Watch Simon & Garfunkel Play Their Big Central Park Concert (1981)

On Sep­tem­ber 19, 1981, Paul Simon and Art Gar­funkel got up in front of 500,000 peo­ple in New York City and played a show. That in itself sounds per­haps not ter­ri­bly unusu­al, but bear in mind that they put on the con­cert in Cen­tral Park. Even that might not strike you as notable these days, but the ear­ly eight­ies found major Amer­i­can cities on the ropes. Their pub­lic spaces had reached an espe­cial­ly advanced state of dete­ri­o­ra­tion, and com­men­ta­tors often sin­gled out New York as a drea­ry bell­wether of just this sort of aggres­sive urban decay. Look­ing back, to name just one exam­ple, we think of sub­way cars cov­ered, every exposed sur­face both inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or, with a palimpsest of graf­fi­ti. But Man­hat­tan’s Cen­tral Park had only fared a shade bet­ter, and the city found itself lack­ing the three mil­lion dol­lars need­ed to repair and main­tain the now-beloved vast green space. Parks Com­mis­sion­er Gor­don Davis recruit­ed the Queens-raised and New York-root­ed Simon and Gar­funkel to per­form the free ben­e­fit show that would become the album and movie The Con­cert in Cen­tral Park, ded­i­cat­ing the rev­enue from mer­chan­dis­ing and licens­ing to ren­o­va­tion.

You can watch the nine­ty-minute con­cert film above. Orig­i­nal­ly  broad­cast on HBO, it comes direct­ed by New York native Michael Lind­sey-Hogg, direc­tor of many clips for the Bea­t­les and the Rolling Stones (not to men­tion the son of Orson Welles). Simon and Gar­funkel’s per­for­mance, which runs two songs and twelve min­utes longer than The Con­cert in Cen­tral Park the album, includes much of what you’d expect — “Mrs. Robin­son,” “Scar­bor­ough Fair,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Bridge Over Trou­bled Water,” “The Sounds of Silence” — and a bit of what you would­n’t. It also offers a look back to a time when nobody quite knew whether New York City would get out of its slump, a time when Simon’s lyric about “Cen­tral Park, where they say you should not wan­der after dark” made more sense. Despite false starts since, it now seems safe to say that the recov­ery has hap­pened. By the same token, the con­cert itself, despite its suc­cess, proved a false start for an expect­ed long-term Simon and Gar­funkel reunion. But they would come togeth­er again to tour in the ear­ly 2000s, and rumors of pos­si­ble future live shows con­tin­ue to swirl.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed con­tent:

Paul Simon, Then and Now: Cel­e­brat­ing His 70th Birth­day

A Paul Simon Feelin’-Very-Groovy Moment

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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