A Pilgrimage Concluded: The Paul Simon Concert

Sometimes fibromyalgia amazes me. I think I finally understand my body, my limitations and my rhythms, and then fibromyalgia sneaks up on my complacency and WHAM – I am flaring.

This time only a minor flare, if four days of fatigue and bone-tired achiness can be called minor. But the cause is worth every painful twinge of my muscles.

After all, I met Paul Simon.

Even as I write it, the reality of my journey’s conclusion has not yet sunk in to solidified fact. It still seems a dream of soft lines and intangible edges. For once my fibro symptoms are actually a blessing – at least I know this flare came from somewhere.

Let’s back up to Friday, where you last met me in poised anticipation about to embark on my musical pilgrimage back to the roots of my rhythm. Oblique Paul Simon reference aside, Friday’s Paul Simon concert was monumental, living up to a lifetime of expectations.

Not many musicians are able to satisfy such a personal legacy: my countless dashed hopes of attending a concert, childhood flights of dancing fancy into the music of Graceland, and riding the music, critical training wheels for my writing. Paul Simon is not just a music legend to me, he is one of the earliest notes of my creative fire.

Yes, I was nervous. Bracing myself for a Murphy’s Law of possibilities on the road to Milwaukee. Folded breathlessly into my seat at the Riverside Theatre, unconvinced I was actually there and my pilgrimage almost at an end. I did not relax even then – what if time has caught up with an aging musician and his voice can no longer speak to my soul?

My worrying thankfully all for naught. Paul Simon took the stage, calmly walking to the mike, his band filtering in around him, and the tension began to seep away. With the first sung note, as the smooth voice that serenaded me as a child over the basement sound system reverberated out into the theater, I knew I was home.

Am I playing too much with lofty words and metaphors? Probably. The writer in me is cringing and yearning to rewrite, to play down the sentiment dripping from every phrase. But I am restraining myself, for that would be a disservice to the little girl within who is still clapping her hands at her excitement over meeting her childhood muse. At that age, I only knew how to exaggerate and dramatize. Friday was about that little girl and who she became.

Looking back, only four days past now, it is dreamlike. My joy matched the giddy disbelief of the opening act, a talented and energetic bluegrass folk band called Punch Brothers, young musicians obviously amazed at their fortune at being on stage with Paul Simon. You could not help but stomp your feet to their rollicking tunes. By the end of their set, the disengaged audience, at first more concerned with getting a beer while they waited for the real attraction, was on their feet, wildly applauding and practically mobbing the Punch Brothers at intermission for a chance to get their album autographed.

And then, the moment I hardly believed would happen – Mr. Paul Simon took the stage.

What can I really say? The writer has found herself speechless, cobbled by a block over how to adequately describe 29 years of musical voyage to this moment. I clapped, sang, swayed and danced on the waves of the music, decades of songs that have nurtured my soul and fed my writing. We had somehow snagged amazing seats in an already intimate theater – only 8 rows back. With an audience of strangers who somehow colored into a vast ocean of friends (the Midwestern friendliness? the charisma of laid back Paul Simon? the music?), I lived every note, whole to sixteenth.

Paul sang everything from a lifetime of music for two hours straight. He may be an aging legend, but he is still bursting with creative instinct and energy. He never sings a song the same way twice, and the improvisational flavor lent even old standbys from his Simon and Garfunkel days a fresh edge. I floated on Sounds of Silence and danced to Crazy Love, experiencing every favorite anew.

Afterwards, surging on the adrenaline of the best concert of my life, we poured into the cool night air along the Milwaukee River and literally stumbled across the stage door. Normally I would move on towards the car park and the long drive home, but somehow the magic of the night planted my feet at the barricade along with a few dozen other stalwart fans. In typical Midwestern politeness, we waited quietly.

And yes, Paul Simon did appear, and yes, he took the time to interact with his fans. Signing albums, tickets, t-shirts, exchanging conversation. My interaction with my musical muse was brief, but only reinforced my respect for Paul Simon. He is gracious, kind, and sincere. There could be no better ending to a pilgrimage.

So now I slog through the week, through daily chores, work, writing, the rotation of heating pads to soothe my painful muscles, and fight through the latest flare of fibro symptoms to make something productive of this week. Call it a hangover of exertion. I should be tired and sore and exhausted. This ending has been a lifetime coming.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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