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Posts Tagged ‘Simon & Garfunkel’

I am not throwin’ away my shot!
I am not throwin’ away my shot!
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young scrappy and hungry
Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)

Singer/songwriter Paul Simon preceded Hamilton—the play, not the person. And I sure hope he knows it. I just learned over the weekend how Simon’s biggest musical failure planted the seeds for the off the chart success of Hamilton: An American Musical.  

Simon & Garfunkel had their first number one hit back in 1966, with a song Simon wrote when he was just 21-years-old (The Sound of Silence).  Their greatest hits include the classics Mrs. Robinson, Homeward Bound, and Bridge Over Troubled Water. That alone represents a solid music career.

In the 1970s, Simon’s solo career included the hits Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  At the 1976 Grammy Awards his album Still Crazy After All These Years was named album of the year, and he was also named Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. Simon could have called it a day and rode off into the sunset knowing he’d reached the height of success that few get to experience.

But Simon reached into the well in the 1980s and released his most successful solo album, Graceland. The album scored more hit songs and more Grammys. But it was in the late ’80s that he began working on a passion project, the musical The Capeman. Written with Derek Walcott, Simon said it was “a New York Puerto Rican story based on events that happened in 1959—events that I remembered.” The controversial musical ruffled many feathers on Broadway and closed after just 68 performance and personally cost Simon millions.

But one of the people who saw the play was a high school senior named Lin-Manuel Miranda, who would later write Hamilton. Miranda knew the play didn’t totally work, but he thought it had a “gorgeous score” and it planted seeds on how he could carve his own path. Being of Puerto Rican descent he wasn’t sure if there was a place in the spotlight for him in theater. Plus in school he knew there were better singers, dancers, and musicians than him. Two years after seeing the The Capeman he began working on In the Heights. 

To make a long story short, he stumbled on the 2004 book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow while on vacation and the rest is history (ba dam tss).  The twist was he told  the story “America then, as told by America now.” That meant using hip hop, rap and other music not usually associated with the American Revolution. And he cast people of color as founding fathers of the United States, and a nice lead role for himself as Alexander Hamilton. That’s how you turn the world upside down.

The show eventually found its way to Broadway in 2015 and the following year won a Best Musical Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But . . . before all of that, way back in 2009, Miranda had the opportunity to sing the opening song of his work in progress at a White House event. (I think the laughter is because the audience thinks he’s joking about working on a musical about the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.  Which is a reminder that there’s a good chance that people will laugh at your crazy ideas before the applause and awards come.)

Hamilton has toured around the world since then and a month ago a filmed version of the Broadway play was released on Disney+ for a whole new audience to discover.

P.S. Three other successful musicals that influenced Miranda before his Hamilton; West Side Story, 1776, and Amadeus.  More on that in a future post, but I have a friend whose mother calls herself a Nuyorican (born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City). She couldn’t tell you how many times she’s watched the film version of West Side Story. Miranda can look forward to day when writers start approaching him with how seeing Hamilton as a youth inspired them to create their own stories.

P.P.S. I have a vision that late one night 78-year-old Paul Simon is home surrounded by his 12 Grammy Awards (including one for Life Achievement) and he watches Hamilton and smiles knowing that his expensive Broadway failure sparked a phenomenon.

Here are a couple of songs from The Capeman and a insightful video of Simon walking Dick Cavett through his process of wrtiting Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Scott W. Smith 

 

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“A historic, music-affirming extravaganza. Hail, hail rock ‘n’ roll.”
USATODAY.com

Tonight HBO will broadcast the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert that was taped back in October. The concert features a solid line-up of Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, U2,  Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, John Fogerty, B.B. King, Sting, Billy Joel and other rock giants.

And while all those musicians are on stage they will be under a touch of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Artist Gary Kelley was commissioned to create a multi-panel mural that arched above the stage at Madison Square Garden.

Kelley’s studio is just a couple blocks from my office and it’s fun to drop in from time to time and see what he’s working knowing it could be something for Rolling Stone magazine or another national venue. Kelley is most known for his murals of writers at Barnes & Nobel Booksellers across the county and in 2007 he was elected into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

One more example of great work coming from the middle of nowhere.

If you’re interested in purchasing Kelley’s artwork contact the Henry W. Myrtle Gallery.

Scott W. Smith

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