Paul Simon and Friends: The Library of Congress
Who woulda thunk that one of the best music specials would be courtesy of the Library of Congress? But, yep. In 2007, that Washington, D.C. institution honored Paul Simon with its first Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and threw a party at the Warner Theatre, with many stars blended with vintage film and video clips. The program was later broadcast on PBS stations.
The tribute kicks off live, with Lyle Lovett, his eraserhead slightly moderated, doing a fine “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” adding an extra edge and sense of urgency to Simon’s original.
Next, it’s “The Boxer,” which I’m happy to hear being covered by Alison Krauss and Shawn Colvin, since one of my fave versions has always been Emmylou Harris’.
Simon’s musical interests covered the globe, and so we get a great reggae reading, by Stephen Marley, of “Mother and Child Reunion.” And then, by way of the flashback film machine, we see the legendary Miriam Makeba with a young and awed Simon dueting on “Under African Skies.”
Then, back to the stage in Washington, with the eight-man South African troupe, Lady Black Mambazo doing “Homeless.” They are equally expressive with their harmony singing and their hands, arms and legs. It’s the African version of hula.
From a 1999 ceremony at Yankee Stadium, paying tribute to Joe DiMaggio, we see Simon, in center field, performing “Mrs. Robinson,” by himself, with guitar. We see the Yankees, in the dugout, paying respectful attention. And you know the entire crowd—those who know the song, anyway—were just waiting for him to sing the line about Joltin’ Joe, so they could explode. They did. Simon had hit another homerun.
A peer of Simon’s, James Taylor – they were both such masters of mellow, folk-based rock – delivers on “Slip Slidin’ Away,” with ample support from his band and from the Dixie Hummingbirds.
It goes on like that, for 23 tracks. From SNL in 1976 we see Simon—a frequent guest on that show—paired with George Harrison for a gorgeous, achy, breaky “Homeward Bound.” Marc Anthony takes over for two sizzlers, “El Condor Pasa” and “Late in the Evening;” gospel is represented by, among other songs, “Gone at Last,” by Yolanda Adams and Jessy Dixon. Dianne Reeves adds some torch to “Something So Right,” and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” a good-time song reflecting the Sixties, is sensitively sung by, who else? The Muppets!
That Simon has range.
The lustrous Kraus returns (with the great bottlenecker Jerry Douglas) for “Graceland,” we see Simon and Mambazo with “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and, finally—finally!—we get Garfunkel.
Artie joins the proceedings for, what else? “Bridge.” Paul steps back, ceding the stage to Art and a piano for the first passage and letting him soak in the applause before taking the second verse, imbuing it with a bit more blues than in his classic recording. And then the two, who’ve had such a history of successes and separations, come together, and Garfunkel, singing for all he’s worth, and hitting the high notes that most vocalists of his generation have … er, adjusted … takes it home.
There’s more, with Simon and Stevie Wonder, and the Dixie Hummingbirds (On “Loves Me Like a Rock,” which requires two takes, owing to an overly emotional Wonder). But this is all you need to know. Simon deserves every honor anybody can think of bestowing on him.
I love him like a rock.