Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Graceland Turns Twenty-Five

"The trailer for the Documentary Under African Skies about the greatest album in the world Graceland and Paul Simons time in South Africa. :)"
—YouTube user MrSirViking explains it well. For more information on the movie, which screened at Sundance and comes out this spring, head thisaway. To listen to 'Graceland,' open up iTunes or travel back in time to a highway in summer.

[Thanks, Nell!]

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I was just listening to Graceland yesterday! I have so many conflicted feelings about that album and the things that Paul Simon did, but it's good music f'sho.


@figwiggin could you elaborate? Not sure if I know what you're talking about...


@BuffyBot Well, I should say the things that he may or may not have done. The dispute with Los Lobos--and even though I think the results of Graceland did some great things for some of the African artists he worked with (Ladysmith Black Mambazo etc.), the whole "World Music" thing makes me feel...complicated. I dunno. I'm not articulating myself very well.


@figwiggin Are you referring to the apartheid embargo that he broke? I know what you mean, but damn, he brought Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a much, much larger audience with this album! I think his is a forgivable sin.


@figwiggin Yeah I've heard of that actually. Very complicated. I would think that if his MO was a music thief you'd hear about it from more bands since he likes to collaborate, but obviously he has a lot more swing in the music industry.
I'd love to meet Paul, partially because I have this dream of getting "This is the powerful pulsing of love in the veins" in a tattoo with his handwriting, but also I discovered last year that a S&G song I loved "Blues Run the Game" was actually a cover of another folk singer, Jackson C Frank.
I looked into him and he had an amazing CD and a really tragic life. I'd love to ask Simon about him in general (they were roommates in London, and Frank died in 1999), but what's weird is that in 1984 Frank tried to get in touch with Simon and wasn't successful. I'd be curious to know if Paul had any idea he was reaching out to him or not, and if so why he didn't respond... If you're looking for an interesting article to pass the time, I'd suggest Frank's wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_c_frank


@Emby True! That's only part of it, and my wibbly-wobbly feelings aren't entirely directed at Paul Simon specifically. Graceland sort of jump-started the whole "world music" thing, which is a weird category in which to put the music basically every country on earth besides the white ones.


@BuffyBot Yeah, definitely. I love a lot of his music--it's so powerful!--but there are these other fringey things lurking around the edges of my feelings that keep them from being pure and simple. Which, you know, is life.



There's a lot of discussion in nerdy music world about how he took popular african songs and re-purposed them into his own tunes(to wild acclaim and heaps of cash) akin to Michael Jackson's "borrowing" Manu Dibango's Mama Se for the end of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"(some info at the end of this article http://www.afrik-news.com/article15846.html) . I am not knowlegable enough to fully explain the Graceland contentions, but it's a more nuanced thing than just breaking the cultural boycott of SA.


@dokuchan Yes! You articulated this much better than I did. On the one hand, he did great things for little-known non-American artists, but on the other hand, he was maybe-probably kind of culturally appropriative? My cultural appropriation radar is much more sensitive than it used to be.


@figwiggin, @emby - I got to see the film at Sundance, and came away with a similar conflict about the politics of the thing. I left being totally in awe of this gorgeous album and the electric dynamic of a collaboration that fundamentally changed American music. But at the same time, I couldn't help but feel kind of icky about Paul Simon and how he clearly thought (and still believes) that his reputation and interests trumped the cultural boycott and the right of the ANC to determine the terms of their liberation struggle. I think that's the first interaction that informs a lot of the cultural appropriation - you can see it in clips where he is re-arranging a lot of Stimela (the band that collaborated with him) songs to suit his needs.

Also, there is this one weird moment where he hints at almost buying into White South African racist ideas about the musicians work ethic and talent, that was... unsettling to say the least. At the end of the day, I do think he saw the process as a partnership and a learning experience, and he greatly respected the artists he worked with (his friendship with Joseph Shambalala from LBM is adorable)- but it also seems like he saw himself as a leader who was 'cultivating' this music for an introduction to a broader audience.

So, yeah, Graceland is the best and Paul Simon as a musician is a gem! Paul Simon as a person, maybe less great.


Paul Simon is my favorite favorite favorite. I see a lot of live music. His Graceland shows during his BAM residency were probs my best show ever


David Byrne + Paul Simon = Magic

Faintly Macabre

@Manatee Have you seen the recent video where the woman shouts out that she learned how to play guitar from "Duncan," and he brings her onstage to play/sing the whole thing herself?


@Manatee I went to Under African Skies and American Tunes! Those shows were amazing. I've seen him & Garfunkel during the "Old Friends" tour in 03, Paul during "Surprise", those 2 at BAM, the reopening of the Beacon Theater (2/14/09), and then I saw his "So Beautiful or So What" show in Philadelphia and Atlantic City - the band for that was incredible!

fondue with cheddar

@BuffyBot I saw "So Beautiful or So What" in Philly, too! MAN, that was a great show!

I have so much love for Paul Simon. He's such a fantastic songwriter, plus I have a lot of great memories associated with his music.

Speaking of cake, I have cake

I've already decided that my chosen listening on my 30th birthday will be a constant rotation of You Can Call Me Al and I Know What I Know

fondue with cheddar


I love that album SO MUCH. I own it on vinyl, cassette, and CD. :)


@skyandgorse I love Graceland, but don't forget about Rhythm of the Saints! I think the case can be made that it's an even better album (but I may be biased because The Obvious Child is one of my very favoritest songs of all time).

Faintly Macabre

@nonvolleyball I'd had Rhythm of the Saints on my computer for ages without really listening to it...and then one day, I discovered The Obvious Child. It's a perfect song.


@skyandgorse Yes! Such good birthday music. At one time or another, basically every song on that album has been my "favorite song on that album." I finally just decided I can't pick one and that they are all my favorite.
However, the video for "You Can Call Me Al" and the line that says "He looks around and around and he sees angels in the architecture/spinning in infinity/and he says Amen! Hallelujah!" are the best ever of anything. The latter part is of course followed closely by just about every line in every verse of "Gumboots."


@nonvolleyball Gun to my head, if you asked me which was the better album, Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints, you'd have to shoot me. I won't answer.


@skyandgorse Try to find this remix...it's a keeper. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgOLk58KqzE


@HeyThatsMyBike That is my favorite line, too! I undoubtedly annoy everyone when You Can Call Me Al comes on, because I point out how great that line is. Every time! But it is just so, so good!


@Smallison I KNOW! I'm not even religious! But it is just so wonderful. Something with the inflection in his voice as he sings it, too. And friends associate that line with me, too, largely because I've also annoyingly pointed out how great it is 300 times to anyone within earshot when that song comes on.

raised amongst catalogs

@HeyThatsMyBike I performed that song at a dive bar's karaoke night for that line and that line alone.


@HeyThatsMyBike Yup, that's the one I always make damn sure I'm singing along to.

Graceland is SO nostalgic for me - I go right back to cleaning the house on the weekends as a kid with my mom and sister, listening to this and the Beatles.

I'm particularly partial to Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, but yea. Each track gets me as excited as the last.


@HeyThatsMyBike I'm not religious either, but yes, Amen, Hallelujah! All the time. And now I'm going to listen to this on repeat for the rest of the day.


@NeverOddOrEven "but they ended up just sleeping in a doorway, by the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway..." made me totally happy to live in my crummy first NYC apartment just off Upper Broadway.

fondue with cheddar

@NeverOddOrEven "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" was my brother and sister-in-law's wedding song. :)

Story time! Shortly after they started dating, she and I bonded over Paul Simon. It was the first time she and I had hung out together on our own. We were driving down to an aunt's house for a Longaberger party, and she told me to pick a CD from her case. She was excited when I picked a Paul Simon greatest hits disc, which contained some tracks from Graceland as well as some great older stuff. We sang along to every song and had a grand old time, so much that we missed our exit and drove a good 20 minutes out of our way. :)


@skyandgorse Also wrt I Know What I Know - the line "She was the kind of girl who could say things that weren't that funny," is one of those that just becomes more and more perfect as I get older and see it more and more often.


@nonvolleyball When I was little I used to dance around to that song in front of my mom's poster of "the girl with the pearl earring." For some reason she looked very "tribal" to me (I was five and she was wearing a turban), so it fit that I should dance for her. In conclusion, great song to dance to when you're five.


@ohmy also a great song to dance to when you're 23 (the age I discovered that album), as evidenced by my doing so frequently all over our apartment--it lends itself really well to rhythmic foot-stomping. I'm sure your mom's Vermeer poster enjoyed the entertainment. :)


My in-laws grew up down the street from the Garfunkels, and one Thanksgiving, they were having a big dinner together, and there's this random dude named Paul at dinner, and everyone was excited because he and Art "just got a song on the radio!" <3

(edited to add - my in-laws also grew up in the same neighborhood as each other - it always makes me think of that couple from When Harry Met Sally)


@Ophelia That story is adorable... they must've been so excited. My former coworker had a story about him being at one of her parent's friends parties when she was really little and dancing with Paul.


@BuffyBot Well, the hilarious part was that no one knew who the hell he was! He was just some friend of Art's. I think this was in the early/mid 60s, so they were recording stuff, but not famous.


This album will forever remind me of my dad and the college tour we took around New England that spring it came out. Fat Charlie the archangel forever!

And just to drive home how old I am, yes, we listened to it on cassette in my grandmother's Honda Prelude.


I've listened to this album on average once a month for the last decade or so. It was one of the first CDs my parents owned. So many good memories associated with this record.

Nicole Cliffe


fondue with cheddar

@Nicole Cliffe DUDE, THE MAN IS A POET.

Sydney C

@Nicole Cliffe It is seriously the greatest album ever.


@Nicole Cliffe As if I'd never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead.


@HeyThatsMyBike: Well, this will eat up a year of my life. And then there's all that weight to be lost.

fondue with cheddar

@Bittersweet Well, I have no opinion about that. And I have no opinion about me.


@HeyThatsMyBike That's my favorite line of the whole album! It always makes my next breath feel a little tighter and more important, if that makes sense?


I probably heard this album twice a week from birth (a months after the album's release) to the age of 10. If I ever get married, I'll probably make my dad dance with me to "That Was Your Mother" at my wedding. "You are the burden of my generation/I sure do love you, let's get that straight!"

fondue with cheddar

@cuminafterall I said good gracious, can this be my luck? If that's my prayerbook, Lord let us pray!


@jen325 "To get a little conversation/Drink a little red wine..."

These are pretty much my main goals in everyday life.

Creature Cheeseman

@cuminafterall That was always my favorite one because Lafayette is my hometown!!

fondue with cheddar

I love Paul Simon's entire catalog. My parents had his Greatest Hits, etc. double album when I was a kid, and it came with a songbook with lyrics and guitar chords. My brother and I would play and sing along often. Intially, we loved the upbeat songs ("Kodakchrome", "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard", "Mother and Child Reunion"), but over time we would come to appreciate the more somber tunes.

I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he'd done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping and he turned around and headed home again

Goosebumps, you guys.


Sort of related - I've found myself listening to Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits constantly this year.
It just exemplifies perfectly how emotional and moving music can (should) be.

Every song. Goosebumps and SO MANY FEELINGS.

At least it weaned me off Middle Cyclone. That was about to get unhealthy.


@NeverOddOrEven I love that album too! The Greatest Hits, I mean (though I also love Middle Cyclone and have listened to that obsessively too.) I remember when I first heard it in high school and then I didn't listen to anything else for a month. The Sound of Silence just blew me away.

And the friend who gave me that album also introduced me to Graceland and about ten other albums that seriously defined my high school years.

fondue with cheddar

@NeverOddOrEven Also sort of related: If I ever do karaoke I will sing "Still Crazy After All These Years". When I was young I liked the tune and enjoyed singing it, but the older I get the more I appreciate the lyrics (which is the case with much of his music). LOVE HIM.


This album reminds me of driving down to the Jersey Shore as a child, sleeping in the backseat with the windows open. Thank you parents for giving me good taste in music.

Also, at age 7, I had white Keds with little diamond-y gems on the top and I used to tell people I had diamonds on the soles of my shoes. Took me awhile to figure out what soles were, I guess.


@Kris10 makes me think about living down the Jersey Shore as a kid :)

The album must've come out just before I was born (I turn 25 in April) and it's interesting because it's woven throughout my life... Dancing to Call Me Al when I was little has evolved to sobbing over Graceland after my parents split up when I was 17... It's definitely my most played album on my iPod and has led to a real appreciation for all his other music.


I never listened to the album until I became obsessed with this cover of Graceland the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR2BFUkBLh4
"she comes back to tell me she's gone / as if didn't know that / as if I didn't know my own bed" ...SO GOOD


@SunnChips That is honestly my favorite cover of any song, ever. I've been listening to Graceland pretty much from birth and love the original, but Casiotone's gives me absolute chills. It's wonderful and eerie.


This whole thread is making me tear up because clearly I have issues but also because Paul Simon's music is so tied to my childhood, and my parents, and high school road trips, and grown up nostalgia, and now I just want to hug it out and play the '91 concert in Central Park album on repeat for the rest of the day.

Tuna Surprise

In the spring of 2003 I went on a roadtrip from NYC to the real Graceland (home of Elvis) with this album on repeat. It turned out to be the last happy trip my husband and I took before we got divorced. But I still love the album. The man knows a thing or two about relationships not making it.


*Splutter* That opening guitar. I knew that riff'd be the first thing on the trailer and it still made me all goosebumpy. This album reminds me of a school trip to New York for a debate conference, and I listened to Graceland for hours while we drove from upstate back to the city. We stopped for a bathroom break and I tried to buy a sandwich from a machine, and the machine ate my money, and even though I didn't even particularly want the sandwich, this made me cry, which in turn made me laugh about the ridiculousness of crying over some 2 dollar machine sandwich. And even though all the other members of our debate team were looking weirded out by my crying/laughing fit, my bff took me outside, laughing herself, and we sat on a bench and she gave me half of her sandwich. This is the weird memory I still associate with Graceland even though I have listened to it a million times since.


@rayray Isn't it crazy how that works? I have so many songs I've heard a million times before and after one specific instance, but then that's the memory that sticks. I love it when that happens.


@BuffyBot Also
"And I may be obliged to defend,
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland"
makes me think of my dog Gracie, I mentioned above the song makes me think about my parent's divorce, and in the midst of that we had to put her down... love the song but just represents an uber depressing time in my life I guess.


I grew up on that album, it's one of my foundational childhood touchstones. Parents of the 80s were playing that tape non fuckin stop. I wish I could give my kid such an immersive experience with a recently released album but I just can't think of one.


Graceland! First: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bHeD73YYyQ

Second: Graceland was a bit of a minefield growing up. My dad was South African and my mom isn't. When this album came out it was a real controversy in our house. When songs would come on, my dad would get mad about the politics of it and my mom would get weepy, having lived there for almost 10 years and coming to love lots of the culture and music. I was mostly confused, being a kid, and whatnot.

When I listen to it now it's special for all sorts of reasons, bittersweet and complicated, and so beautiful. I am really excited to see this!


Can we do Leonard Cohen next?

Zeki Yol@facebook

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