So that’s it. Forty six years after his solo career began, fifty-something after Simon & Garfunkel became all the rage and part of the culture, Paul Simon’s touring career ended last night, without fanfare, in Flushing Meadow Park. He played the same set he’d played the last few nights. There was no Art Garfunkel, just five S&G songs, no “Slip Sliding Away.” No “Mrs. Robinson.” A kind of throwaway “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the middle of the set.
He’s not on the cover of either New York tabloid today either. If Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen had retired, you know we’d have heard about it in a big way. At Elton John’s final show they’ll probably shoot him out of a cannon. But Simon? He went out with a whimper, not a bang.
What a strange ending. He didn’t seem to care how it was perceived, either. There were literally almost no press tickets given away. The sets for the shows were not particularly retrospective. And what seemed like an off hand comment at the first show– “Strange times…don’t give up”– was apparently scripted for all three New York shows. We thought it was profound on the first night. Reading about it again and again after the shows was…disappointing.
Still, that first show at MSG on Thursday night was in itself a winner, very much like Simon’s regular performances. The musicianship was of the highest quality. Working with his regular band, he brought in the New York based Y Music Ensemble, who were a revelation. As he’s done with African musicians, Simon didn’t appropriate anything– he showcased Y Music and integrated their unique classical sensibility into his own universe.
Simon says he’ll travel more now that he doesn’t have to tour. Okay, it’s not like anyone was stopping him from doing anything. He also says he’ll keep composing music, which is just fine since his last few albums– like “Surprise” and “Stranger to Stranger” — have been among his best even if they weren’t commercial hits.
But maybe one day before it’s too late he’ll indulge the fans, broker a peace with Garfunkel, and have a truly satisfying finale in my, his, and our little town.