The neck of my Guitar
Imus Interview about The Capeman - Nov. 17, 1997 Imus show

Imus: Paul Simon's new musical The Capeman starring Ruben Blades, Mark Anthony, and Ednita Nazario, opens on Broadway at the Marquee theater on January 8th. Previews begin December first. You can buy tickets now. The books and lyrics are by Paul Simon and Derek Wolcott, the music by Paul Simon. It is directed and choreagraphed by Mark Morris. The album Songs from the Capeman by Paul Simon on Warner Brothers, goes on sale tomorrow, and Mr. Simon is here with us this morning. Good morning Paul..

Simon: ..Good morning..

Imus: ..how are you..

Simon: ..glad to be here, I'm good..

Imus: ..We were back in the office and I had a box set of Sun records, I guess it's an old, some collection, I haven't actually looked at it but, every time Rolling Stone comes out with a top 200 albums, I get them, so..

Simon: ..Yeah? How's their taste?..

Imus: ..pretty good, actually..

Simon: ..I would imagine it would be..

Imus: ..yeah. But you recorded, every time you recorded..

Simon: ..you know, Carl Perkins did an album last year, actually an album that nobody paid any attention to but it was sort of interesting, and he had I guess 25 or 35 of the year's albums, and he did it with a group of people, McCartney was on it and Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, maybe ten different artists, but anyway I did a song with him, we wrote a song together, and we recorded it down at Summit studios, which actually are not functioning studios, what they actually did was bring our recording truck and parked it outside of Summit studios and then, [unintelligible] in the mikes but you do get the vibes. The studio is not much bigger than this..

Imus: ..yeah. I think Carl Perkins was here. Of course I can't remember, basically I can remember who was on Friday, but. I know Carl Perkins was here, but the only thing I can remember was that my assistant, who is a woman, led him, because we're in the bowels of the Kaufmann studios here right down the hallway from Seasame Street, and she led him out of the studio and he said to her, honey I could walk behind you all day, and of course she was mortified of course. Who was the capeman?

Simon: The capeman was Salvador Agron. The capeman got his name in 1959, the paper, the tabloids gave it to him. There was a, it was a big year of juvenile delinquency, there were several killings and this crime was the final, ignited the city. It was late August 59 and a group of kids from a gang on the upper west side of Manhattan called the Vampires went down to fight an Irish gang called the Norseman or the Nordics, I don't know, I get both stories..

Imus: ..mm..

Simon: ..and they went to a playground, and Agron was in this gang, he was 16 and the umbrella man, Louis Hernandez, the other instrument, name from the story, was also at 17.

Imus: ..and how old were you at the time?..

Simon: ..same age..

Imus: ..oh okay..

Simon: ..so they went down to a playground on 46th between 9th and 10th, and there were three or four kids sitting on the playground that weren't in any gang at all. And they came in there and they said a couple of words, are you the guys that beat up Frenchie Cordero, one of the guys in their gang who got beat up, they said no we're not in any gang, you're not in the Nordics, no we're not in the Nordics, and then the girl started to, and then they let the girl go, and then he jumped up on the bench, he was wearing this black cape with a red lining, Agron and he said no Anglos leave the park, no gringos leave the park. And then they attacked these kids, and he stabbed two of them, and killed, he stabbed three, he killed two kids. The description of him was he was a tall Puerto Rican kid with a cape, a black cape with a red lining, and the papers started calling him Dracula and the capeman, and it was the capeman that finally stuck. And it was a big story, it was the front page of the papers for a week until they caught him, and I remember the story. Probably everybody who was brought up in New York at that time, or lived in New York at that time would probably remember that name, the capeman..

Imus: ..almost like the Son of Sam thing, Sammy [unintelligible] that kind of..

Simon: ..that's right, that big a story..

Imus: ..right..

Simon: ..though not as protracted..

Imus: ..right..

Simon: ..Son of Sam was like a month or something..

Imus: ..several months actually, I guess wasn't it Charles?..

Simon: ..and that was a serial killer, and this was a gang, a mistaken iden, you know wrong place at the wrong time..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..kid. And so Agron was sentenced to the electric chair, which they had, you know, 16 year olds were considered adults, and the death penalty existed then as it does again now, ah he was sentenced to the electric chair and his sentence was commuted a few years later by Governor Rockefeller, who apparently commuted all of the death sentences during his terms, something I was surprised to find out about. And his sentence was commuted upon the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt on Agron's behalf, and also Frank Hogan who was the district attorney at the time, and the mayor of San Juan, Felicio Ancon, also, spoke up for him, and essentially what they said was that the poverty of his existence, not just his financial poverty but the poverty of his emotional life, was such, and the mitigating factor of his age was such, that he really shouldn't be executed..

Imus: ..plus he had kind of rehabilitated himself, hadn't he, [unintelligible]..

Simon: ..not at that point..

Imus: ..oh okay..

Simon: ..at that point he was on death row believing that he was Jesus, he'd made a real religious conversion on death row, not surprisingly. He was probably having some kind of breakdown at that point..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..once his sentence was commuted - but anyway, maybe I'm telling you more than you want to know, that would be interested in who the capeman was and how he got his name.

Imus: ..and when did you decide you wanted to do a, did you decide you wanted to musical first, or were you just attracted, I mean how did that happen..

Simon: ..well I always had an aversion to the idea of doing a musical for Broadway. It had been suggested many times. But the first time I thought oh this could be interesting was when I was touring with Graceland and Miriam Makeba would sing a song, Jim Masakela[?] would play a song or sing, and then I would sing and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and then there would be duets and trios and permutations of the four artists who were the main performers of the show, and I thought you know this is like a musical itself, it just doesn't have a story, it has a theme..

Imus: ..mmh..

Simon: ..South Africa, but doesn't have, but it's like a musical, with all these different characters, and if I saw this musical, on stage, with this music, I'd like it, I wouldn't feel the same way I usually feel about Broadway musicals. So that's the first time that the thought occured to me, but I didn't pursue it. But then in 1988, late 88 early 1989, I don't remember exactly now, the Capeman idea came to me, just, it wasn't that I read anything or anybody suggested, it just popped into my head, the Capeman, that would be an interesting musical, it would be back in the 50s, I could work on doo-wop, the Latin music and doo-wop, those two sound right together..

Imus: ..so it was the music that attracted you first, to the idea..

Simon: ..yeah..

Imus: ..okay..

Simon: ..but also something of the image of the story, which I now can't remember, people ask me all the time what was it that attracted you to this, but I don't remember now because I've done so much research on it that all I know is it came to me as a complete idea, in such a form that I thought well I should begin to do some research on this, so I got the newspapers, and it began to form, looked for people to be an ideal doo-wop group, and went into the studio with Dave Palmeri and started to learn about Latin music, different Latin rhythms and just began to work on the project. At the same time I was going down to Brazil, or not at exactly the same time but during the same period, I was going to Brazil to record drums for the album that became The Rhythm of the Saints, so that was my project that I was, that was my secondary project, the Rhythm of the Saints, when I sort of ran out of steam or ideas on the Capeman I would go and work on the drums, but the album of course progressed at a normal pace for me, since I know how to make albums, and after a while I realized well I can complete this album now and I probably should complete the album, and then I'll put the Capeman aside, because I really didn't know what, I had a mass..

Imus: ..the Rhythms of the Saints album..

Simon: ..yeah the Rhythms of the Saints..

Imus: ..okay..

Simon: ..I had a massive amount of information. I have an old friend named Carlos Ortiz who I've known since like the 60s and he was helping me do interviews, so I was talking to people who either knew Sal Agrone or [unintelligible] Sal Agrone, or came from that period, and so I was like playing investigative reporter there for a year, taping people and transcribing the interviews, and eventually I met people who did know him, like his prison chaplain, and finally I met his family, his mother and his sister. So, and his sister gave me a lot of his writing, I didn't know that he was a writer..

Imus: ..wrote poems, or som..

Simon: ..he wrote poems, he wrote his autobiography, he wrote a lot of political..

Imus: ..oh he did..

Simon: ..stuff none of it published, but he wrote a lot..

Imus: ..we're talking with Paul, it's eighteen till the hour, we're talking with Paul Simon about the musical the Capeman, which opens at the Marquee theater on January 8th and goes into previews on December first, and the album, Paul Simon's Songs from the Capeman from Warner Brothers is scheduled to be released, well not scheduled it's going to be released, tomorrow, and the single is Bernedette, right?

Simon: ..yeah the single is Bernedette..

Imus: ..well once you deci, so you've done this, you're, almost as an investigative reporter..

Simon: ..something's funny that they put out a single on this, it's just funny..

Imus: ..well..

Simon: ..it's just like a waste of time, you know..

Imus: ..but I guess it's something to play on the radio, right?

Simon: ..but that's their point..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..well it'll, you know..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..some people will play it, I mean obviously the format radio won't play it, they won't play..

Imus: ..no..

Simon: ..anything that isn't format. Ah this is not a complaint, I'm long past that one..

Imus: ..we ah..

Simon: ..it's not going to, but I guess it will be played around, I heard you play it this morning..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..it sounded pretty good, it did, it sounded pretty good..

Imus: ..our program director, who is also the program director for WNEW fm, comes running in because he's heard me play it in the office all week, and there's I think it's the initial song where there's the f-word's in it..

Simon: ..oh the language yeah..

Imus: ..he was hysterical he thought I was gonna play it on, like it would make any difference on the radio. So. Well at what point, you attracted one to the sto, obviously you remember the story, the Capeman, you wanted to explore the music..

Simon: ..right..

Imus: ..clearly, at what point did it occur to you, or did it from the beginning, that this, the potential for some kind of a way to address the possibility of redemption..

Simon: ..oh that's much later..

Imus: ..really?..

Simon: ..that's much later..

Imus: ..and how did that come about?..

Simon: ..well, I put that..

Imus: ..I mean did you..

Simon: ..first I realized that it was a fascinating story, from reading his writing, I mean the story of his life from his childhood in Puerto Rico through the 50s on the streets of New York and then into the prison system, and a fascinating story, chaotic, I mean I didn't know would be, was going to make a musical, you know a great musical, or even make a musical, but it was a really interesting story. But I didn't know how to make the form of a show, I mean I thought well this scene is so vivid, something from his writing you know, that I could put this kind of music behind it, and I would, you know even begin to like make up music that might fit without maybe did not have the lyrics but have the sound of it, and then just with this mass of stuff I stopped, and went to work on finish the album and then went on tour and didn't pick it up again until 1993. But during those years, I met Derek Walcott. I was reading Derek Wolcott's poetry when I was working on the Rhythm of the Saints, I mean the way I was working was, I sort of start work about ten in the morn, I work from about ten till three or four, and then I take a break somewhere in the middle of the day. But when I was taking my break instead of talking on the phone or reading the papers, I would read Derek's poetry, because I wanted to stay where I was, you know, it's kind of in..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..the Southern Hemisphere, and in that, I didn't want to break the mood of what I was writing by reading the papers or finding out you know, calling into the office and to find out what was going on..

Imus: ..hm..

Simon: ..So I became a big fan of Derek Wolcott. Then a mutual friend told me that he was giving a reading at the 92nd street Y, so I went up to meet him, and then I invited him down to the studio where I was working on the album, and then we struck up a friendship. And then I went up to Boston, he was teaching at Boston U, and I spoke at a class, and then my oldest son who was going to school in Boston became friendly with his daughter so the families became friendly, and over the course of the years I had seen him, if I do a concert in London he was there and so he came, and I went up to Stratford to see his play the Odyssey, and so he knew that I was working on this musical, and he was interested in musicals, in fact he was writing a musical with Galt MacDermot, the guy who wrote Hair..

Imus: ..um hmm..

Simon: ..he was writing a musical called Steel, about steel drums, and so we would talk about it, and then I guess we in late 1992, around the time that he won the Nobel, we said well maybe we should give this a try together and see how it works, if it works, you know then great, if it doesn't..

Imus: ..who would, what did he think of the story, initially?

Simon: ..well he thought that, well he thought the story was fascinating..

Imus: ..umhm..

Simon: ..he had a problem with the guy..

Imus: ..in what respect?

Simon: ..morally..

Imus: ..oh I see..

Simon: ..morally. Because there's a, the fascinating thing about Salvador Agron, is that his life was completely documented, not just by his writing but the press..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..and television, so I mean there was something about him that was fascinating enough for his life to be recorded, so there are video interviews with him, and even his death was on the news, so we have..

Imus: ..he died in 86, right? he was..

Simon: ..he died in 86..

Imus: ..when he was 43..

Simon: ..yes..

Imus: ..I read natural causes, but I also read somewhere where they said apparently natural causes, what does that mean?

Simon: ..from what I, I don't really know how he died. This is all I know from the family. He was feeling sick, he went into the hospital, they were going to do some operation on him, and he died during the night before they operated..

Imus: ..mm..

Simon: ..that's all I know from the family..

Imus [fast]: ..it's eleven till the hour and we're talking to Paul Simon about the Capeman which is this musical opens January 8th on Broadway as I said the album from Warner Brothers of Paul Simon's songs from the Capeman is due tomorrow, have about 8 or 9 minutes here, we'll just move that stop set to the next hour, Bernard, ah when you consider the history of the theater and..

Simon: ..oh but let me go back..

Imus: ..okay..

Simon: ..so you said when did the question of redemption..

Imus: ..yeah..

Simon: ..so working on this with Derek, again we didn't immediately begin and say so we'll write, so let's make this about redemption, we began to work, and this is one of the reasons I found it so enjoyable, he was perfectly happy to work in the same way that I do which is like let's just explore this and begin to see what it is that we're interested in. We know we're interested a whole lot but we're not exactly sure why, aside from the kind of the drama of the details of his life, but there's something else, there must be something else here, let's find out what it is. Well we were into it for a couple of years before we finally said, this is a story about the question of redemption, because Sal Agron was a guy who was self-educated, first of all when he went into prison, the papers wrote he was illiterate, he had an IQ of 68, he was, everything, he was an animal, the papers actually said he was an animal..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..he didn't, obviously he didn't have an IQ of 68, he might have been semi-literate, he was certainly a screwed-up kid who did something terrible, but the depiction of him, you would never see it today, the depiction of him by the New York press in 1959 is obviously racist, by today's standards, not that there isn't, today we still have racist stuff going on but it's much more in the subtext. Well there it was barely barely in the subtext, I mean at the trial the kids that were killed were called the American kids, and the other kids were called the Puerto Ricans or the Spanish boys, even the parading of him in front of the press and those questions, you know like the little questions that you hear on the album, the snippets from a Gabe Pressman interview..

Imus: ..why did you want to be president of the Vampires..

Simon: ..yeah, that's right, would you do it again..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: .. did you feel like a big man killing somebody, those things today would probably be cause for dismissal..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..it would be prejudicial, anyway I'm not saying in defense of Salvador Agron's actions, I'm just describing what the city was like..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..you know, but we were into it for a couple of years there before we said, so this is really about whether Salvador Agron redeemed himself given the opportunities that were available to him, sincet he wasn't executed, and he was sent into prison, served 20 years, and he was supposed to be rehabilitated, and he considered himself to be rejuvenized, he wouldn't even use the term rehabilitated, he said I don't want to be rehabilitated to my former state, my former state was, you know..

Imus: ..wild..

Simon: ..wild, and now I consider myself to be rejuvenized. So now we are onto some very difficult questions, well can someone who commits a crime, a sin on that level, ever atone for that sin. Who decides whether he can atone, does society say all right we think you've paid enough, because he served his time, and what does the person himself say about who he is. Some of those questions were almost impossible to answer because it's impossible to know what was in the heart of Salvador Agron, but let's say that Salvador Agron, this is speculation, let's say that Salvador Agron did everything that he was supposed to do, became a guy who could go out on the streets and be a citizen and be a contributor to society and not be a threat to anyone and be able to be a decent member of his community, which in fact he became.

Imus: ..wait let me just stop here with this, do you have a, can I do some commercials and then you can..

Simon: ..oh yes sure..

Imus: ..because this is going to, this went a little longer than I, it's, it had, than I thought it would but I'm, happily, but if you can hang, let me do some commercials..

Simon: ..of course..

Imus: ..and then break at the top of the hour and then we'll talk some more about this. Talking with Paul Simon about the Capeman and we'll talk more with him coming up and it's nearly 5 minutes now until the hour


Imus: ..it is seven minutes after the hour and we're talking we've been talking with Paul Simon about the capeman which is this musical based on the life of Salvador Agron, is that the way you pronounce it..

Simon: ..Agron, yes..

Imus: ..Agron, and I asked Mr. Simon about, well he was talking about his, I was going to ask him about how he got hooked up with Derek Wolcott but he told us, about when they began to consider the idea of the possibility of redemption and also the potential for forgiveness too which you address in this, you were talking about, at least in one of the songs, right?..

Simon: ..yes, that's true, the song called can I forgive him..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..scene, the song is the scene where the mother of Salvador Agron, Esmeralda, comes to the church in Hell's Kitchen where the two mothers of the murdered boys are, and where the song was sung, I mean this is fiction, this didn't happen, I mean much of the Capeman is fiction, which is based on, based on..

Imus: ..a real event, yeah..

Simon: ..yeah..

Imus: ..when you consider the history of the theater and ah this approach to..

Simon: ..I'd just like, just to address something..

Imus: ..okay..

Simon: ..although we have time? how much time do we have?

Imus: ..as much time as you want..

Simon: ..well okay then maybe we'll naturally spill into it so I'll just drop it, maybe we'll come around to it, go ahead, go on, let's go on to your flow of your ideas and then we'll..

Imus: ..well all I wanted, I just wanted to make the observation that when you consider the history of the theater and how for examining the human condition actual events, I mean you could go back to, I mean a lame example would be Richard III, I mean, it's just, why has there been do you suppose any discussion about whether this was an appropriate theme to address in the theater..

Simon: ..that's funny that you say, that's just what I was about to talk about, I don't think there much discussion about whether this is an appropriate theme, there have been discussions about why, you know, why pick this guy to do your musical..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..and particularly this discussion has come from people within the Puerto Rican community, who say, why a murderer who is Puerto Rican, we've already been a community that has suffered from negative stereotyping..

Imus: ..West Side Story would be a good example..

Simon: ..West Side Story is an example of that, that comes up because it was, and I didn't realize this but now I understand fully, that this West Side Story was something that was very hurtful to the Puerto Rican community they felt, they felt wounded by that and that wound is till tender to this day, because that's all I heard that so much you know, is this going to be another West Side Story, and they don't mean it on a, they're not talking about it artistically, West Side Story as an artistic achievement..

Imus: ..no as stygmatizing..

Simon: ..that's right..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..but my response to that is really simple, I mean the fact that Salvador Agron was Puerto Rican I don't think has anything to do with what he did. I mean he could have been from any ethnic group. There's no connection between the crime that he did and the fact that he's Puerto Rican..

Imus: ..of course the two kids he killed were white, I mean that's got to figure in there somewhere..

Simon: ..It figures in there in terms of what the press said..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..I don't think that, no I think it was kids in the wrong place at the wrong time..

Imus: ..no, I..

Simon: ..that's what Hernandez said anyway, the umbrella man, who recently was [unintelligible] turned up, I mean he said it wasn't about race anyway, we went down to fight, he said we fought everybody, we fought black kids, we fought Puerto Ricans, we fought everybody..

Imus: ..I guess what I meant though, that in people being concerned, or expressing some sort of concern about it, about it now, take, looking at it from that standpoint, the fact the you're the one who is doing it, you're the one who's writing the songs as opposed to somebody who is Latino, I hadn't heard a lot of that, but I mean there has been something that..

Simon: ..no, this is more of a discussion within the Latin community..

Imus: ..I guess that's what I mean, yeah..

Simon: ..yeah, and so what you're sug, just for a moment, a cast, we have like 43, 44 actors, and probably three quarters of the cast is Latin, mostly Puerto Rican..

Imus: ..um hmm..

Simon: ..and the band is about 24 musicians, and probably about two thirds of the band is Latin, so I mean you have like 50 people who have been working on this for a long time, and the three stars are very very well known and big recording stars and if there was anything about this that was insulting or negative or insensitively stigmatizing a community, which by the way I wouldn't be doing, I wouldn't be working on something for six years without being aware...

Imus: ..yeah I was..

Simon: that I was venturing into a territory that might hurt people, so I mean there's nothing about that, my feelings about Puerto Rican culture is that I am enthralled with it, the music is extraordinary, Puerto Rican culture produced incredible music, and the story is not just the story of Salvador Agron but the story of his family, and also the story of the other people whose lives he forever changed, what what he did..

Imus: ..and you did grow up in New York, listening to that music..

Simon: ..it is a New York story too, well I'm just bringing that up because it's a subject that was raised, I don't really think that if anybody saw the play or heard it that they would feel that way. All of this discussion is taking place before anybody has seen the play. It just comes from a fear of negative stereotypes..

Imus: ..well there've been a couple of good columns about it too, from Juan Gonzales I believe..

Simon: ..yeah Juan Gonzales wrote a nice one..

Imus: ..and also to Bob Herbert, Op-Ed page of the New York Times, so..

Simon: ..well the Juan Gonzales column was in response to an ongoing discussion on the Internet, so, you know, I mean, but anyway, so that's how I feel about it has been, the culture of Puerto Rico is something that's celebrated in this play, but not the crime of Salvador Agron, I mean so the question of why would I glorify a crime, that's not what the play is about, I don't even find it interesting, such as glorifying a crime..

Imus: ..so what is, not only what is it about, how do you tell the story, I mean is it fair to say it's a story of redemption, a story of forgiveness, a story of both..

Simon: ..well I think it's a story, the facts of the story are riveting, born in poverty, grew up in the poor house in Puerto Rico, migrated to New York in the great Puerto Rican migration of the 40s and the 50s, prison system, politicized, radicalized, it's an American story, it's just not a real sunny story from a privileged or middle-class point of view..

Imus: ..it's not Grease then..

Simon: ..yeah it's not Grease..

Imus: ..it's 15 after the hour and we're talking with Paul Simon about his new musical the Capeman which opens on January 8th on Broadway, go ahead I'm sorry..

Simon: ..but back to the question of redemption or forgiveness, because Salvador Agron stated in interviews, that, now they said, well what would you say to the parents of one of the boys, they said how old are you now, he said I'm 32, they said well they would have a 32-year-old son, but they don't, so what would you say, so he said, well I would say that I'm not that person any more, who did that, that I've changed, that I'm, that I don't, that I've taken, I understand who I was and I've changed and that I'm another person now. So that answer is on one level is understandable and on another level although understandable isn't satisfying. And the reason it's not satisfying is, it poses this question, changing your behavior after you do something that's terrible, is that the same thing as atonement? Is this begin to address the question of redemption, simply saying well I'm not that any more, I understand now, I was wild, I was an abused kid, I was 16 years old, I was furious, I came from a terrible background, and I was stoned the night that I did it, and I was in the height of adolescence, and I was stupid, and I'm not, now. Is that enough. Well I think a lot of people want to say, I don't care, I don't care about that. I still feel that you, that's not enough for me. So now I begin to like [unintelligible] and I begin to address this question, well what is enough, or is there an enough, because I don't think that we're a society that believes in forgiveness, I mean it's a society that is supposed to be one of the most religious of all the countries on the planet, but I don't think people believe in redemption, or not to the degree to which people believe in religion, but that's what our religions tell us..

Imus: ..yeah..

Simon: ..you know, so..

Imus: ..like Jesus for example..

Simon: ..well one of the, in the songs one of the women says, my religion asks me to pray for the murderer's soul, but I think you'd have to be Jesus on the cross..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..to open your heart after such a loss. So if it's not going to come from society, if redemption cannot come from society, or society is not willing to accept that, then I say, well first of all, is that the judge, is that the judgment that we're looking for, society's judgment, or is it a higher judgment? You know? If people aren't capable of saying, I will forgive, I will try and forgive, then the individual sinner in his search or her search for cleansing, where do you have to look? Well you have to look to a higher power, you have to look to god. And then how do you satisfy god, since god is within us and we're going to make up what god says, and what punishment god hands down, then that's the punishment that you have to meet. Now, how do you define that? It gets to be a question that you really can't answer, you know, but you can attempt..

Imus: ..you might want to do a musical..

Simon: ..and, I mean, that's right, it's not exactly the subject matter of a musical, but on the other hand..

Imus: ..I hear you..

Simon: ..you have on the other hand the music, you're coming from a culture that produces incredible music, so these discussions are occurring in a very very musical context, I don't mean to say that it's a typical Broadway lite entertainment kind of musical, but it is really musical, it's rhythmic and it's powerful, so this is not the typical subject of a musical but why would I be interested in a typical subject of a musical, since most of them are boring, you know?

Imus: ..Is it, do you all reach a moral of any sort, or is there a moral or a conclusion?

Simon: ..Well yes we end with his mother, here's a question that we pose, that we pose to ourselves. If you're the mother of the boy who was murdered, can you forgive Salvador Agron? Well, maybe not, maybe not. If you're the mother of Salvador Agron, can you forgive him? Probably, probably..

Imus: ..mm..

Simon: ..So somewhere, we're all somewhere between this balance, you know? One side, you know? And how does she forgive? She forgives, first of all he dies so he atones. Because he paid with his life, he spends almost all of his life in jail, and he died at an age of 43, basically from poverty, when they say of natural causes what they mean is poverty, when he was sick, it's not like it was a generation of guys that went for their annual physical, you know, they went to the emergency room if they got really sick otherwise they didn't do anything about it, so he basically died of poverty. What she says at the end of the play, Ezmeralda Agron, is, there's a place beyond this discussion, there's a higher place beyond this discussion that, and this came from Ezmerald's actual, my interview with her, I interviewed her in Muyagueze, and within five minutes of our meeting, you know what I mean, she began to talk about a vision that she had, a vision that she had, and she was a person who was very spiritual and you know tended to have these kinds of visionary experiences, and she said I was in the powder room of heaven, and I saw two angels in the distance, and they were all in white, and they were carrying a book, and it was a white book, and I could see that they wrote down Sal's name in the book, and I said what is it, why are you writing this, what is this about, she said, and they took a chain, a broken chain, and they put it at my feet. That was her vision..

Imus: ..hm..

Simon: ..So we interpret this as, the broken chain is the death of Salvador Agron, and the whiteness is the cleansing, and with the death, and in heaven, in the realm of god, there is forgiveness, there is a place above all of this that's going on here, and that exists too, even at the end of the terrible 20th century, you know with all its genocide, and all its..

Imus: ..but we are going to walk out having to pretty much decide for ourselves though aren't we..

Simon: ..yeah but I think so but that's fine..

Imus: ..but that's fair though..

Simon: ..but I'm not here trying to make a case..

Imus: ..better than you deciding, don't you think? You must have thought that..

Simon: ..yeah I think so..

Imus: ..yeah..

Simon: ..yeah..

Imus: ..that would be fair..

Simon: ..I don't want to impose my thinking on it, although to a degree I can't help it, as I was talking to my wife about this, and she said well, I said I try and balance it out, I try and balance it all the time, she said yes it's true, you try and balance it, but the melodies that you write, and the lyrics, they're beautiful, so there's a beauty that's incorporated into the discussion, and the beauty has an effect on thinking too. Well all right, so maybe, so I understand that, I think there's something very beautiful about the play the Capeman, it's not a brutal experience, even though it's talking about an event that brutalized a city, I don't think people will leave feeling depressed, and I think even though the language is sometimes harsh and sometimes street language, basically it's a language aspires to poetry, and I'm writing this with a nobel laureate in poetry, who won a nobel laureate in literature as a poet, so..

Imus: ..I don't want you to snap at me, but I actually have listened to the songs, all week I go back at 10 o'clock and I punch it on my jukebox, and so they, you are right, they are, I mean what's your choice, to write crummy songs? No, I don't think so. Let me do some commercials and then I'll let you go, I just have a couple more questions I want to ask you about this whole Broadway experience and that sort of thing. We're talking with Paul Simon about the Capeman, which opens on Broadway on January 8th, previews start December 1st, which means you can buy tickets now, you call the Marquee theater or Telecharge, it is twenty six after the hour..


Imus [rejoin]: ..you know it's not as interesting I guess, not as many people want to hear what we want to talk about as want to hear what for example what Howard Stern wants to talk about..

McCord: ..well that's too bad..

Imus: ..but we all work for the same company and the stock's going up baby, the stock's going up. Ah, a guy told me, Mike Francessa, who works here, a lovely guy, and I, he came in the office I was playing the album, you know, he said don't get married to that, and I said why, he said because when you go see the show, you're going to be disappointed. Am I?

Simon: ..Oh no no. First of all, I think ah, I don't want to upset Warner Brothers..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..I don't want to upset the Warner Brothers people, but I think the major piece of work is the cast album that's coming. This is thirteen songs from the show, the show's got 38 songs, and I chose the songs that were most suitable to my voice. All the big choral numbers, all the songs with many characters in it, and some of the like the end, the last song, some of the really powerful songs I didn't want to give away on this album. I don't think you're going to feel that way at all. I mean Marc Anthony who plays the young Salvador Agron has got a beautiful voice, can sing all of these doo-wop things, and Reuben Blades has got a great voice, and Ednita Nazario has a great voice, it's three stars of a musical who are all major recording artists in their own right. I think the music and the band, it's going to be good. I hate to say that, because it's going to be my show, well I wouldn't say it was bad, but I wouldn't come on and say.. it's going to be very very musical, like when I did big concerts, because I've been working with the band for a long time, I mean it's, the band is so good that it's one of those things where you can say I'd like to that show and hear the
band again..

Imus: ..what is that noise I hear?..

McCord: ..bass, something..

Imus: ..from where?..

McCord: ..over in one of these studios..

Imus: ..we can't have that..

Bernie: ..that ends now..

Imus: ..well it's just making me crazy. I can't hear anyway. So my hearing's shot anyway. So. Is your hearing shot?

Simon: ..not too bad..

Imus: ..really?..

Simon: ..It's not too bad..

Imus: ..he and I both..

Simon: ..I checked it out..

Imus: ..for 25 years of wearing these headphones..

Simon: ..oh I see..

Imus: ..and we used to play music, played rock and roll, just played rock and roll records for 25 years, or 20 years..

McCord: ..it's insidious..

Imus: ..loud as I could play them..

McCord: ..turn it way up..

Imus: ..just played it as loud as I could play them, you know..

Simon: ..no my hearing is tested out as normal, which is sort of unusual for anybody my age..

Imus: ..would you, and how's this, I found the cover story in the New York Times Magazine was interesting, was that accurate?.

Simon: ..I didn't read that, I decided not to read of the stuff that they write about..

Imus: ..oh okay, well they, well essentially..

Simon: ..I heard, I heard a little bit about it..

Imus: ..it wasn't horrible, at all..

Simon: ..no, I didn't hear it was horrible..

Imus: ..but it suggested that for a time I guess you had, well I don't know how to phrase this, difficulty in buying into the collaborative experiece of Broadway and have subsequently have acquiesced and..

Simon: ..well, no that's not exactly, well yes and no, yes and no..

Imus: ..I mean essentially hired the director [unintelligible]..

Simon[over]: ..well here's what happened. I had formed a collaboration with Derek Wolcott, who is also a playwright and also has a theater company, in Trinidad. So all the decisions that were made, they're all made in conjuntion with Derek. And the first thing that he said to me was, believe me, Paul, you're not going to want an auteur director here, you're not going to want a director to come in and take our work and then reinterpret it and say, this is the way it is, he said it's going to drive you crazy, and I thought well I'm sure you're right, and he said anyway definitely I don't, I can't, he said I've had this experience and I can't stand it, so I was trying to be very careful not to have someone who was going to come in and say, all right, I see this as a dream sequence. For a lot of the directors who are the most, you know, the biggest ones and the most famous ones, the way the work is they take a piece of work, the inhabit the piece of work, and then it comes out as their piece of work, and that's what they do. So that wasn't going to work. So we went through a lot of interview process where we were either eliminated or we eliminated someone because it didn't seem that it was going to work. The first person that I chose to join the team was Bob Froley, who's a set designer, whose work I saw when he did Carousel in New York and I thought it was brilliant. So I went to hire this guy. The people who were the producers at that time said no you can't hire the set designer, the director has to hire the set designer. I said well no I like this guy's work and I want to see him envision. They said, no no that's not your job, the director does that, and you're doing it backwards. And in fact they kept saying to me you're doing the whole thing backwards because I was recording songs, as models. My thinking was, if I'm writing a scene that takes place in Muyagueze, Puerto Rico, in 1949, I want to know what Muyagueze, Puerto Rico, in 1949 sounds like. And in order to find out what it sounds like I'm going to probably have to go into the recording studio with musicians who understand that kind of, how to play in that style, and record enough so I can write a song that sounds accurate enough that I'll believe the scene that is occuring in front of it. And that's the way I felt about the doo-wop too. I wanted to make sure that everything was worked out in such a way that you could suspend your disbelief and think that you were in the 50s and believe that this was happening, because otherwise it's not a story that I'm going to believe..

Imus: ..yeahm..

Simon: ..And people kept telling me that that's backwards, you're doing it backwards, and you're spending money that you shouldn't be spending because you're recording, now, when you should be recording later. And I would answer, no, when I solve this problem, now, I'm going to be able to teach this to whoever is going to be the band and the singers, based on the recording. It's very similar to like making a record and going on tour with the band. You know, you start to play the arrangements you have on the record, and pretty soon it develops from that, and gets looser and better, and that's what I wanted to have happen here. So there was that disagreement. And then there was a disagreement about whether to have the set designer. Then I chose Mark Morris as a choreographer, and they said no you can't do this, this is the director's job, and I said, you know what you're saying is, is that you don't believe in my ability to problem-solve. You think that you're going to problem-solve our work better than I'm going to do it with Derek, and you know what, I don't want to work with you, you're like the wrong producer for me, because I'm still in the creating process, and what you're telling me is that you don't believe that I'm going to do this right, and it's bad for me to hear that, it's going to affect my thinking..

Imus: ..so you _were_ difficult..

Simon: ..well if you think that's difficult. I thought it was logical..

Imus: ..it is, Paul..

Simon: ..and that's what I'd say to him. I'd say well if you think that's illogical, tell me what's the logical way. So they'd say well the logical way is the composer sits with the piano and they make up the song and then the song is done and then you get an arranger to come in and then that's the way it's done, I said well that's the way Broadway musicals sound, but I don't like the way Broadway musicals sound, I don't want to do that, you know, so that's where that came from..

Imus: ..Songs from the Capeman opens January 8th on Broadway at the Marquee theater. How much will it change from December 1st to January 8th, do you suppose?

Simon: ..I don't know, you know I haven't seen it up there yet, I'm still like a guy who hasn't done this before, I suppose it will, I don't know how much it will change, not that much, not that much, I think it'll get shorter, it'll get faster, tighter..

Imus: ..we'll do our part, whatever it..

McCord: ..absolutely..

Imus: ..we'll do our part..

Simon: ..when are you coming to see us?

Imus: ..well whenever somebody says it's all right, so, you know..

Simon: ..well you want to, what do you want an opening, opening night, right?

Imus: ..I'm not into that, so..

Simon: ..you don't like that? I don't like that ei..

Imus: ..I don't want to run into Regis Philman. Or Howard Stern, or Donald Trump..

Simon: ..exactly the crew that I would be inviting..

Imus: ..good point. anyway..

Simon: ..so you'll come, come in the middle of the month, when things settle down..

Imus: ..yeah I'd like to, love to. Well thanks for, god, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking all this time to, just fascinating for us, and I appreciate it, and good luck with this..

Simon: ..yeah thanks, thanks for having me..

Imus: ..Paul Simon, songs from the Capeman, the album's out tomorrow, contains 13 of the 38 songs in the show, and then the cast album will be out, obviously, later, and the show, the preview starts December 1st, and the show opens January 8th. Thanks. It's eighteen now till the hour..

See also these last articles

UMPG Concludes Publishing Agreement with Simon - January 2004 UMPG - 0000-00-00 posted by unknown

Edie Brickell: First new album in a decade - January 2002 Associated Press - 0000-00-00 posted by unknown

Classic Interviews, Paul Simon December 1974 N/A - 0000-00-00 posted by unknown