The stars were all visible “Under African Skies” on April 9, when the Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted a gala to honor Paul Simon, who performed a concert by the same name — part of a month-long series entitled “Love in Hard Times.”
After a sold-out crowd watched Simon perform hits like “Graceland” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” with a rotating cast of famous friends including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, pregnant Brazilian singer Luciana Souza and David Byrne — whose cover of “Call Me Al” was one of the night’s brightest moments — they shuffled across Fort Greene’s Ashland Place into a tent to mingle and munch an African-themed dinner.
“We come all the way out to a strange borough to hear these songs,” gushed actor Wallace Shawn, who blushed when GO Brooklyn asked what memories Simon’s songs triggered for him. “I’m sure everyone’s answer is secret, isn’t it?” asked the “Princess Bride” star. “I wouldn’t tell you!”
“Friends” star David Schwimmer was equally coy, flashing a mischievous grin before telling us that the first concert he ever saw was Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park.
A bit less tightlipped was chef Mario Batali.
“I would say that listening to ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ while I was getting ready to make out for the first time in my life would be one of my best Paul Simon memories,” revealed Batali. “But there are thousands because his music has spanned so much time and his records are so good. The first time I ever heard ‘Graceland,’ I’ll never forget that — look, I’ve got goosebumps!”
GO Brooklyn checked. He wasn’t lying.
If Batali got goosebumps just thinking about the songs, what did Byrne — who had to perform alongside his legendary pal — do to prepare?
“I listened to the record, and we had rehearsals, and I sang it to myself over and over,” he said, inching away from us to go dig into the cod fritters that had arrived on the dinner tables. “Paul suggested the songs, and I was very flattered. I’ve been listening to Paul since I was a kid, so they’re kind of in here,” he said, pointing to his head.
But while Byrne played shy, BAM Executive Producer Joe Melillo was happy to Simon’s praises.
“David Byrne, when I talked to him tonight, told me in confidence that it was his goal tomorrow to get his audience standing on its feet when he’s singing,” he said. Byrne had already gotten hoots and hollers for his vocals and adorably awkward dancing — would the audience offer a standing O before the run of “Under African Skies” ends on April 13?
“I think he has the charisma to make it happen,” predicted Melillo.
And as far as his own Simon memories go, Melillo recalled, “When I was in graduate school in Washington, D.C., and I had a lot of marijuana and a lot of wine, I was listening to his music and I just went to another stratosphere.”
Speaking of another stratosphere — and keeping in mind the stir that Byrne’s performance caused — we can only imagine what would happen if Parker Posey got on stage. Pushing flowers from her table’s centerpiece behind her ears, the “Superman Returns” star told us, “I remember being seven years old, in a little white house in Louisiana, and singing ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,’ and just acting it out.”
“How exactly does one do that?” we asked.
“By myself in the yard. When that would come on the radio — that song, for whatever reason, I would just wait for it.”
And what about these days? Does Ms. Posey act out in our borough?
“I say I come to Brooklyn more, because it makes me sound cool, but the last time I was here was a couple weeks ago to see a friend and eat at the Flatbush Farm. I love it here but don’t visit as much as I should.”
And while Simon himself wasn’t feeling chatty, the singer was blowing kisses to the crowd as he and his wife, singer Edie Brickell, left the party, surrounded by their large brood.