Simon Goes To Look For America
By DAVID LIGHTMAN | Washington Bureau Chief
July 7, 2007
WEBSTER CITY, Iowa - Paul Simon is on a sentimental journey, looking for a place and time and people he once knew so well.
He crossed Des Moines and Second streets and laughed about the Holiday Inn back in Mason City, where he spent Thursday night.
Heck, back then, Simon and Art Garfunkel would have done it for free. In the early days, they once played Davenport, Iowa.
´At intermission, we really didn´t think they were gonna pay us,´ Simon says. He remembered the organizers saying, ´They told us you were like the Smothers Brothers. You aren´t funny.´
Simon is traveling with the Chris Dodd-in-Iowa show this week, with his guitar and a suitcase. His first stop was the Country Kitchen in Mason City. On Thursday, the sign said ´Kids Eat Free on Thursday,´ but on Friday, the sign said, ´Welcome, Chris Dodd and Paul Simon.´
Inside, the throng of about 50 was standing room only, many with albums to autograph or memories to share. Ann Kuhlman of Mason City remembered how Buddy Holly´s plane crashed not far from the restaurant nearly 50 years ago.
Simon noted that singers Waylon Jennings and Dion were supposed to be on that flight. ´Dion probably didn´t want to spend the money,´ he chuckled.
Simon was self-effacing as he spoke briefly. He was here for Chris Dodd, he said. Dodd ´simply outbid the other candidates,´ Simon said, laughing. He explained their 20-year friendship, saying they were introduced by longtime Dodd confidant Lorne Michaels, guru of ´Saturday Night Live.´
Simon has stayed mostly in the background in Iowa, though. At the Country Kitchen, he stood in a dark corner near a picture of a fruit basket as Dodd made his pitch.
It went that way most of the day. Dodd outlined his plan for America; Simon offered his in song. Dodd got hearty applause. Simon got standing ovations.
And while Dodd remains the ultimate optimist, there was something more somber, even winsome, about Simon. And not only when he sang to the 75 people gathered in a downtown park in Fort Dodge, ´I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains, still remains.´
At one point in Fort Dodge, Simon was asked whether Iraq reminds him of the Vietnam War.
The master wordsmith groped for words.
´I don´t want to be disingenuous,´ he said. ´These issues are so complex. For me to discuss them and put them in a cogent context, I´m simply not equipped.
´That´s why I came out with Chris,´ said Simon, a New Canaan resident. ´We´ve spoken many evenings. He can say these things better.´
But in Webster City, he briefly left the Dodd entourage. As he passed the Webster Theater, where ´Ratatouille´ was playing (adults only $5.50), he tried to sum up why he needed this walk.
´This is so, so ...´ He couldn´t find the right word.
´American?´ he was asked as he looked at the flat-roofed two-story buildings. ´We´re all Americans. This America is different from the one you and I may know. No, I can´t say.´
He looked across the street at the old Elks Building, with 1906 stamped on top, and wondered how old the town was, and how many people had walked these streets.
And then a Dodd handler summoned him back up the street, and he stopped in front of the appliance repair shop and talked more about fame and meaningful dialogue.
´People think they know you for some reason, or they don´t like you,´ he says, his eyes going downward again. ´That doesn´t promote normal interaction.´
Politicians, he said, face the same trouble - only politicians, unlike singers, often encourage the quick-hit dialogue.
And with that, he rejoined Dodd and they took 15 minutes to talk to the people of Webster City about energy and farming and health care. Gently and patiently.
´Reminds me of when Artie and I started out. We´d get put up in places like that and we were thrilled that someone else was paying for us. For that matter, they were paying for us to sing.´