the ongoing expense and bother of having to deal with them at home. The drivers, on the other hand, were great. And one day I’ll tell you more about all that. Back to America ..
. . . So I looked at the scenery; she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America
The quintessential New Yorkers can the claim the double in managing to not only write beautifully about their city of birth, but their country, too. Paul Simon’s lyrics and haunting melodies resonate throughout the neighbourhoods and parks of New York City just as they capture the solitude of long-haul travel across the continent. They are both Central Park and the New Jersey Turnpike. And last weekend they brought it to Auckland.
I’d missed them by a whisker the last time they played New Zealand in 1983. By the time they arrived, I had landed in the UK having made plans well before the concerts were announced, so I was determined to see them this time.
I wasn’t disappointed. They might be 67 and look more like a couple of Spitting Image puppets these days – Art’s hair is still alarming and Paul’s is nearly as scary – but their performance remains as powerful as ever, backed by a masterful band of musicians. I knew they were friends from youth calling themselves “Tom & Jerry”, but I learned that they met as 11 year olds in the school production of Alice in Wonderland, with Art playing “second lead” Cheshire Cat and Paul as “only third lead”, White Rabbit. They started composing the following year styling themselves on their idols, The Everly Brothers. The rest, of course, is history.
It was my favourite sort of concert. No opening act, no intermission; just old friends chatting about old times and playing old tunes to an appreciative audience, generous in its praise of a lovely harmony or well-delivered instrumental, while singing along with every well-known word. Lyrics that tell stories, evoke images and awaken memories …
This, from “Sound of Silence” ..
And the words of the prophets are written
On the subway walls and tenement halls
Or this from “The Boxer” ..
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder
Of every glove that laid him out
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving
But the fighter still remains.
“Mrs Robinson” from The Graduate ..
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you
What’s that you say, Mrs Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away
Or perhaps my favourite of all from “American Tune” ..
And I thought I was dreaming
When standing in front of me
My eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Smiling away at me
For me, Paul Simon is one of the great songwriters of the twentieth century. I never liked his politics much and I’m sure I still don’t. But based on that premise I’d barely see a film given the general direction of Hollywood politics, and I see, and enjoy, a lot of films.
He is a poet and together, Simon & Garfunkel’s music still moves me as it always has done. Not even the Vector Arena’s inadequate parking facilities or curious refusal to open the doors earlier, preferring to have patrons queue outside instead of enjoy refreshments inside (and then run out of red wine shortly thereafter), or the authorities’ decision to close the nearest motorway entrance, meaning that south-bound traffic had to drive to Point Chevalier before heading south again afterwards, could mar the occasion.
And judging by the repeated encores for their enraptured audience, everyone else loved it, too. Thank you, gentlemen. It was worth the wait.
* * Read Susan Ryder’s column every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *
Labels: Libertarian Sus