The forecast had been up and down all week. Light rain, rain, heavy rain; oscillating back and forth because even with all the advances in meteorological science you still can’t say with any certainty when it’s going to rain until the day of. Even then, if the winds pushed the storm one degree North a hundred miles out that could be the difference between a drizzle and a torrential downpour.
By the day of, the forecasts were predicting almost certain rain. And maybe, maybe, there’d be a slight chance of tornadoes in New York City. I could deal with a little rain. A tornado is different, and I imagine it’d be hard to hear the music anyway through even a gale tornado. Fans were freaking out on social media. Some threatened to put their tickets up for sale; some did.
By the time the doors opened, the sky was clear. A rainbow beamed onto the stage, and the people were pouring into their seats waiting for the show to start. Then one degree. The wind shifted. It had been placid the entire time I was there, barely moving the flags that lined the stadium. Cheers came from Stage Left as a light sprinkle quickly moved in, the cheers morphed into a roar as the rain pressed harder. And when it ebbed, “that’s got to be the worst of it,” it got worse.
The start of the show got pushed back. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, until it bloomed into an hour, just sitting there in the rain because fuck it. There were times when I thought they might not be coming on at all. They covered the Grand Piano and took away the rug, guitars were shuffled away. But then he did. The rain lulled. A chorus line of water pushers pushed water away from the stage, then the rug came out, and then the tarp came off the piano, and then the band.
Paul Simon is one of the last remaining artists of the monoculture. Every generation throws a hero or two up the pop charts, and with Michael and Prince gone, Kurt left us a generation ago, we have the Boss. You have to discount McCartney and the Stones, Dylan, because even if their fans were fifteen during their prime years, they’d still be seventy now. Mr. Simon on the other hand might as well have started his career with Graceland, the massive album that brought World Music to the ears of millions of people because of the size of its success.
It was no surprise that after being played out onstage by the band, the first song he played was “The Boy in the Bubble.” Four more songs from the album would end up in the set list, the most of any album in his career. Throughout the tour, the set list featured about twenty-one songs played almost every night (Eleven played every night, Six played all but one, three songs played all but two, one played all but three shows). They were mostly upbeat songs, with mega-hits like “Slip Slidin’ Away” and “Still Crazy After All These Years” thrown in.
What made the night special (other than the rain) were those songs that he didn’t play every night. Maybe he felt pity on us for having endured the rain for so long, or maybe the rumors are true and he wanted to go out on a high note, but those songs comprised the pillars in Mr. Simon’s career. “Stranger to Stranger” from the album of the same name, which came out just a month prior, all the way back to “That’s All Right,” the early rock song that Elvis recorded on his first LP, one of those songs that put a guitar in every boy’s hand in the 1950s. But it was the last two songs that made the night.
He stood there alone, guitar in hand, as the flashes of cameras and lightning off in the distance illuminated the stage. Playing those first notes of “The Sound of Silence,” the crowd knew and took the lead vocals away from him, overpowering the sound system when he got to the line: “And in the naked light I saw/ten thousand people, maybe more.” The stadium thundered alongside the clouds.
Bringing the band out for one last song, Mr. Simon told the audience that he doesn’t sing this one often. It was the only time on tour that he played the song. In fact, Elvis had sung it more times than Mr. Simon has in forty-six years—because Graceland always looms in the background of his career. And despite a vocal performance that betrayed his age (and frankly his ability), “Bridge Over Troubled Water” will always be Art’s song.
What remained of the night was the fact that Mr. Simon said he was considering retirement. That entertainment didn’t excite him the way it used to. That the Rock and Roll of “That’s All Right” and World Music of Graceland didn’t do it for him like it used to. That this could have been his last show on American soil. That’s all right. The show was a fitting tribute to a fifty-year career. And I’m glad I was there. There have been a few times that I’ve sat out in the rain and considered it worth it. Waiting through the rain to watch Paul Simon at Forest Hills Stadium was certainly one of them.
Article: Christopher Gilson