Paul Simon Hosts All-Star Benefit Show
Springsteen, Joel and Taylor at concert aiding New York´s Homeless Children
Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were among the ´surprise´ artists who joined Lou Reed, James Taylor and others for Paul Simon´s December 13th benefit concert at New York City´s Madison Square Garden. The show raised $475,000 for the New York Children´s Health Project, which will use the money to purchase a medical van to serve the city´s homeless children.
The four-hour show was anchored by Simon, who played several brief sets throughout the program. Others on the bill included the South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Paul Shaffer and the World´s Most Dangerous Band, Laurie Anderson, Rubin Blades, Dion, Grandmaster Flash, Chaka Khan, Nik Rodgers, Debbie Harry and Grace Jones. Also making unannounced appearances were Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby and the baseball stars Ron Darling and Don Mattingly, who introduced Springsteen.
Musically, the biggest surprise of the evening came during Dion´s set, when the doo-wop singer was joined by Simon, Springsteen, Joel, Reed, Taylor and Blades for a campy rendition of the Belmonts ´Teenager in Love.´
The concert was the latest and largest of several gestures Simon has made on behalf of the Children´s Heath Project. Last November, Simon personally donated $80,000, as well as the same amount from the proceeds of his Graceland tour, to the project. That money, plus contributions from the real-estate firm SW Bird and Company, the city of New York and others, got the project off the ground
´It´s not about being pretentious enough to think that we can solve the homeless problem in this country,´ said Simon of his efforts. ´All we´re trying to do is to look at one particular aspect of this horror and provide medical care to homeless children.´
The fully equipped mobile medical unit with a staff of five, visits twelve New York-area shelters, aiding an estimated 3000 of the city´s 12,000 homeless children. The money raised from the Garden benefit, which was matched by Warner Communications will purchase a second van, plus a couple of minibuses to transport children in need to hospitals. The former medical director of USA for Africa, Irwin Redkner, is overseeing the project in association with New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
Throughout the Sunday-night concert, artists spoke about the plight of the homeless. ´I think everybody´s earliest memory is about their home,´ Springsteen said as he began his set. He told a story about the early days of touring with his band, when he would call home and his mother would assure him that he could always come home. ´It´s sad to think that there´s a generation of children whose memories of their home is gonna be a welfare hotel.´
Introducing the song he was about to play, Springsteen said soberly, ´I wrote this song about fifteen years ago; it´s about a guy and girl who thought they wanted to run. I guess at the time I thought that was me, and maybe it was. But I woke up one morning and realized that I wanted to have a home. And that nobody wants or deserves to be homeless.´ With that, he eased into an acoustic version of ´Born to Run.´
But the evening was by no means a somber affair. After ´Born to Run´, Springsteen traded his acoustic guitar for an electric one. ´Rhymin´ Simon is going to be rockin´ Simon,´ he said jokingly, inviting Simon and Joel to join him in a rousing version of ´Glory Days´ which saw the three slinking across the stage in unison.
Though Springsteen was obviously a tough act to follow, Latin singer Blades pulled it off with a beautiful set of salsa songs. Debbie Harry and Grace Jones introduced Reed and then reemerged as two of the four backup singers for ´Walk on the Wild Side.´ Shaffer led his band through a cover of Roy Head´s ´Treat Her Right´ strutting and sidestepping across the stage.
Rodgers did a medley of his late Seventies hits ´We Are Family´, ´Le Freak´ and ´Good Times´, turning the Garden into an arena-size Studio 54. Taylor, who received some of the evening´s loudest applause, closed his set with a stunning a cappella version of ´That Lonesome Road´. Grandmaster Flash rapped through ´The Message´ and Chaka Khan did her hit ´I Feel for You´. Joel hadn´t planned to perform a solo set but got caught in the split of the show and sat down at the piano to sing ´New York Sate of Mind´.
Shortly after midnight, Simon was rejoined by Ladysmith Black Mambazo to sing ´Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes´. Then the evening´s entire cast of characters was brought out to jam through ´Rock and Roll Music´.
Asked if the show had been filmed, Simon said he wanted the performers to be as relaxed as possible and not have to worry about any issues beyond the show´s charitable aims. ´This was for New York´, he said.
I was just talking about this show to someone, and I wanted to revisit a list everyone I saw there. Thanks to everyone who has posted here. I remember so much of it, to this day. So many times, benefits extravaganzas like this one on 13 Dec 87 lack coherence or one thing or other.... this one had heart. Mr. Simon told a story about how he had been going into the studio daily for months at a time ( I think during the making of Graceland), each day around 5:30 am ... and making daily eye contact with a young girl who always seemed to be standing at the same corner, at the same time each day, during his commute in. If I remember correctly, one day she did not show up, and Mr. Simon inquired as to her whereabouts.... and he was told that she had died, and the reason was that she was homeless and had no access to health care. Hence the reason for this benefit to fund a mobile health unit for homeless New Yorkers.
All of the performers were just great... it was a nice December night in NYC .. a great reason to be there.... I´ll never forget it. Plus we had one hell of a taxi ride up to Grand Central, en route to Great Neck, after the show.