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Simon & Garfunkel’s iconic 1981 Central Park concert recalled by NYC photographer

“Homeward Bound” brought the audience off their blankets and to their feet.

Mayor Edward Koch, left, greets Paul Simon, center,

Mayor Edward Koch, left, greets Paul Simon, center, and Art Garfunkel at Central Park before the duo's iconic concert on Sept. 19, 1981. Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS / David Handschuh

In 1981, I was asked by The Associated Press to photograph the reunion concert of Queens-born Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. It was a different time.

My camera held black-and-white film, not pixels. Simon wasn’t talking to Garfunkel. Crimes ranging from auto theft to homicide were almost unchecked, and the city was teetering on bankruptcy. Central Park fields were dustbowls and there wasn’t any cash to repair the overgrown bike paths or beautiful bridges — designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux — that were crumbling.

Simon and Garfunkel were enlisted to perform a benefit concert to raise the $3 million needed to start the park’s renovation.

So, with a guitar and two harmonious voices, the melodies and music stopped the city on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 19, 1981. As much as Bruce Springsteen’s music is the sound of growing up in New Jersey and Billy Joel sings for Long Island, Simon and Garfunkel were the sounds of New York City.

“Homeward Bound” brought the audience off their blankets and to their feet. Simon told the crowd “Well, it’s great to do a neighborhood concert.”

Performing in front of a stage that resembled a New York skyline, the duo performed 21 songs.

The young photographer snapped away, capturing historical moments like Mayor Ed Koch, backstage, dressed in a dark double-breasted blazer walking the duo, dressed in black-and-white outfits, toward the stage.

They were all dressed in monochrome to sing “Kodachrome”: their ode to those bright colors and the greens of summers. Even today, in the era of camera phones and pixels, that song stands as the anthem of those of us who capture moments, 1/500th of a second at a time.

So Simon, Garfunkel and Handschuh will have gone full circle over the past 37 years. The boys from Queens will be back home, closing out their tour in Flushing Meadow Corona Park on a Saturday night in September again.

And I’ll be honored to attend, to enjoy the music as much as I did on an early fall evening, decades ago.


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