Carrie Fisher wrote, in her autobiography Wishful Drinking, “I loved this man’s lyrics. They were one of the reasons I fell in love with words. How can you not love someone who writes medicine is magical/ and magical is art/ think of the boy in the bubble/ and the baby with the baboon heart?”
- PHOTO BY JACOB MENDEZ
- FOUR IN A ROW : Previous Morro Bay Sings events featured music by Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, and Elton John.
Her infatuation with Paul Simon led to their brief marriage, a tumultuous relationship that ended in divorce—but produced more poetry: She’s come back to tell me she’s gone/ As if I didn’t know that/ As if I didn’t know my own bed/ As if I didn’t notice the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.
Simon populates his musical worlds with archetypes from previously untapped veins in the collective subconscious, characters we all know—we’ve somehow always known—but still somehow hadn’t actually met until he introduced us: the boxer weighed down by his failures, the man who doesn’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard, the woman with diamonds on the soles of her shoes, the only living boy in New York.
He conveys the raw emotion of being horribly alone by practically spitting the lines, “I touch no one, and no one touches me.” He conjures a chillingly bleak future of 10,000 people—maybe more—all silently bowing and praying to a neon god shaped by their hands. Then he encourages us not to cry in this future realized, this automatic earth lit by lasers in the jungle and powered by a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires.
It doesn’t matter that his lyrics don’t always make sense on the surface—that the Mississippi Delta shines like a National guitar or that he wants you to call him Al—because they resonate on a deeper level. Simon sees angels in the architecture, and we do, too, after he points them out.
Local artists will be channeling the iconic musician on Nov. 3, when the fourth annual Morro Bay Sings event brings Jody Mulgrew, Erin English, and Les Beck together for a concert benefiting the Morro Bay Community Foundation.
Mitch Barnett, who’s coordinating the event, met the foundation’s president some years back through his work at the Galley Seafood Grill and Bar. Barnett had previously worked the Cayucos Music Festival, and knew the draw of such an event.
“I opened my big mouth and said, ‘You ought to do a concert for a benefit,’” he remembered. “And she said, ‘Great! Do it!”
So he did, choosing a different cover source each year, someone with broad appeal and a large musical library. Previous inspirations have been Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, and Elton John. Barnett enjoys the music side of things—having worked in radio and boasting plenty of experience in organizing concerts—but the Cayucos resident finds particular fulfillment in helping the foundation, which provides recreation scholarships for youth in the Estero Bay area (Los Osos, Cayucos, and Morro Bay). Young people who might not otherwise be able to participate in Morro Bay Recreation Department programs get financial help from the nonprofit, and the Morro Bay Sings event feeds in funds.
The event has been a hit in the community—and with participating musicians. Mulgrew has lent his voice and guitar to every concert so far, and he’s looking forward to doing so again in early November.
“It’s been a hoot,” the Los Osos resident said. “It’s been a real hoot for me.”
Mulgrew wasn’t as familiar with previous Morro Bay Sings artists as he is with Simon—his performance at the inaugural event marked the first time he ever sang a Joni Mitchell song—so his earlier challenges involved learning chords and lyrics. This year’s particular obstacle is one in common with the year he covered The Beatles: There’s too much great material from which to choose.
When he talked to New Times he hadn’t yet cemented his set list, but that’s no surprise. Choosing from one era in Simon’s musical life would be difficult enough. Consider, however, that the entire body of Simon and Garfunkel is available, as is Graceland, Rhythm of the Saints, and assorted other albums. And it’s all so accessible.
“There’s a certain heart-on-your-sleeve thing that [Simon] managed to pull off so gracefully without ever making it uncomfortable or confrontational,” Mulgrew said, noting that he feels a kinship with a songwriter who’s able to connect with an audience on such a level.
“That guy does that again and again and again, and the cool thing is he has this—” Mulgrew paused and sighed, letting that wistful breath sit in for any number of words that could have fit. “As opposed to a Bob Dylan who’s very obtuse and hard to pin down and so sort of cagey and mysterious about what he writes and why he writes it. Paul Simon has this way, he writes in this very universal way, but you have this feeling and connection … .”
That feeling—the very magnetism that underpins Simon’s songs—draws both listeners and performers. It’s part of the reason why local songwriters, whose lives revolve so much around sharing their own, original words and emotions, will give up a Saturday night to play someone else’s intensely personal music for free.
“I have to think about music and think about my relation to an audience, as we all love music,” Mulgrew explained. “And for the nights I’m working, I just happen to be the person that is … in that hot seat. I might not even be the most qualified person in the room to be in that hot seat, but it’s my job to connect the dots.
“I feel honored to be able to sing the people who came before me,” he added, “and gave us this way to get connected as people.”
Paul Simon couldn’t have said it better himself.
Actually, he probably could, but hasn’t. Yet.
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