Words and Music
A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.
In a recent phone conversation, my sister, the Sahmnambulist, was telling me about the road trip her family took from their home in Indiana through the Midwest.
“When we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” she started to say,
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” I interrupted, “Did you see the Paul Simon exhibit?”
“Oh my god, yes! I can’t believe I didn’t tell you about it before! It was amazing!”
“Em, that exhibit is coming to MY MUSEUM!” I exclaimed, because naturally, five months of employment here makes the Jewish Museum of Maryland, my museum.
We went on to talk about Paul Simon, “The Boxer” and Graceland which, inevitably, led to talk about our dad.
In 1986 when Graceland was released, Emily and I were seven and 10 respectively. That year and the several years following, that album was on permanent repeat whenever we were with our dad. I remember conversations with our grandmother about how diamonds on the soles of your shoes would surely scratch the floor (“Mom, it’s just a metaphor,” dad would say). There were very serious conversations between we two sisters, trying to understand the implications of some of the lyrics, (“but why would Betty call him Al? Is that his name or isn’t it?”). The music video with Chevy Chase was both hysterical and confusing (wasn’t Paul Simon the singer? Why was Chevy Chase doing all of the singing?). And there was nothing better than the three of us belting out the lyrics in the car (back then, kids still got to sit in the front seat. I always got shotgun (thanks, Em!)).
Fast forward these thirty years, and Emily and I are both parents ourselves (my daughter is 3, her sons are 5 and 2), and our dad is no longer with us. It’s bittersweet having the ephemera of this album—the soundtrack to my childhood relationship with my dad—coming to my workplace. Dad’s been gone nearly two and a half years now, yet I find myself regularly thinking, “wow, gotta tell Dad about this!” If he were still living, he’d be getting a copy of the exhibit catalogue for Christmukkah this year. (I may buy myself a copy in his honor.)
When Marvin told me about the show (plans were already in the works for hosting this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit when I started at the Museum back in April, 2015), I quickly started to realize just how much of my life is backed by the sound of Paul Simon’s music.
In addition to the Graceland connection with my dad, Mom used to sing me “Feeling Groovy” as a lullaby. As a result, I, too, sing “Feeling Groovy” to my little one (I change the final stanza so that instead of singing “Life, I love you, All is groovy” I sing “Ruth, I love you.” It blew her mind when the song came on the radio and it didn’t have her name in it.)
Like so many other teenagers, I felt angsty recognition in “I am a Rock” and “The only living boy in New York” (even though I was a girl in Baltimore). And I held a grudge for years against the college friend who scratched my “Rhythm of the Saints” CD.
The subtitle of the Paul Simon exhibit is “Words and Music,” two things I deeply love. I love words when they’re used to express and build feelings, to express and build art. I also love music (though I’m not a musician). It’s no wonder, then, that Paul Simon—the master wordsmith and master musician—holds such a special place in my heart.
I’m realizing that he has a similar place in the hearts of a huge portion of Americans. I’m surprised and delighted by the attention that this exhibit is garnering my museum. Whenever I mention that the exhibit is coming, people’s eyes light up—and that reaction seems to independent of race, religion, even age.
And so, as the activity increases and Joanna works with our partners to unpack, arrange, and install the exhibit, I find myself excited and grateful: Excited to see the exhibit and visit with my dad, if only in my own head; grateful to the JMM for bringing me Paul Simon (and by extension my late father) and grateful to Paul Simon for giving more people from all over the region a good reason to come and see what a great resource is here, in my museum.