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Paul Simon Sings on Public TV: 50 Ways to Pledge Your Money
December 3, 2011  | By Tom Brinkmoeller  | 1 comment
paul-simon-guitar-top.jpgThe final performance of Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So Whatspring 2011 concert tour will show up on many PBS stations this month (check local listings closely; it's being used as December pledge programming, as early as Dec. 3, and will be scheduled in spots individual station managers think will work best).

It's hoped the following question will help to quantify the enjoyment level of Paul Simon: Live at Webster Hall, New York: Does Paul Simon, in this public-TV setting, reflect more Vincent van Gogh -- or more Lawrence Welk?

Granted, this concert is being used by public stations to raise money, just as Welk specials once were trotted out at budget-making time. But that's the only similarity...

If a cookie cutter ever were available for music composition, Welk owned one. One arrangement sounded much like all others, no matter what the song. Simon's many years in music include hundreds of hits. But no matter how many times he performs them, they always sound different, new and as good or better than the original.

That's why van Gogh -- whose dozen or more painting of sunflowers all have distinct and enjoyable differences -- is the correct answer. And poetry, whether Simon's fun-to-study lyrics or van Gogh's bright stars in a night sky, is something to ponder, absorb and enjoy.


The hour-long special is a mix of songs from his latest CD release (So Beautiful or So What) and from his large portfolio of earlier songs. Backed by the eight impressive musicians who toured with him, the concert is almost sure to please his wide cross-section of fans.

(Side note: though audience shots aren't plentiful in the program, the age span of those in the seats seems to indicate people old enough to have attended the 1981 Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park are joined, in equal numbers, by those who might not have been born 30 years ago -- underlining Simon's continuing popularity to several generations.) Whether a Simon fan on Medicare or of SallieMae school-loan age, this TV special is a well-spent time investment.

It's not the entire two-hour concert presented on the tour. However, something that might make more enjoyable the pledge breaks that will punctuate the program is the advance knowledge that stations will be offering, as a premium, a DVD of the program -- one that also includes three songs that were cut for time, said Robert Smith, vice president of A&R at Concord Music Group. His company released the album and was involved in the tour and the television production.

(The added three songs on the pledge DVD are all from earlier Simon albums: "Gumboots," "Peace Like a River" and "Late in the Evening.")


Smith told how the New York City venue, Webster Hall, always was planned as the final stop on the tour, but not for a video production. That decision to record the concert was made just a few weeks before the June concert date because the tour was going so well.

"It was an easy decision for Paul, and for us," he said in a recent phone interview.

It was not, however, as easy to execute. The 1500-seat hall is small and not easily adaptable to video production. A total of eight cameras were used, but the two hand-held onstage cameras carried most of the duties, said Smith.

And as long as the word "carried" has been used, it's a good time to list another obstacle they faced in this production:

"Over 30,000 pounds of equipment had to be carried up two flights of stairs" prior to shooting, he said. There are no freight elevators in the 1886 building, and everything that was carried up had to be carried back down, of course, after the single performance.

(Think of that and draw some comfort in a few weeks, perhaps, when putting away the holiday decorations appears nearly insurmountable.)

Small hall. Not video-friendly. Tons of equipment. With Simon as magical as ever, and backed by a group of spectacular and enthusiastic musicians, those are but small obstacles that don't lessen the enjoyment of this fine hour of television.

I bet, as the magic of the music all but owns the hour, they aren't even noticeable.


Eileen said:

Being a New Yorker, I couldn't be prouder of one of our hometown boys.

Paul Simon's music is timeless and ageless. I'm glad the audience includes the younger generation, as it's good for them to hear music you can actually understand, music that is classic and will be here forever. Paul Simon ranks up there as not only a fabulous musician, but an amazing composer.

Anyone out there who watched the live coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 has a newfound special affection for Paul Simon. If you listened to his acapella rendition of "Sounds of Silence", and didn't feel your heart break a little, you have no heart.

And just as an aside, Mr. Paul Simon has been involved in works of charity in NYC for decades. There are several mobile medical buses that travel around NYC's poorest neighborhoods providing healthcare targeted specifically to children. They were the brainchild of Paul Simon, and funded by his continuing generosity. And unlike many celebrities, Mr. Simon's good works are kept fairly quiet; he feels no need to go about patting himself on the back.

Good music and a good man!

 Comment posted on December 3, 2011 10:56 AM


Sean Dougherty said:

Baby boomers are funny. You make fun of Lawrence Welk because PBS trotted out him and other dated performers to entertain and wring cash out of your parents, but when they do the same thing with the dated performers who came of age during YOUR adolescence, you compare them to timeless Van Goghs.

Get over yourselves already.

Comment posted on December 6, 2011 10:16 AM
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Is it possible to get a copy, written transcript or Youtube video of Paul Simon singing 50 ways to pledge your money. Our PRI (Public Radio International station is celebrating 50 years of being on the air and they are having a fund drive. We are trying to find this recording of Paul Simon and get permission to use it. Can you lend us a hand in locating it? Thanks
Jul 21, 2013   |  Reply
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