THE STORY OF THE CAPEMAN comes from a sensational 1959 news story in New York City. Late one night on August 30 of that year, a teenage gang from the upper West Side called the Vampires went searching for the Norsemen, an Irish gang from Hell's Kitchen. They came upon a group of teenagers who weren't affiliated with any gang, but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. During the rumble, 16-year old Salvador Agron stabbed to death two of these bystanders and fled. He was described by the other kids in the park as a tall Puerto Rican kid, wearing a black cape with a red lining--hence the name "The Capeman." His associate, Tony Hernandez, who allegedly wielded an umbrella during the fight, became known as "The Umbrella Man."

When Agron was arrested a few days later, he apparently showed no remorse. "I don't care if I burn," he said. "My mother could watch me." To many New Yorkers, Agron became a symbol of evil, a symbol of a society falling apart, and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair. At 16, he became the youngest person ever sentenced to death in New York state. Agron's sentence was commuted by Governor Rockefeller after prominent citizens, including Eleanor Roosevelt, made a plea for clemency on Agron's part. They cited the poverty of his existence--not just the dire economic straits of his family, but also his emotional impoverishment.

Salvador Agron ended up serving 20 years in prison and was released in 1979. He was described as model prisoner: he learned to write poetry, became something of a political activist and never again committed a violent act.

He was what the system would describe as "rehabilitated," or what he described as "rehumanized," but nontheless remained identified in the public imagination as "The Capeman." He died in the Bronx on April 22, 1986, of natural causes. He was 43 years old.

"Like many New Yorkers, I remember the Capeman story from my youth. It was the summer between high school and college, and the story was all over the papers and on T.V. I remember thinking here was a kid my age--a kid who had the look. Salvador Agron looked like a rock and roll hoodlum; he looked like the 1950's.

"I began thinking about the Capeman story as the basis for a musical in 1989, while I was working on The Rhythm Of The Saints. It felt like a very New York story with a great musical environment; it raised the possibility of examining changing musical styles as the story unfolded and moved back and forth between Puerto Rico and New York.

Writing songs in a 50s style was very appealing to me, and so was writing songs in a Latin style, which was a significant and sort of exotic New York subculture to me when I was growing up. Since I was working at the time with Brazilian drums and West African guitars, it wasn't too much of a leap to begin thinking about music from Puerto Rico."

-Paul Simon

Songs From The Capeman is the first studio album in six years from music legend Paul Simon.

A Broadway musical version of "The Capeman" adapted by Simon and Nobel prize winning author Derek Walcott opens January, 1998.

Paul discusses The Capeman project (in Real Video)
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