Hundreds of years ago when I was about 10, I was dissing Danny Kaye because I thought he was fake. My Dad said “Well, you haven’t seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Dad said Danny Kaye played Walter and he did an incredible job. I never saw that movie but I did stop beating up on Danny Kaye.
Years later, I got to read the Thurber classic. It was a magazine article and you can Google it now. Really great stuff. Then the modern Walter Mitty movie came out with Ben Stiller and it occurred to me, with a giant shock, that I am very much like Walter. My mind just floats away and I even talk to myself while being Jimi Hendrix or Sir Edmond Hillary. I have flown P-51 Mustangs all over the world.
So today I am Mr. Savage Mitty: World-Renowned and Highly Respected Rock and Roll Critic.
It was my birthday the other day and my wife got four tickets to go see Paul Simon who is on his farewell tour. It’s the last chance to see him on stage forever. I don’t really believe that but, regardless, I was delighted because I’m a large fan.
The first time I saw Paul Simon was in Birmingham about 25 or so years ago. This was right after “Rhythm of the Saints” came out and it was an outside show in an excavated amphitheater. It was about 70 degrees out, clear, and there were no mosquitoes. When they turned the lights down and he came out to play, there was a ginormous huge full moon and he yelled “Wow! Full moon over Alabama!” and the crowd flat-out erupted and I’ll tell you why.
He had all the normal instruments a genius song writing guitar virtuoso requires and they were splayed out on the front part of the stage. There were shiny guitars of all kinds, horns, organs, piano, etc., etc. To the rear were literally hundreds of percussion instruments arrayed in a semi-circle and they were manned by two long haired Brazilians whose talents were other worldly. I mean really. I Googled “Born at the Right Time tour” and Wikipedia says “He has a new band, a 17-piece aggregation of musicians, including South African guitarist Ray Phiri (who also played on ‘Graceland’), American saxophonist Michael Brecker, and Brazilian musicians Nana Vasconcelos and Milton Nascimento.” Dearest and great God Almighty, if you could sit still during that scene, you’d surely just had a frontal lobotomy. Or you need one. It was wondrously insane and most assuredly, the best show I’ve ever seen.
In the ensuing years, I saw him in Atlanta with Garfunkel (“Arty”) and again in Saint Louis. Great shows, all.
So last night, I’m in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena with Peg, Sav, Jr. and Temple for the last ever chance to see on stage the man who made leaving your lover a funny thing to do and who hung out with Julio down by the school yard and cried hard over hot Loraine and immigrants Rene and Georgette Magritte with their dog after the war. The man is 75 or so and he can’t exactly hit the highs he nailed in the 60’s but Lord! Tell me who has the stupid gall to call that out?
His long time South African guitarist “Vincent” has died and that is truly sad but, not missing a beat, he’s found another African who can play an Epiphone hollow body like nobody’s business. It’s addictive. His long time other guitarist has long white hair and plays Les Paul’s, Martin’s, Strat’s and everything else stringed while keeping up on a sax with truly exceptional, outstanding and ridiculous trumpet and additional saxophone talent.
There is also a beautiful woman in a modestly clingy spring dress that’s so much sexier than the normal ¾’s nekked lest you leave anything to the imagination grunge look of today. She has curly black hair and gorgeous eyebrows and her voice will send you orbital. On the side, she plays flute and piccolo that would rate about 100 on a ten scale.
She and Paul (we’re on a first name basis, you know) and several others gathered out front with a violin or so, a cello and some other unplugged strings. They were joined by the aforementioned long time other guitarist who was holding what I think was an old Telecaster. They expertly backed up solo voice Simon on several of his best songs. And not to be forgotten is the African base player. Like I said, Lord almighty!
As I stood there grinning and gyrating like a lunatic, I glanced over at my boy who was also grinning ear to ear. I was reminded of the days when he’d be in the way back of the Suburban singing “Old” word for word with Paul Simon at the top of his 10-year-old lungs and it dawned on me: Paul Simon tunes in the background in one’s life can make for a pretty good life. I remembered some 30 years ago I was in the back yard building a fence for the dogs and Graceland was on the stereo inside. He sang “Over the mountains into the valley lives a former talk show host, far and wide his name is known……” backed up by great music from Los Lobos. And there was the Wild Thornberry’s where he sang the most beautiful Daddy loves his daughter song you’ll ever hear.
I was Walter Mittying about those days and when I came back to the present, I was holding my little girl’s head against my chest while we happy cried. We were together again, all alone in giant fish bowl full of 20,000 screaming people.
And then there’s the crowd. I saw several teenagers and a few 20 somethings but the vast majority had white hair like mine. Some of them had canes. No matter, we loudly demanded three encores and would have gone for more had they not turned the lights on. And I didn’t smell one lick of reefer.
That made me wonder what it would be like to know emphatically that three encores will be demanded and that, therefore, you can plan ahead and get a cameo with an Everly brother in the third? Wow! They sang “Bye Bye Love.”
You can still see Paul Simon in Atlanta or New York. I’d suggest you do so. Who knows? It may really be the last tour and you’ll never get a chance to see what I firmly believe is one of America’s greatest national treasures. By by love, indeed!