- Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973; Paul Simon in the Kent State University Memorial Gym (now the MAC Center.)
One thing I love about this event is that it was so well-documented at the time yet so soon forgotten. This performance occurred during what was truly one of those great nights/weekends at Kent State where everything seemed to come together to perfection. From the Homecoming football game which saw the Kent State Golden Flashes beat Eastern Michigan 34-20, to Paul Simon's jam packed concert in the Memorial Gym and the brand new Student Center being officially dedicated by Kent's elite. Kent State sure burned bright for these couple of days.
Of course the unique focus in this piece is the rare and spectacular performance by a vital Paul Simon in the Kent State University Memorial Gym. This was a well publicized and well attended concert that found Paul Simon on tour for his album There Goes Rhymin' Simon, which featured some of his finest and well-known solo recordings, including "Kodachrome," "American Tune," "Loves Me Like a Rock," and "Something So Right."
The Daily Kent Stater did an extraordinary job of documenting the entire weekend with several preview pieces, a detailed review and then an additional piece by Stater reporter Jan Clark getting an exclusive interview with Paul Simon following his Memorial Gym concert — complete with an exclusive Kent Stater photo showing a bearded Paul Simon (more on how that came about later.) The Chestnut Burr (yearbook) was also on hand to document this event and published an amazing full color photo collage as well as this additional amazing image from the night.
The concert itself was put on by Kent State's All Campus Programming Board and I had the great pleasure recently to talk with Michael Solomon, who was the ACPB Concert Committee Chairman from 1972-1974 and was the chief promoter on this event. Michael was only 21 years old on the night of Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973 and this is what he told me about that evening:
"Paul Simon was awesome. Great show, packed the Memorial Gym. I remember that I got into a huge argument with one of Paul's managers because we had a deal with Paul Simon that he would get a percentage of the gate as opposed to just a flat fee, and as it turned out we had about 100 unsold tickets. Well, if you know how that gym seating is laid out, you know that the upper area is just filled with long permanent benches instead of actual seats and at times it can just turn into a general admission free-for-all. So if the gym held 7,000, and we only sold 6,000 tickets, you would never be able to tell because everything just fills out up there. So it was so packed that the manager didn't believe me that we didn't sell the last 100 tickets and he wanted his money. And I tried to explain to the guy the real situation.
"Paul Simon was great. The show was great. I remember afterwards in his dressing room, I went back there and I was near the door. Paul's brother Ed was there touring with him and they look so much alike that I remember asking him a question thinking he was Paul Simon. To which he says to me 'Why don't you ask Paul.' And I'm just like ...'oh, ok.' And I ask Paul Simon, I said 'what did you mean in that song by the lyrics 'loves me like a rock,' and he just looked at me funny and he didn't answer ... he was answering other questions and he turned back to me five minutes later and said 'That song was about Richard Nixon and he felt like he could do anything he wanted and I just attributed it to the fact that his mother really loved him.'"
There's one interesting note about the "chat" Michael Solomon had with Paul Simon. "Loves Me Like a Rock" was Paul Simon's big chart topping hit of the moment on the very night that Paul Simon performed here on campus, so it's of no surprise (to me) that it was the song that was on Michael's mind as he made his way backstage to greet Simon.
Another major player in this night at Kent State was future Pulitzer Prize winning journalist J. Ross Baughman, who was responsible for the amazing Paul Simon Kodachrome photo collage from the 1974 Chestnut Burr yearbook. Baughman also sent me these uncut transparencies as an outtake from that collage showing even more images of Paul Simon at Kent. This specific photo is my personal favorite from the newly digitized image outtakes. Baughman was the editor for the 1974 Chestnut Burr. Check out the entire Burr that he worked on. It's an incredible (and at times very candid) 400-page time capsule of Kent from that period. Also check out the Burr from the following year (which Baughman also worked on) as both books show a dense amount of details of this town and university from another time. This is what J. Ross Baughman told me about his experiences in Kent with Paul Simon on the night of Saturday, Oct. 20, 1973:
"Back in 1973 my neck of the woods at Kent State was student publications, as I had become the editor of the school yearbook, the Chestnut Burr, and if I recall this correctly, we fell under the same parent group as the All Campus Programming Board who were the ones who put on all these big concerts and other student events at the university. So because of this, there was a great deal of friendly coordination between the yearbook, the Daily Kent Stater and the the All Campus Programming Board. In fact, my friend and fellow staffer Mark Greenberg happened to have been roommates in an off-campus house with a guy who had some kind of close relationship with the Belkin Brothers, who the All Campus Programming Board collaborated with to bring in all those huge national acts to Kent State. Mark Greenberg was also my chief photographer at the yearbook, so this afforded us with very comfortable freedom and access to these events.
"So with just about every concert that came to Kent State, we would get this opportunity to shoot photos close-up, in front of and behind the stage. Several times we volunteered to escort the visiting talent down to the old Student Union Rathskeller in what is now Oscar Ritchie Hall. We got to hang out for a little while with the likes of Frank Zappa and others, and Mark Greenberg even got to get some more candid pictures of these people while they were in town.
"So when we were in these situations, Mark Greenberg made a point out of posing for kind of crazy, hand-shaking grip-and-grin (that's what we called it) photos. And then he would get an autograph from each visiting performer. But Mark always wanted each of these autographs to be a memorable conversation-piece, and so before the Paul Simon concert he had this really great idea where he had to find a little box of Kodachrome film and he wanted Paul Simon to sign this thing. And as I recall once he got this idea, it really had him hustling all over town at the last minute. But in the end he got Paul Simon to sign it.
"That night at the show when I encountered Paul Simon I found that he came off as more of a kind of nervous thoroughbred. He was a bit of a hypochondriac, and I think the article that you saw in the Stater suggested that he was always kind of worrying about 'having trouble with his sinuses' or his 'hurt finger' or whatever. He would use this as a way of psychologically saying 'Well I can't really do my best, so please don't hold me to whatever built up preconception you have about me.'
"So after Paul's concert, Mark Greenberg, Jan Clark (Stater/Burr reporter) and I were just hanging out backstage at the Memorial Gym with Paul’s brother Eddie Simon and Eddie invited us to go back to the University Inn on South Water Street, which is where Paul and Eddie were staying and that's where that Kent Stater interview with Paul took place. Paul's room was on the top floor of the Inn, far left-hand corner as we face the building, but on the back face (presumably because that was a quieter side of the building.) We spent quite a few hours up there just hanging out and at one point it started getting late and everybody was getting hungry, so we wanted to convince Paul to come across the street to Jerry's Diner. At this point it must have been midnight or pretty close to that but Paul was doing his kind of hypochondriac 'What kind of place is it?' 'What kind of food?' And we were all just kind of rolling our eyes because he was being such a wet blanket.
"So eventually Eddie and I went without Paul across the street over to Jerry’s and ya know Eddie was just so similar in appearance to Paul that many people mistook him for Paul. But over at Jerry's Diner, people kind of might have raised their eyebrows there and said good luck or something and they certainly were aware of the show that night but nobody really bothered him. We actually enjoyed our excursion down to Jerry’s and we wound up taking food back to Paul.
"After I graduated from Kent State I kept photographing concerts in the area, whether it was in Cleveland at the Agora or at the Municipal Stadium, and we just had complete freedom in those days being able to run around up front or get up and take photos from behind or any odd angle that I needed to make work. I did the Rolling Stones shows, Paul McCartney and Wings, Queen, The Eagles, The Tubes, Patti Smith, Tom Waits and we did a lot of Springsteen. I got to photograph a lot of the major-name, quality shows at that time.
"We were really spoiled in those days because our access to these internationally known stars was so close-up and intimate that it made me presume that that was what I was going to have for the rest of my life and that's how cool it was to be a journalist. Those were the days before press agents and personal assistants you know — all these barriers that later would sort of keep you away from the artists. I used to be able to call up any venue I wanted and either claim to be from my hometown newspaper or from an organization that didn't even exist and they would just go 'Yeah sure, we'll put you on the press list.' It's certainly not like that any more. Again, in those days we had complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. Although some part of that might have been my nature because if you look later in my career my specialty is always, you know, getting inside, going behind the scenes, being close to people dying and relating to them almost as a family member rather than putting them under the microscope, which just wasn't my style.
"It was just by chance that later in life I started crossing paths with Ed Simon again. In the late 1970s I ended up in New York City and Mark Greenberg and I started a photo agency called Visions, which was located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 18th Street right above the Barnes and Noble building in the Flatiron District. This was also the time that I started teaching at the New School for Social Research where I taught several different masters classes, including Investigative Reporting, Ethics of Mass Communications and Photojournalism up until 1996. The New School (which for a long time was considered one of New York City's best kept secrets) was also only four blocks south from my photo agency. The New School is really a world class university where the best artists, performers, scientists and creative people from all over the world would come to teach. A lot of these giants in their fields would all either be living in New York or just passing through and would agree then to do a teaching gig one day a week (or something like) at the New School, so that if you wanted to take psychology from Carl Jung or music composition from Aaron Copland these kinds of courses were offered.
"So somewhere around 1979 Eddie Simon had his guitar school there and would teach Composition at the very same time that I was teaching my Investigative Reporting class, and I think we even shared the same class period in the same building on Monday nights. So when I would come up the elevator onto the floor, his kids would be gathering and I would stop and say 'hi' for a little bit, and then my class would start 10 or 15 minutes later. And so we remained good friends for several years after."
At the end of our conversation J. Ross Baughman told me to get in touch with photographer Mark Greenberg, as he would have more insight on what happened that night. Mark is responsible for this amazing Chestnut Burr photograph of Paul Simon from that concert, and after making contact this is what he told me:
"At the time that Paul Simon played on campus I was a photographer/photo editor for the Chestnut Burr yearbook. We had pretty much unrestricted access to these kinds of events and at the same time photo credentialing and so forth was not like anything you might imagine today or even 20 years ago. In those days, if you had a couple cameras around your neck you probably had carte blanche. The other thing is that we knew the people who handled security, and this allowed us to always be on stage or back stage when there were big concerts at the Memorial Gym.
"To be totally direct I remember very little about shooting photos of Paul Simon that night. I remember, however, choosing that frame because it was so early in my photographic career that we were always supposed to be paying attention to foreground and background, which helps give a photograph dimension. I liked the idea that the hands were a part of that photo because really the photo wouldn't have been much but the hands actually give the photo a ... it takes you there kind of thing. You are right there with the audience.
"In those days the girls locker room is where the bands' dressing rooms would be, and I can tell you I got to see quite some shenanigans back there. Once I got caught in the middle of a food fight back in that area for a Doobie Brothers show. I remember less about my experiences at the Paul Simon concert than I do the Duke Ellington or Bruce Springsteen shows, but I do remember I was in that main dressing room with another member of the Chestnut Burr who was all excited and I remember Paul Simon being a very quiet guy. There was another guy there who looked just like him, and it turned out to be Paul's brother Eddie and somewhere around that time Eddie owned a company called the Guitar Study Center or something like that. He actually started a whole series of Guitar Study Centers out of the New York area.
"At one point Paul had packed up and gone his way and we were kind of surprised that he and his brother Eddie had split up. Eddie had said to me that he was going back to Cleveland Hopkins Airport and I just offered him a ride, which I thought would be great fun. I had an Oldsmobile Convertible at the time and the three of us just drove up and chatted about the concert and Paul and whatever else one might chat about. That's really my greatest recollection."
A couple of other notes here...
In the Kent Stater interview and in excerpts that appear in the Chestnut Burr yearbook Paul Simon is quoted as saying "I'd really like to put out a live album of the show I did at Kent." As of this writing (and through all of my hunting) I have found no known recording of Paul Simon's performance at Kent State, though if someone reads this and is aware of one I'd LOVE to hear it. And if for some strange reason Paul Simon reads this piece, I'd love for you to search your archives for this possible Paul Simon: Live at Kent State album that you made mention of almost 40 years ago.
Following this tour Paul Simon released a great, yet rarely acknowledged, live album called Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin' which you can hear in its entirety here. Some other interesting artifacts from this tour remain, including a full bootleg recording from the night before (his Kent State performance) in Ithaca New York and an extraordinary piece of a concert film from this period that made the rounds on VH1 in recent years.
Big thanks for all the help on this piece from J. Ross Baughman, Mark Greenberg, Donna Hess, Shane Hrenko, Michael Solomon, Keith Raymond and the Department of Special Collections and Archives, Kent State University Libraries.
In closing, I will leave you all with this classic track from Paul Simon...
If you enjoyed this Kent story don't miss my others here on Kent Patch concerning Bo Diddley, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, DEVO, W.C. Fields, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, George Carlin, Phish, Duke Ellington, Bruce Springsteen and Jackass star Ryan Dunn.