I just got back from the concert in Taormina which finished half an hour ago. A million thoughts are running through my mind and I don´t know where to start. Perhaps with the best word to summarise it all is bittersweet ´“ in many ways it was a good experience for me personally, but as a concert ´“ it was meant to be perfect, but it was awful. If Lorrach was the most beautiful concert I could imagine, then this was the worst. I just don´t know what to think, what to feel ´“ I am so glad I went yet so upset that this is the memory of Paul that will rest in my mind. Sorry for all the blabbering, I´m feeling quite emotional and I will explain everything in due time. Jus tlet me begin with a sort of disclaimer ´“ this review is going to be extremely long and personal, and parts of it will seem very egotistical of me, but I am just trying to tell it all as it happened.
I´ll recount in chronological order: concert was meant to start at 9:30pm in the ancient greek-roman theatre of taormina. If you don´t know taormina it´s a tiny medieval town in Sicily, which is jam-packed with tourists in summer. The teatro can only be reached by one rd. It´s also a major tourist attration so even today it was open to the public till about 7pm. Tickets were to be collected at the box office nearby from 6pm. I was going to get there early maybe to see a rehersal if I was lucky, but got caught up in a few things and basically got to the teatro at 7pm. There were already about 20 or so people waiting with security blocking the way in, and they were ushering last min visitors out of the concert venue. We were meant to be allowed in at 8pm. I chatted for a while to a few ppl around me and even from then I knew things were not going to go well. Most were holiday makers who´d seen posters of Paul around town so decided to come to the concert for the night. There were quite a few young people but the ones I talked to asked me ´˜Has Paul written any new songs recently since Graceland?´ And then they said they hoped he´d play lo9ts of old stuff. They were surprised I was waiting so early even though I had a numbered seat. Anyway, the wait was long, the tiny street was becoming packed. It was clear it was meant to be a major event tonight because police, ambulances, even firemen had begun arriving ´“ chaos as you can imagine. From time to time ppl with VIP badges wandered past security into the teatro. Apparently Paul´d arrived earlier in the afternoon and we saw the Fiat that drove him in come back out with his suitcase. Anyway, we waited, waited, at about 8:30 they finally let us in. The teatro was massive, and it was magical. I only took two pictures tonight both of the teatro and I will try to put one up later. But the lighting, the ancient columns and arches, all just magnificent. There were 3 areas of seating ´“ about 10 rows of seats, all same level, then some amphitheatre style steps, but also numbered seating, then up the back free seating / standing. I was 4th row fr the front, extremely close to the stage, but the seats around me were basically empty. Clearly ppl thought it wasn´t worth the effort to come early if they had a numbered ticket. Now two men sat on the edge of the stage. One of them smiled at me and said in a British accent ´“ nice seat you´ve got there. I replied ´˜yeah, where are you sitting´ but he didn´t seem to understand even when I repeated my question so I said ´˜are you working here´, and he said ´˜yeah, we´re specialists´. And then they laughed so I could tell they were joking but I didn´t get what they meant, but then the man started asking me where I was from and al of that, and finally when I asked him again what he worked as, he said ´˜I´m the manager´, and I said ´˜what, Paul´s manager?´ and he said yes. First I thought he was joking again, but it was true, and I just gushed, omg that´s amazing! I kept saying that and he kept smiling and saying ´˜Not really, not really it´s just a job, it pays well though´. I told him about how I´d met Paul at Lorrach and how nice he was and he said ´˜Yeah he´s a really nice guy´ And then he had to go sort stuff out so we left it there.
By this time it was 9pm. Ppl had started filtering in. Met a nice Italian man and his wife who´d also been to the rome and Milan concerts and said they were great. They actually knew Paul´s, but didn´t know this site so I told them about it. At this point I was feeling very enthusiastic ´“ a magical setting, sitting next to nice people, but there was a problem. By 9:30pm, starting time of the concert, about a quarter of the place was empty, and worst of all, it was all in the expensive seated areas around the front. We were in one half of Row 4. The front two rows were literally half empty. Clearly for VIPs who didn´t bother to show up on itme. I am sure they were planning to make a DVD tonight because managers were running around, they had big camera, smoke machines, even some strange sign with a 60s silhouette of Paul and some writing which read ´˜Paul Simon, the little big man´ and more stuff down the bottom which I couldn´t see. The only thing missing was a proper audience. By 9:40pm, some more people were shepherded in by security looking very lost. The Italian man´s theory is that the organisers just pulled randoms off the street to fill the palce up for the DVD and I think that´s exactly what happened. At this point I was more and more worried. Surely Paul would know what was going on. What on earth would he think? How would he feel? He couldn´t come on stage because there weren´t enough people here to see him??
Finally at 9:50 he wandered on stage. He gave the slightest smile, very strained, looking more than a little disheartened. He didn´t say anything and went straight into Gumboots. Most of the songs tonight sounded slightly different to me, even from the arrangements in Lorrach. Paul put special effort into phrasing and moving around the stage a la DVD YTO (on the French forum we´d say la danse indienne). It was highly unnatural, clearly it was all a performance for the cameras. The song ended, we cheered, and he went onto Boy in the Bubble. Again relatively well received, but not the thunderous applause you´d expect for a large venue like this. Worst of all, people were all seated in the front and middle, and no one looked like they had any intention of getting up. There were still many seats which were empty, even in the first row, yet security would not let us move forward.
Paul spoke ´˜Well, what a treat it is for me to be here!´ I could see it in his face and hear it in his voice ´“ he was more hesitant in what he was saying, or had to say. Some one shouted ´˜It´s nice to see you´ and that went down a little better. He smiled, first big smile for the night, raise dhis eyebrows and said in his typical trailing voice ´˜It´s nice to see you too´¦´ someone else shouted ´˜you look beautiful tonight´, and he did. Usual ochre shirt, but black had, white trousers, and it all went perfectly with the lighting and the sandstone behind him. He heard the comment and smiled again and sort of tugged at his shirt as if to say, thanks I know.
Then he started playing again ´“ outrageous. It´s meant to be upbeat, fun, but how can a song like that work when you´ve got an amphitheatre of people seated? Mrs Robinson went down well of course. North East and Slip Slidin were magical, his voice, the acoustics, the lighting, but there was something missing. Some sort of electric atmosphere that was present throughout the whole of Lorrach but which I didn´t feel for one second here. We went on ´“ Duncan, Julio (an dsorry this is prob the wrong order, it´s just what I remember) The audience´s receptiveness just got worse and worse, and Paul knew it too. You could see it on his face. Hardly a smile during the whole of Julio, when that song usually has him grinning. Duncan was enchanting but people wre getting restless. Between songs someone shouted ´˜Play The Boxer!´. Paul heard and this is how he reacted. In a melodramatic, apparently playful way he leant forward and said, ´˜I´m NEVER going to do the boxer´. I think we here know what he meant by that. He meant, why can´t you listen to my new material and appreciate it? He went on. There were moments of lightness (like someone shouting We love you) and Paul looked up, pointed to himself then to the person shouting. But the rest of it just didn´t work. There was polite applause and cheering after every song but no enthusiasm. Throughout the songs most people sat, unmoving, arms crossed, almost in scrutiny. I kept staring at Paul, trying to ignore everything around me, trying just to absorb the music, but it was hard. It was just painful to watch the absolutely disappointed, joyless expression on his face. And the musicians too. They tried to smile and liven things up then you could tell it was hard for them too. Even Mark Stewart was not his usual insane self.
Then, it´s hard to imagine how things could get worse, but they did. During the most beautiful rendition of SOS, the man in the row across from us started talking loudly on his mobile. Everyone saw it and heard it, and people told him to shut up but he ignored them. Paul would have seen it, and what must have gone through his mind? Suddenly lyrics start to take on renewed meaning ´˜People hearing without listening´¦ fools said I you do not know´¦´.- you could almost see a cynical sad smile on his face as he was singing. During other songs there was also loud chatter. There were security people ducking in front of the stage for god knows what reason which would have been highly distrating. And when I eventually looked away from Paul to my right hand side, I saw that seats which were filled were now empty. People had actually gotten up and left! Paul must have seen that. A multi-grammy winning artist, inaugural Gershwin prize winner, twice inducted into the R&R hall of fame´¦ how can an artist of such calibre get used to such disrespect? Or indeed how can any artist? It shouldn´t happen to anyone. I think we showed more kindness and tolerance to that terrible Swiss girl in Lorrach than the people did for Paul tonight. Then, to make things even worse, there were sound problems. A technician actually had to run on stage at the beginning of a song and tune Paul´s guitar for him. Knowing what a perfectionist he is, how disappointing and embarrassing would that have been for him, in front of so many people?
Throughout the songs, I just kept staring and staring at him. He certainly did play directly in may direction for a lot of the time, and I was wearing my PS tshirt, but I wasn´t sure if he saw me because he didn´t show any signs of recognition. At the end of graceland, with his walking across the stage strumming his guitar out at people, I was hoping he´d do that again to me but he didn´t. Later on in thte night I´d find out that he did recognise me, and this is going to sound like the most conceitd thing in the world, but I know my enthusiasm and my wearing the Tshirt and my being in Sicily coming from Australia meant a lot to him tonight ´“ but I´ll explain all of that in due course.
But back to the songs, Graceland. Bakithi saved the show. Paul got him to come to the front like in the other songs and kept on saying ´˜the bass, the bass´. And Bakithi was his usual colourful self, and got the audience cheering. That made Paul smile and that was so good to see, finally. At the end of the song Paul put his hands together in his prayer bow position and I could see him nodding and mouthing thank you repeatedly to Bakithi. He meant, thank you for reviving the show.
But then there was a relapse. Back to a dead audience. The most beautiful music in the world falling on deaf ears. One of my saddest memories fr tonight is from Only Living Boy. Paul had been singing with a completely expressionless face for almost the entire evening He got to the line ´˜I´ve got nothing to do but smile´ and I watched as he forced himself to give a smile to the cameras in front of him for the DVD. It was just heartbreaking, and >I don´t know how many people noticed, whether they were all just too caught up in the excitement of ´˜finally a S&G song´. Anyway by the time it came to Diamonds, the theatre was so dead that security allowed the front few rows that we could get up and run forward right to the stage. So there I was, literally leaning on the stage with my elbows, about 30cm away from Paul, right at his feet. He seemed happy to have us there, nodded and smiled. For the rest of the concert I just looked straight into his eyes and I knew he recognised me. Diamonds, another heartbreaking moment. It was meant to be so upbeat, so joyous, and for us at the front there was a certain atmosphere but not beyond that little group. This is what happened ´“ Paul changed the lyrics. Again I´m not sure how many people noticed, and most of the audience were Italians anyway, but for the last chorus of Diamonds he sand ´˜I could sing Ooooooh, as if everybody knows what I´m talking about´. Then he looked down and shook his head: ´˜I wonder if anybody here knows what I´m talking about´. I´m not making this up, that´s exactly what he sang, and all I could do was nod at him, trying to say, yes there are still some of us who do know what you´re talking about. And for all the songs, even the most upbeat ones like Al and Diamonds, I danced and clapped but I could not bring myself to the slightest smile. It was just all so wrong. At lorrach everyone was singing along, grinning, cheering. Here everyone was dead ´“ in the audience and on stage. All I could do was try my best to smile whenever Paul smiled, to clap and dance and seem as enthusiastic as I could be. There were also people around the satge who were really really into it, laughing and dnaicng as if they genuinely thought it was the best night ever, and I wonder what Paul thought of all that. He would have been please of course, but on the other hand I think he would also have been a little disappointed. They were enjoying themselves so much and so completely oblivious to what a terrible, difficult night it was for him, and I think that would have just added to Paul feeling ´˜no, they don´t really get it, they don´t really get me´.
Then it was time for an encore break. Back on stage before long for Al. Again, things lived up a bit, but not as much as they should have. Like in Lorrach Paul tried his best to give a huge ´˜Amen and Hallelujah in the lst verse´, but for those of us fortuanate enough to have seen another concert, the difference between this time and before was crystal clear. It was so forced, so false, he shouted those words without even the ghost of a smile and just devastating to see.
Next was that was your mother. This is when I knew beyond doubt that he´d seen me, that he knew I was there and he knew I knew how he felt. He hadn´t pointed or waved at me the whole night, whereas he´d acknowledged other people. But then when it came to the Cajun girls line, he turned around and looke straight at me and pointed just like at Lorrach. The only difference being that here in Lorrach I was 10m from him, here I was 30 cm away, right at his feet. He pointed and sang straight at me and nodded and I blew him a kiss and he smiled and pointed and nodded again and I blew him another kiss. This all sounds completely insane I know. He doesn´t normally interact like that but I think tonight was different. In a theatre of indifference he appreciated any sign of respect and admiration he received and I think that´s what he was trying to say. And then during the line about ´˜along comes a young girl, pretty as a prayer book´¦ if that´s my prayer book, lord let us pray´, he put his hands together and sort of turned them down towards me. I´m not writing all of this to boast, or anything like that. There were other enthusiastic people around, just few and far between. All I mean in recounting all this is to tell you all just how incredibly disappointing a night it was, and how hurt I feel for Paul.
And the thing is, although all of my personal memories from tonight are what should be considered every Paul Simon fan´s ultimate dream come true, I can´t feel the slightest bit happy, or excited. All I feel is cynicism and disappointment. And if I found it all so upsetting, but much worse would it have been for the man on stage?
But back to the music. The Boxer ´“ again, it had special meaning tonight. ´˜wishing I was gone, going home´¦´ Paul closed his eyes when he sang that and it´s not hard to guess what he was thinking. And the last verse ´˜I am leaving I am leaving but the fighter still remains´. Again he looked so disheartened, so aware of the irony of what he was singing. And then to close the night, Late in the Evening. Can you i8magin what that song what have sounded like at the end of an evening like this - ´˜And I blew that room away´. I just hate how he had to sing that, tonight out o fall nights, as his final song, for the entire tour, and he had to force himself to sound like he meant it. Again I nodded at him. Well yes Paul in any other venue you would have blown the room away. It just didn´t happen tonight, and it´s got nothing to do with you or your music. It was just the most terrible unappreiciative audience in the world who were all so caught tin their S&G bubble world that they couldn´t even gather the basic politeness and respect to appreciate anything else.
And then the concert ended. Paul got his musicians to stand in a line as usually and the all bowed. They all gave each other looks as if to say ´˜What the hell happened there? And aren´t we glad it´s all over´. Then Paul came and shook hands with those of us right in front of the stage. It was another special moment for me, some sort of saving grace for my memories of the evening I suppose. I was slightly to the right of stage centre so when he stepped over to us he leant over and held onto my hand for what felt like a long time and said thank you twice and I could tell he tryly meant it. And to him I just said ´˜hank you, thank you, you were perfect´, and I meant it too. What a musician, what an artist ´“ to be playing the most magical music in the world to the most unappreciative audience, and yet to still put on a perfect show, making an effort to move around, to smile when he could muster a smile, to sing in the most perfect voice, not a single note out of place. But how could everything else have gone so terribly wrong?
As we walked out of the theatre I suddenly remembered Paul´s manager. I wanted to pass a note to Paul earlier in the day (one I´d written after Lorrach), but now, the note was entirely inappropriate because it was all about what a spectacular concert it was and things like that. So I wrote him another note, just the first thing that came to mind and I scribbled cos I wanted to catch the manager, I just wrote ´˜Dear Paul, the audience wasn´t perfect but you were. Thank you and see you in Australia´. In retrospect, I should also have added ´˜I know what you´re talking about´. Well I couldn´t find the manager, but we did find Bakithi a sa small group of us gathered around the palce where Paul was meanto tbe coming out. Bakithi recognised me and promised to give the note to Paul. He also gave a few autographs and so did Vincent. I really wasn´t in the mood for all of that but I just gave them my CDs to be signed anyway because I thought the musicians, like Paul had enough indifference for one night and could do with a little enthusiasm, a little displace of affection and admiration for the wonderful artists that they were in their own right. They kept saying Paul´d be coming soon. All around me ppl had cameras and thigns to be signed. I´d gotten enough photos and I had an autograph in Lorrach. I didn´t take any photos or movies tonight because I think it was only fair to give them all our full attention on a difficult night like this. But I really wasn´t sure whether to stay with the people, about 20 or so, and wait for Paul or not. On the one hand, the last thing he´d want would be to have people shoving cameras and paper in his face. On the other hand, I think he wouldn´t have wanted to come out to a deserted entrance either ´“ that would have been like the ultimate confirmation that no one cared. So in the end I decided to stay, just to clap and say thank you if he walked past. He did finally emerge and gave one of the rare genuine smiles of the night, albeit a small one, and also a bit of a wave and said thank you. He just shook his head at all the autograph requests and walked off into another building.
And so that´s it, ehre I am again ´˜in the early morning hours´ just wondering how an evening in the most enchanting venue with the most magical music could have gone so horribly wrong. I hope you can all get a sense of tonight and how it all worked out form what I´ve said. It´s not a happy recount but I think it´s important almost as a timely reminder of just how decreasing a presence Paul´s music, particularly his new music, has these days. What went wrong? Well after some reflection, just some ideas that come to mind. Firstly venue. Maybe too optimistic in size for a PS solo concert. And Taormina ´˜ such a small place, not the most convenient location, most audience members were passers by who saw a poster who hadn´t listened to Paul since Graceland or even S&G and that killed the concert. And alos, of course, management ´˜ the lack of promotion, not just for this tour but for the whole of Paul´s post-capeman career. Just recalling my conversation with the manager, saying ´˜It´s not amazing, it´s just a job´. I thought he was being modest but now I´m having doubts. I mean, if he was a real fan, he would have said ´˜yes it is amazing, it´s an hnour to be the manger for one of the greatest musicians on earth´ But he eidn´t say that, and it makes me wonder how much he really cares ´˜It pays well´ ´“ and how tha tin turn affects the promotion of Paul´s music. And then the bizarre VIP seating for people who either turned up late or left early. Who on earth were those VIPs? Why not just leave it up to the real fans?
Well I´m in Rome now and my time´s running out with the internet but basically it was just a very bittersweet night. Sure I had some incredibly special moments with Paul which I will never forget, and which I would never have even dreamed of, but on the other hand, I would give it all up without a second thought to not have seen the pain and disappointment on his face. I would rather I was all the way up the back and for the concert to be like Lorrach, than to have been in the first row and have to watch him struggle through song after song. I do hope there´ll be another tour. I hope he won´t be so disheartened to call it a day for good. I´m not sure about the release of the DVD they were filming ´“ I can´t imagine him wanting to relive tonight and for Taormina to the public representation of his 2008 tour. I´m just thankful that the rest of the concerts weren´t like this, and that we all had fun throughout this month. I hope that all those other concerts will be the ones which stay in Paul´s mind.