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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Songs from The Capeman

I grew up in Kew Gardens, New York located in the borough of Queens. We had the usual array of schoolyard characters in our neighborhood. It was easy to describe us as the normal run of the mill teenagers growing up in the city. There were guys with nicknames like Spider, Midnight and Howie the Weasel. Quite frankly, aside from foolish pranks, we were as normal as one could be growing up in the 60’s.
One day as I was walking towards our main thoroughfare, Lefferts Boulevard from Austin Street, On the corner, I met my friend Jules who excitedly told me that his cousin just released a record album. He described his cousins’ music as folk rock. He told me that the record consisted of his cousin and his childhood friend named Paul. At first, I was somewhat dubious of this information provided by my pal, Jules. After all, how many of us had relatives that were really famous or even nearly famous? Of course, there were a number of people I knew in my High School that sung in groups, but for the most part their activities were confined to harmonizing in hallways and bathrooms to take advantage of the natural echo. Not many had record deals.
As I pondered the possibility or impossibility of Jules’ assertion, I thought back to my days in Junior High School in Forest Hills. At that time there were two guys who were a couple of years older than me who sang at parties and dances. They even put out a record that was released by a small record company that resulted in mild hit. The name they used on the record was Tom & Jerry. Unfortunately, I had never seen them perform during those years. When I asked, Jules confirmed that his cousin and his friend were in fact, Tom & Jerry, but now they were using their real names, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The rest, as we say is history. I don’t know what happened to Jules, But I sure know what happened to his cousin and his partner, Paul.
Recently, Warner Brothers Records reissued the entire Paul Simon solo catalog. The nine albums that Simon recorded after the dissolution of his partnership with Art Garfunkel span over thirty years with his first solo released in 1972. Some of those albums are extraordinary and some are not. In the life of any artist, there are highs and lows. However, the sum total of his work clearly has many more high points than low points.
One of the nine albums recently reissued was the 1997 record, Songs From The Capeman. This was the soundtrack of an ill-fated Broadway musical based on a true story about a New York Puerto Rican teenager, Salvatore Aragon who was convicted and sentenced to death for a random murder in a New York City schoolyard. In the Broadway show, Marc Anthony played the young Aragon, while Ruben Blades played the older Aragon. The show was not well received and after many highly publicized and painful rewrites the show quickly faded from public view. Simon took a lot criticism for the subject matter, but overlooked was the brilliance of the music as recorded for this album. Simon wrote all the songs in a 50’s style. He then combined that style with a Latin influence to round out the presentation.

The first cut, "Adios Hermanos" is an acappella tune that sets the tone for the flavor of the album. Over the harmonizing voices, brilliantly recorded by legendary producer and long-time Simon collaborator Roy Halee, Simon sets the stage as the Capeman in expressing his hopes and fears. Marc Anthony’s soulful voice highlights "Satin Summer Nights" once again recorded by Halee in an accapella style with Latin overtones.
My favorite tune on the album is "Bernadette" where Simon sings Lead, Background vocals, Hi String and Acoustic Guitar and of course, he wrote it too. To me, it’s the ultimate Paul Simon tune in that it encompasses many different musical styles into a cohesive song that sounds great every time you listen to it.
In "Time Is an Ocean" the young Sal reviews his life with himself. Ruben Blades sings as the older, wiser and now reformed Sal. It’s a very powerful and beautiful Latin song.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this album is the way Simon has intertwined a 50’s acappella feel with a Latin beat and applied it to a true tragedy that was dramatically played out in the newspapers and TV stations of New York City. If the subject matter was offensive, the music created by Simon certainly is not. This is a gem of an album.
Discography of the Reissues
Paul Simon
Warner Brothers
R2 78899
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
Warner Brothers
R2 78900
Still Crazy After All These Years
Warner Brothers
R2 78901
One Trick Pony
Warner Brothers
R2 78902
Hearts and Bones
Warner Brothers
R2 78903
Warner Brothers
R2 78904
Rhythm of the Saints
Warner Brothers
R2 78905
Songs From The Capeman
Warner Brothers
R2 78906
You’re The One
Warner Brothers
R2 78907

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