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Sixty-Something: My Most Magical Musical Night In The Hamptons

T.J. Clemente

Paul Simon and Nancy Atlas. (Courtesy Photo)

As you age the seasons come and go but the best memories linger in your mind as if they just happened yesterday. They conjure up experiences you so thoroughly enjoyed. They are special moments that you knew at the time would stay with you the rest of your life. The moments when my children were born both are of those are most special, however the moment I am recalling now has to do with just the singing live of just five songs.

To set this up correctly I must set the stage of events. It was a summer Saturday evening, August 30, 2004. Edie Brickell was charming Guild Hall as she performed her new album at the old pre-renovated Guild Hall, East Hampton. I sat in the third row almost center stage. She was great but all night I was wondering would Paul Simon appear and sing a song with her, or just accompany her on guitar. I remember telling the person I was with that I have never seen Paul Simon. Not in concert, not walking the streets of NYC or Montauk, or not even at a restaurant in the Hamptons. So I waited but there was never a sighting of Paul Simon at Guild Hall that night.

The next night, Sunday night August 31, 2004 was going to be a big night for me. I was invited by Nick Kraus (still to this day a promotional guru for all things Hamptons) to attend a Jimmy Cliff performance at the Stephen Talkhouse. I was excited. However, around noon on Sunday my Nokia phone (no smart phone yet) rang and it was Nick to inform me Jimmy Cliff had canceled, but there was something I should know. Sean Rafferty, a local, was ill and friends were throwing a benefit for him at the Stephen Talkhouse. There would be a $20 cover-charge, that I would have to pay but the money would go to Sean. Then came these words, "All the local bands will be playing, and I can't guarantee it, but there is a very good chance Paul Simon may play a song or two, but just don't tell anyone. It's not definite, the door opens at 7p.m."

So less then 14 hours later from when I told someone how I never have ever seen Paul Simon, there now was an opportunity to hear him sing that very Sunday night. After the call I went sailing by myself, then showered, put on my cleanest t-shirt and shorts, drove to the Talkhouse arriving at 7:15 and was able to get a great parking spot almost in front on Main Street.

Right from the start it was a magical night, all the players from all the local bands were playing with each other, having fun playing each other's songbook. I was perhaps ten feet from the stage, sipping a Guinness. Then the bands took a unison break, the music stopped and out walked Paul Simon wearing a Yale baseball hat, with one of his signature Guild folk guitars strapped over his shoulder. Boom, the room turned quiet and he began to sing in a quality you'd usually only hear on your expensive headphones from your stereo.

Paul Simon launched into the opening chords of his hit song, Homeward Bound, a song that was on the first cassette tape I ever purchased. He even played Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, with just his Guild folk guitar - having Nancy Atlas come out to sing the chorus and join him on stage. That was amazing but what followed next was a moment I will never forget and still remember as if it was just last night!

He performed The Boxer, and spontaneously in unison, in tune, the whole audience sang the chorus. Paul Simon seemed stunned, smiled and continued, again the audience sang the chorus in a sacred whisper but with verb and determination as if to share the moment with each other.

At the end of the song Paul Simon was stunned. He then said, "That was really special, so special I want to buy everyone in the bar a beer. Is that even possible, to buy everyone in the bar a beer?" And yes, everyone in the bar was given a free beer. I had a Heineken in a bottle.

Years later (2009), I was sitting next to Stephen Talkhouse owner Peter Honerkamp in the Gurney's Spa men's locker room after a workout and asked him about that night. In the politest way, he explained that at the time Paul Simon had no idea of the immense cost of his gesture, especially when he received the bill. He insinuated that in the end, the Talkhouse absorbed the cost.

Now, almost a complete 15 years later, I can close my eyes and hear the whispering sound of us all singing at the end of the song, "La la la, la li la, la la la la la, la la la la la."




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