In 1980 New York’s ‘green lung’, Central Park, was extremely run-down. Money-funds for regular maintenance were substantially low, let alone the required $ 3,000,000 needed for renovation of the park. In that year the Central Park Conservancy was founded and started with (successfully) acquiring the renovation funds. One of the ways was organizing free concerts. The city could use the proceeds of merchandise, tv and video rights for (the renovation of) the park. In the first year of the 1980’s, concert promoter Ron Delsener (commissioned by park commissioner Gordon Davis) started negotiations with pay television channel HBO. But who was to perform?
Simon And Garfunkel
In 1980 Simon And Garfunkel were a legendary duo from yore. The (folk-rock) group split up in 1970, due to arguments. At the time their fame was at an all-time high. Their last album Bridge Over Troubled Water (until Michael Jackson’s Thriller the best selling album of all time) had just been released. During the 1970’s they had occasionally performed some songs together, but their individual solo-careers were their main focus.
Delsener contacted Paul Simon, who was excited, but was also deeply concerned with the (expected) financial success. The popularity of his solo work had diminished with each release, his latest release, One-Trick Pony, being the absolute low-light. He also questioned whether the cooperation between him and Art Garfunkel would work. Garfunkel, however, reacted extremely enthusiastic.
Simon And Garfunkel were the perfect choice for the promoters. They were convinced the turn-out would be good, partially motivated by the strong bond between both singers and New York City. Many songs were inspired by the city’s skyline and the city’s cultural diversity.
For Simon And Garfunkel themselves it provided an opportunity to revive their careers.
During the three-week rehearsal period arguments between the two immediately re-surfaced. Every aspect of the show required negotiation. The original plan was for Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to play their own set followed by a Simon And Garfunkel set. That idea soon vanished; it was going to be a joint venture, in which both singers could do solo-songs.
The next issue was the way of presenting the music. Art Garfunkel wanted to deliver the songs just the two of them. Paul Simon would also play (acoustic) guitar (just like in the old days). That idea, too, soon vanished, partly because Paul Simon’s inability to play guitar an entire concert due to an injury. Paul Simon also thought his newer music would would be weakened in such a setting. Paul Simon got what he wanted: an 11-piece band was hired to play the songs.
The issue following the previous issue was that the songs were (sometimes drastically) re-arranged, with sometimes altered lyrics. This also required some smoothening.
In the February 1984 issue of Playboy magazine Paul Simon remembered: “Well, the rehearsals were just miserable; Artie and I fought all the time”.
Just one week prior to the concert it was officially announced that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel would perform in Central Park, for free. Even though the concert wasn’t advertised as being a Simon And Garfunkel show and both gentlemen made it (very) clear that no future plans were in the works, the public viewed it as a reunion.
September 19th, 1981
Despite the rain, which fell all day that Saturday, September 19th, 1981, right up to the start of the concert, the first visitors arrived early in the morning. The authorities were expecting about 300,000 visitors. Paul Simon’s fear of lack of success was unfounded: over 500,000 people showed up! This number still makes the concert one of the 10 best visited concerts in the USA of all time.
After mayor Ed Koch opened the show with Ladies and gentlemen, Simon and Garfunkel!, the concerts took off with Mrs. Robinson. The entire concert consisted of 21 songs: 10 Simon And Garfunkel songs, 8 Paul Simon songs en 1 Art Garfunkel song, completed with 2 covers. Each singer sung solo on 3 songs.
Songs that contained (references to) New York sights received thunderous applause. During the set-closer The Sound Of Silence the audience applauded during the tales of a large crowd in the dark: And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people maybe more.
During a new Paul Simon song (The Late Great Johnny Ace) a spectator ran up the stage and shouted at Simon I need to talk to you!. Security led the man away and Simon was able to complete the song. After the show connections were made between the incident and the song’s lyrics which relate to the (violent) deaths of Johnny Ace, John F. Kennedy and John Lennon. Lennon’s murder was still fresh in the memory and took place very near to the place of the concert.
The concert was a huge success. The public was ecstatic. The press was also enthusiastic. Particularly the new arrangements and the high level of musicianship by the band lifted the songs up to a higher level and made the originals look pale. Much appreciation was shown for the risk of performing so many acoustic songs (would that even be possible in, especially during concerts, talkative Holland??; it’s called ‘the Dutch disease’ for a reason) at an open-air concert on a cloudy day. Rolling Stone magazine called the concert one of the best of that year.
And Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel themselves? They were disappointed with their/the performance. Art Garfunkel thought he sang very poorly and Paul Simon realized the enormity of the event only after coming home and turning on the television.
Release: The Concert In Central Park
The recordings of the concert were released on February 16th, 1982, 35 years ago today, as a double-album called The Concert In Central Park. The closer, a reprise of Late In The Evening and the interrupted The Late Great Johnny Ace were left off the album. Both songs were included on the DVD release, years later. Just like the positive reactions to the concert itself, reactions to the album were, by and large, positive.
At the time it was a (renewed) acquaintance with Simon And Garfunkel for me. My father owned Brige Over Troubled Water, but I thought that album was too soft. This album was different, it had more swing, funk and spice. I loved it. Favorite songs were (and still are) Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, Scarborough Fair, Late In The Evening, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, The Boxer and the fabulous The Sound Of Silence.
Contrary to earlier comments it turned out to be a reunion of Simon And Garfunkel after all. A worldtour followed and work was started on a new studio album, but after (once again) heavy arguments Art Garfunkel left. Two (short) reunions would follow in the years to come.
And Central Park? Partly due to this concert more concerts followed and enough funds came/come in for maintaining (ánd renovating) the park. Nowadays, Central Park is one the main New York attractions.
Do you own The Concert In Central Park? What do you think of the album?
New York Central Park image: tripnewyork.nl
Tom And Jerry image: wikipedia.org
Simon And Garfunkel – Free Concert Poster: Michael Doret
Simon And Garfunkel – Central Park image: quora.com
Simon And Garfunkel – New York Daily News 09/20/1981: nydailynews.com
Simon And Garfunkel – The Concert In Central Park album image: apple.com
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