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Thursday
Jul142011

How Simon & Garfunkel Almost Saved My Family

I save nothing. Nothing. Not first teeth or my wedding bouquet. Not baby booties or birth announcements. I had an original sketch from the late, great fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, inventor of Dayglo and a muse of Andy Warhol. A friend of my mom’s, he designed my prom dress. He gave me the sketch and I lost it. Typical.

My parents went on a date once and brought me back a T-shirt. I held on to it through high school and college; I even kept it after the concert T-shirt fad faded. But somehow between my first real job and my first year of marriage that T-shirt disappeared. It was from the Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert in Central Park on September 19, 1981.

I was six years old. I remember sitting on my babysitter’s lap, squinting and straining to pick out my parents on TV in the crowd of 500,000 revelers. I knew they’d be close to the stage; they had “connections,” I’d heard them say, so maybe I’d see them. My babysitter, Jane Slimmermeyer, was a vision in denim bellbottoms and cork platform sandals. She had a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her upturned nose and her strawberry blonde hair was feathered just right. She rode horses and smelled like cherry lipgloss. I sat on her lap in front of the TV as the clock above the kitchen sink ticked past my bedtime. My baby brother had finally fallen asleep in his crib by the time the first warbly notes rang out across the Great Lawn through our tiny speakers.

My parents almost never went out alone together. They smiled giddily as they gave Jane instructions about dinner and bedtime. I paid attention. My father put his hand on my mother’s back as he opened the front door and ushered her out. Something important was happening in this moment, and it had everything to do with two fuzzy looking singers, one strumming a guitar worn high across his chest.

Photo: Jenni SimmonsI’d heard this music dozens of times, whining from the record player in the den. It was different from the chimey-clangy Big Band records my father put on after a few vodka tonics. It was sad, but somehow it made them happy. I was hooked.

My parents were not hippies; they were too old for that stuff, they said. My father was much older than my mother, as was evidenced by the gray at his temples and his outdated music. My mother was in the fashion business, which to me meant she was fashionable and busy; her closet housed a universe of dress-up opportunities, and during the week she worked in the city. When she wasn’t home I teetered in her high heels over the plush carpet of their bedroom. When the two voices echoed from the record player in the den, I would sway in my stolen shoes.

Jane held me in her lap and sang along. We both sat riveted for more than an hour, picking at the JiffyPop in front of us. Jane knew all the words! How did she do that? I looked up at her mascaraed eyelashes in wonder as she smiled. Just then, something darted across the stage and the audience let out a collective gasp. The singer, Paul Simon, pulled back from the microphone for a beat as the man was lifted from the stage. Then like nothing happened, he went right back to singing. Later I’d hear that it was “just a crazed fan” who’d leaped past security onto the stage. Just a year before, a “crazed fan” shot John Lennon a handful of blocks away from where this concert took place. The music-loving crowd at Central Park must’ve been on edge. My parents were there, I thought defensively. And they had been so happy. This can’t get screwed up.

The music continued and the performers relaxed, and so did I. Pretty soon the dense harmonies were weaving into my dreams as my head lolled against Jane’s bony shoulder. The next morning I opened my eyes in my pink bedroom — Jane must’ve carried me upstairs after I fell asleep. I squinted at the sunlight funneling through the blinds, resting on a neatly folded green T-shirt at the foot of my bed. I peeled back the covers and grabbed the bundle, which unfurled in my hands. On the front of the T-shirt was a drawing of the sun and moon with a magical sprinkling of stars behind them, like the twinkly lights hanging across the stage during the concert.

I was awestruck. That image — the sun, the moon, the singers, and the crowd — was burned into my memory. This music had power; it made people happy and sad, and they seemed to like that. It made teenage girls smile. It made people lose their senses and run onstage in front of half a million New Yorkers and the world. But more important than all of that, it made my mother and father happy, together. So I paid attention. I refolded the T-shirt as best I could and neatly tucked it into my drawer for safekeeping.


Cameron Dezen Hammon is a singer/songwriter/worship leader who lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. She sings at www.facebook.com/therebeccawest and writes at www.hipsterchristianhousewife.blogspot.com.

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Reader Comments (2)

Cameron,

Beautiful words, thanks! Music, writing, art, Yes!

By the way, just an interesting note, did you know that Simon & Garfunkel's first group was Tom & Jerry (after the cartoon, I guess) in 1957, from Wikipedia.

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrgphil

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