With it being Valentine’s Day I thought I’d include a song about Salvador Agron, a 1950s Peurto Rican immigrant and New York gang member who, after murdering two innocent teenage boys, was sentenced to death at the age of 16 (later commuted to a life sentence). After being released in 1977, he dedicated the last ten years of his life to warning young people about the dangers of gang membership. Good for him.
That, essentially, is the story of The Capeman, Paul Simon’s ill-fated 1998 Broadway venture. The Songs From The Capeman LP, released before the show, was also a commercial failure but is now mostly regarded as an underrated classic.
Co-written with the poet Derek Walcott, Satin Summer Nights could be a song from West Side Story. It’s all New York rooftops, sweltering evenings, hints of trouble, internal conflict, adjusting to life in a new country and a passionate dialogue between two lovers: Salvador and Bernadette. Beautifully sung by Marc Anthony and Ednita Nazario, the lovers’ passion is intensified by being framed within Simon’s evocative take on doo-wop. So there’s the story itself but, more importantly, there’s also a feeling: the sense of knowing exactly where we are through the calling up of things like West Side Story or The Drifters’ Up On The Roof and even Simon’s own Late In The Evening.
What could have been a Tony and Maria moment, however, is undercut by a third narrator: The Umbrella Man (played/sung by Simon himself). A local gang leader, he pours scorn on Salvador’s amorous pursuits and offers him, instead, a route to masculine fulfillment through violence. It’s a jarring ending to the song which, of course, is there as part of The Capeman’s overall narrative.
But even with that, Satin Summer Nights is a gloriously romantic song. The way Anthony sings “Spanish eyes and soft brown curls/My love, my love/Come to me” could melt even the stoniest of hearts.
Happy Valentine’s Day.