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You Can Call Me Al.
April 12, 2011 12:39 PM   Subscribe

An Ode to Paul Simon's Graceland, now 25. "Here is Simon proving that he could be divorced and soft in the middle and still make an album that put him back on the playing field, and as a center forward. This, too, is why I think the album has been such a mainstay of so many station wagons since the late 80s: It said to those rear ends planted in those drivers’ seats, “Our idols have aged and proven human. They have turned into yuppies like us who smoke weed only occasionally and in comfortable living rooms with Persian rugs and who have kids who play soccer, and that’s okay." Don't miss the covers and rare editions at the the end of the article. Unfortunately they miss Tangoterje's amazing "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" dub edit. Obligatory, the Zimbabwe concert.
posted by geoff. (198 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
3 comments: "Graceland" is a great album. I don't like what he did to Los Lobos. His new album (released today) is quite good.
posted by davebush at 12:41 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I say this with great anxiety, expecting to be made fun of, but I really liked that album when it came out when I was in high school. There was some real poetry in the lyrics that still work.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:43 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was hoping for a sincere and thorough accounting of the exactly how much music was stolen uncredited from the original performers on this record, and not just from Los Lobos.
posted by anazgnos at 12:44 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


Anyone who simply loves music won't mock you, blahblahblah. "Graceland" is a great album.

It's the people who confuse liking music for rooting for your favorite sports team- where there are winners and losers, and you should jeer at anyone who roots "wrong"- who will make fun of you. But the secret is, those people have no musical taste anyway, and are dreadfully unhappy inside.
posted by hincandenza at 12:45 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


the Los Lobos thing
posted by jtron at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


I was hoping for a sincere and thorough accounting of the exactly how much music was stolen uncredited from the original performers on this record, and not just from Los Lobos.

Seconded. Although this is always worth a read if anyone's curious about Paul Simon's legendary dickishness.
posted by dhammond at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now, of course, this is before Ladysmith Black Mambazo went into Outer Space.
posted by inturnaround at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


My first concert was Paul Simon on the Graceland tour. I was six. My brother complained the whole time that he couldn't see over the person in front of him. The experience broke my brain.

Still, the Los Lobos thing is a bummer.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


A note on the Tangoterje: it's another alias of Terje Olsen, aka Todd Terje, who does some amazing re-edits under various aliases.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2011


Graceland has surpassed form and virtuosity to become a touchstone, a thing we go to when we need to be reminded of who we are, where we come from, what we’re about, the things we have in common. In the title song, the place of Graceland is never reached.

This almost makes me dislike the album, because gag.

It's a good album. My father loves it, and used "You Can Call Me Al" to teach his students some basic exegesis skills...he maintains that the dogs in the song are one of the forms taken by the Eumenides, for example.

And that first song seems to me to be a perfect mirror of 20th century colonialism, surveillance and violence. (And I think that "The Cool, Cool River" on Rhythm of the Saints is pretty good too for some of the same reasons.)

That said, I find the structure of some of the songs sort of troubling, like on "Homeless", where the white singer's voice covers over the voices of the African singers, with his voice given authority, individuality and complexity. It spoils what could be a great song...I'm very fond of the ambiguity of "many dead; tonight it could be you" in the chorus.


I got into Los Lobos because I really liked Myth of Fingerprints. I like them better than Paul Simon.
posted by Frowner at 12:53 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Loved the album. I never really got the video for "You Can Call Me Al" video with Chevy Chase.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Los Lobos were not the first people he stole music from. I first noticed it when he 'borrowed' a Butterfield Blues Band tune back in the '60s.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:56 PM on April 12, 2011


Any opportunity I get, I'll spout praise for Art Garfunkel's album, "Everything Waits to be Noticed." It's a gorgeous pop album that deserves way more credit.
posted by davebush at 12:57 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jens Lekman covers "Call Me Al", but not its chorus. Version with better audio but sans the amusing introduction.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:02 PM on April 12, 2011


In the time before mp3s and digital copies, there were three albums I replaced multiple times. Two of them were replacements of tapes that were eaten by a contrary tape deck in an '87 Jetta, the other was Graceland. It first succumbed to the evil tape deck, then it's replacement actually broke from overplay. With the upgrade to cds, the album was "borrowed" permanently by a roommate, stolen out of a car, and accidentally left in the sun.

I come back to Graceland every time like an old friend. I'm older and wiser than when I first listened, I'm not a high school freshman wondering how I'm going to ever be a grown up and feel like this. I really do remember the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart. I understand the impracticality of diamonds on the soles of your shoes but I get why you'd do it anyway. I've seen angels in the architecture and I've been to Graceland.

This is the album I grew up to and I can't decide if I'm pleased and impressed it's held up so well or terrified that it's been 25 years.
posted by teleri025 at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [15 favorites]


We got lasers in the jungle somewhere, staccato signals of constant information
posted by KokuRyu at 1:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paul Simon credits a lot of musicians as song cowriters on Graceland. Steve Berlin claims he was forced to do so retroactively, which I have never heard and can find no evidence of, and I am unclear as to why South African artists are somehow able to legally force Simon to add their name to songwriting credits but Los Lobos cannot.

It strikes me that this is one of the disadvantages of taking the high road, which Simon seems to have done in being relatively tight-lipped about the accusations, except to deny them. I expect they did go into the studio and contribute to the album. But I am not convinced he simply stole a song from them and refused them credit.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I remember when the Los Lobos thing came up before that there were some claims that a lot of the music from Graceland was "inspired by"/lifted from a mixtape called Gumboots of various African musicians. Does anyone know anything about the original album and how closely it resembles Graceland?
posted by Challahtronix at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2011


And to me Graceland is the successor of Gaucho in terms of perfect production.
posted by spicynuts at 1:12 PM on April 12, 2011


Graceland was "inspired by"/lifted from a mixtape called Gumboots of various African musicians.

"Gumboots" was an instrumental by the Boyoyo Boys. Simon wrote lyrics to sing over the top of it, brought the musicians in to rerecord the song, and credited them on the album. The song is number four, and is credit as follows: Lulu Masilela/Jonhjon Mkhalali/Simon
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:16 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a South African friend of mine get me a copy of Gumboots in my first year as an undergrad, and I seem to remember there was a Soweto comp before the indestructible beats of but i cannot seem to find it after a cursory search.

Brilliant album, but horribly colonial, even w/o the Los Lobos concerns.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:17 PM on April 12, 2011


There was, the first volume of The Indestructible Beats oF Soweto was 1985, a year before Graceland.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:18 PM on April 12, 2011


This album and Peter Gabriel's So provided an unusual moment of mother/daughter bonding in my house when I was sixteen; I was playing Graceland and So to death, when Mom dug out something that had been her favorite album in college -- the Missa Luba.

Arguably, if Graceland is colonial, Missa Luba is even more so. But in listening to them all, I'm not sure I want to fret about that kind of thing at the expense of experiencing all that beauty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cannot listen to this album and not feel like I'm stepping into the sunshine, no matter what else is happening.
posted by chatongriffes at 1:29 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Colonial" is a criticism I hear often, but I am not clear on what people mean by it. It's a pretty harsh criticism, especially when applied to the arts, when borrowing influences from many divergent sources is the norm. I could understand the complaint had Paul Simon actually stolen songs from African musicians and passed them off as his own but, Los Lobos accusations aside, he seems to have been fairly scrupulous in crediting -- and paying -- his collaborators, and inarguably the success of the album created an international audience for South African music, and especially bands that appeared on the album, such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee felt that Simon's album didn't breach the cultural boycott of South Africa, because it offered no support for the Apartheid government of South Africa, but instead acted as a showcase for black South African musicians.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:29 PM on April 12, 2011 [16 favorites]


I remember Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, asking Simon about the controversy around Graceland and the notion of cultural appropriation. Simon said that as a musician, he felt like a citizen of the world but, "...if you see me as simply a ballad singer from Queens, then yes, I'm very far from home." I thought he came across like a tiny, evasive twerp.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:32 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paul Simon : the official music of people over 40
posted by Afroblanco at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't really have an opinion either way on the Los Lobos thing, but I would be a lot more convinced if I'd ever heard songwriting from Los Lobos of the caliber heard in The Myth of Fingerprints.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:41 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think that this is like himj performing in Sun City, I know it's different. But I get the sense that Missia Luba and Graceland are doing similar things, the idea of this white protector going off and translating, and absorbing cultures that are not their own for the majority's needs. Lady Smith, because they were dependent on these texts, could not say, hey wait a minute, we don't think this is kosher. IT provided a kind of economic dependency...

The album is brilliant, but it does make me feel a little sour, sort of like how Elvis is fucking genius, and Elvis was as poor as most of his fellows, and his hounddog is a masterpeice, but I dont think he treated Thorton well.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2011


"Colonial" is a criticism I hear often, but I am not clear on what people mean by it. It's a pretty harsh criticism, especially when applied to the arts, when borrowing influences from many divergent sources is the norm. I could understand the complaint had Paul Simon actually stolen songs from African musicians and passed them off as his own but, Los Lobos accusations aside, he seems to have been fairly scrupulous in crediting -- and paying -- his collaborators, and inarguably the success of the album created an international audience for South African music, and especially bands that appeared on the album, such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee felt that Simon's album didn't breach the cultural boycott of South Africa, because it offered no support for the Apartheid government of South Africa, but instead acted as a showcase for black South African musicians.

It's colonialist because it is an album by a white first-world musician who uses the novelty of African music to gain fame--even leaving aside the song-stealing piece. Graceland is billed as a Paul Simon album, for example, not a collaborative album. Paul Simon is figured as this genius synthesizer taking all those miscellaneous, natural, "authentic" black voices and making them into a masterpiece. The songs are often structurally colonialist, in that Simon's voice covers the voices of the African musicians, Simon's role in the song eclipses theirs. It's colonialist because the messages of racial harmony-ish saving of the third world are patronizing and trite.

I mean, I like the album and all....
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


In college, in '85, this album (along with Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, Squeeze's Singles, 45's and Under and whatever Bob Marley compilation album the resident stoners blasted 24/7) were staples in virtually every dorm room at our school. My roommate was responsible for our rooms' copy of this one. I have very mixed feelings about it because he played it so frequently that "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes" kind of made me want to die. Not necessarily the music you want to hear when you've put off writing a 30 page paper until the night before and you need to stay awake.

That said, all these years later, it really is an excellent record.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2011


Afroblanco--
Also of hipsters of a certain age (you can see his influence on Bombay Bicycle Club, Vampire Weekend, some Fleet Foxes, Allo Darlin', sometimes Devandra Barnhart, etc--many of the bands that have the same problems as the original)
posted by PinkMoose at 1:45 PM on April 12, 2011


The beautiful thing about Graceland is the instruments are singing just as much as Paul Simon. Ray Phiri and Bakithi Kumalo on guitar and bass are sublime. It makes you feel like each person has their place in the harmony of it all. Timeless album.
posted by lemuring at 1:46 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I prefer Rhythm of the Saints, myself.
posted by jscalzi at 1:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


can you flesh that out a bit?
posted by PinkMoose at 1:50 PM on April 12, 2011


Steve Berlin: "At the time, we were high on the musical food chain."

I like Los Lobos, mainly because they're from East LA and made good, and La Pistola y El Corazón is just a damn fantastic album, but this claim is kind of outlandish. They were never "high on the musical food chain," even then. Their greatest claim to fame was covering a Ritchie Valens song and taking it to #1.

Paul Simon has been ripping off other people since he was ripping off Martin Carthy in the mid-1960s. He's a talented man, though, and to me, there's no denying Graceland's spot in the galaxy of 1980s pop. He took that thing that Peter Gabriel was doing as far back as the late 1970s and that thing that David Byrne was doing with True Stories and took it to a different level of marketing prowess, if nothing else. And thereafter, much of the pop music that was aiming for the top tried to sound not like Duran Duran's Rio but like Graceland. John Cougar Mellencamp jumped on the bandwagon, so did Tracy Chapman, so did Edie Brickell, so did a lot of others. Even Bonnie Raitt did it. That's a bright line: 1980s pop music before Graceland, and 1980s pop music after.

Unfortunately, Peter Gabriel's So, which did many of the same things as Graceland, only better, appeared around the same time as Graceland -- but it's Graceland that's remembered now, as much for the ethos and the lyrics as anything else.

Afroblanco: Paul Simon : the official music of people over 40

If it's "official," then I'm glad I'm over 40 and not a huge fan of it (nor was I then).

jscalzi: I prefer Rhythm of the Saints, myself.

That and Hearts and Bones were much, much better albums. By far.
posted by blucevalo at 1:50 PM on April 12, 2011


Graceland still gets heavy play here. It would definitely make my top 20 of all time. I've always found Myth of Fingerprints and That Was Your Mother a little out of place, but still great music.

Rhythm of the Saints is a keeper, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2011


You know what annoys me? That Simon is pilloried as "colonial," but Vampire Weekend is "innovative," even though they're pretty much doing the exact same thing Simon did (only without the Los Lobos debacle).

It smacks to me of "your favorite musician is old, and also, sucks."

Note: Paul Simon is not my favorite musician.
posted by dw at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


All of my friends who were born in the late 70's/early 80's grew up hearing this album on long car trips. Our parents all loved it, little kids loved it, and you could play it start to finish without wanting to fast-forward through anything.
posted by Toothless Willy at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't believe it's been 25 years already. I still play Graceland regularly, and there's one little bit of just absolute aural perfection in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" that still catches my ear after all these years.

I rarely listen closely (or at all) to lyrics, and even after two and a half decades, I probably couldn't tell you what most of Graceland's songs are about. That thing about making it okay to be middle age and overweight, at least for me, has absolutely nothing to do with it, since I take so little that's word-based from the songs. It's purely the melodies that keep me coming back.
posted by Malor at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2011


Unfortunately, Peter Gabriel's So, which did many of the same things as Graceland, only better, appeared around the same time as Graceland -- but it's Graceland that's remembered now, as much for the ethos and the lyrics as anything else.

For what it's worth, I listen more to So than to Graceland. Mercy Street, on top-flight equipment, is shiver-inducing.
posted by Malor at 1:58 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vampire Weekend are colonial. They are not innovative. They are still a pretty awesome band.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:59 PM on April 12, 2011


You know what annoys me? That Simon is pilloried as "colonial," but Vampire Weekend is "innovative," even though they're pretty much doing the exact same thing Simon did (only without the Los Lobos debacle).

It smacks to me of "your favorite musician is old, and also, sucks."


They are all colonialist. I don't know anyone who complains about the one but not the other, although I admit I move in PC and complainy circles full of stroppy ex-punks.
posted by Frowner at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


So is a seminal album, and it holds up better than most (although Secret World Live really shows Peter Gabriel at his best). Peter Gabriel is also one of the greatest performers you can see in concert.

But Paul Simon has a 50 year track record as one of the finest pop-music wordsmiths ever. It's not a competition - they're both great.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, I listen more to So than to Graceland.

Same here. Although -- coincidentally to the thrust of the discussion -- I don't recall ever seeing any charges of "colonialism" laid at Peter Gabriel's feet. Maybe because he's also done so much to promote world music on its own merits at the same time (his "Real World" label started up at about this time, he'd been doing WOMAD before this), and while he does use a lot of world music elements in his work, he almost does it...unselfconsciously. It's not like Paul Simon's sort of road-to-Damascus moment where he suddenly heard a Pakistani album and thought, "this! This is what I'll do!" It's more like he was just naturally listening to all sorts of music all along, and it's all just one big pile, and so he sees no reason why you can't use Bulgarian folk choirs and bagpipes and Japanese kettle drums and Sinead O'Connor all in the same song.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


All of my friends who were born in the late 70's/early 80's grew up hearing this album on long car trips

Yep. Probably the reason I can't stand it now but can recite every single song from memory. Over and over and over again, my parents played that one. They almost killed the Beach Boys for me that way too, but luckily they were only into the early surf pop stuff and not Pet Sounds.

It's not a competition - they're both great.

Yeah, but who would win in a fight?
posted by Hoopo at 2:08 PM on April 12, 2011


and there's one little bit of just absolute aural perfection in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" that still catches my ear after all these years.

I'm a little late to a fast-moving thread, but yeah. As much as I want to not like Paul Simon the person, left to stand on its own two feet as a piece of art, Graceland is still a very good and very infulential album, and that song in particular is a little jewel.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:09 PM on April 12, 2011


Los Lobos was certainly a major critical darling at the time, easily the biggest at the moment (among critics, NOT the general audience, although they did get MTV play), when Paul Simon wasn't even been much talked about. We're talking mid-1980s here. "Will the Wolf Survive?" topped critical year-end polls all over the place. In 1989, the still-widely-read Rolling Stone ranked that album at No. 30 of the 500 best albums ever, so their critics weren't yet over it. ("Kiko" from 1992 was a better album, though.) I've spotted, previously, another interview where Berlin talks about Simon talking about how he'd write rhymes with music later, so that's a possibility, but Los Lobos' lyrics aren't so shabby that he couldn't have taken lyrics they started and played around with them, ran with the germ of an idea, etc.
posted by raysmj at 2:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I prefer Rhythm of the Saints, myself.

Also, me too. Smooth and cohesive. I suffer from existential angst and The Cool, Cool River is one of my go-to songs when I'm stuck with ennui and all morose.

Also, also. Kiko. Jesus. Los Lobos write quality music.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here ya go, a discussion that includes a Simon response and the Berlin response to his response.
posted by raysmj at 2:13 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess if nothing else Graceland could be a contribution to the collective proof that bad people can make good art.

I was just listening to the Talking Heads' Remain in Light today. I'm well familiar with most of the songs, but this might have been the first time I'd heard the whole album from beginning to end in a go. It has in common with Graceland the aspect of being produced by American anglos based on African (and Caribbean) music. Other than that, it's totally different: Instead of pasting their own voices over somebody else's compositions, the source material is processed much more finely; the musical environments are different; I described it to somebody earlier today as sounding "Dangerous and fascinating". It sounds far less dated than the music the Talking Heads made in the years following.

There were a lot of western musicians exploring Africa during the late 70s and early 80s. Some artists borrowed, some artists stole. That was the thing they did. Kind of like how the current explosion of hip-hop and dub coming out of Africa in the past few years could be considered returning the favor.
posted by ardgedee at 2:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Gumboots" was an instrumental by the Boyoyo Boys. Simon wrote lyrics to sing over the top of it, brought the musicians in to rerecord the song, and credited them on the album. The song is number four, and is credit as follows: Lulu Masilela/Jonhjon Mkhalali/Simon

I'm not sure where this typo occurs, but that should be Johnson Mkhalali. I have some of his excellent solo instrumental work.

Also, nthing the love for this album. It shares my personal favourite-of-all-time slot with Rumours.
posted by Flashman at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2011


and there's one little bit of just absolute aural perfection

For me, it's when Simon's voice first enters. For all the instrumental genius of that song, when Simon jumps in on a highly rhythmic all-Zulu conversation with his New York-boy voice and his New York-boy delivery and his New York-boy girl problems it's like he fucking invents rock 'n' roll all over again.

Well, not really. But I did want to say that.

I can't participate objectively in this thread. When I first heard the album, I was six. I wasn't over forty, I didn't smoke marijuana even occasionally, I didn't have soccer-playing kids, I would never own a station wagon. The album did, however, tell me everything I needed to hear. Sometimes it still does.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Drew Friedman once did a cartoon for SPY magazine of Paul Simon and David Byrne, in khakis and pith helmets, carrying sound recorders, running across each other in the jungle.
That pretty much encapsulates my feelings about their musical "quests".

I will give Byrne credit for being more dedicated to the concept of collaboration than that theiving Simon. I'll take his "Kodachrome" era, thank you.
posted by djrock3k at 2:24 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to get a lift to high school by a neighbor.
He literally played it every morning (through a decent car stereo) the whole year.

It's hard not to like, but I associate it with good and bad.

Comfy car (no bus!) but old-person-selected, having-to-go-to-school music.
posted by panaceanot at 2:27 PM on April 12, 2011


I can sing this whole album from beginning to end in my sleep. My favorite is "You Can Call Me Al"; I'd sing it with my grandmom, since Al was her nickname.
posted by medeine at 2:27 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Benny Andajetz: "It's not a competition - they're both great."

Here, smash them together and get depressed.
posted by mkb at 2:29 PM on April 12, 2011


I Just put on Rhythm of the Saints for a listen, and this kinda jumped out:

Down by the river bank A blues band arrives
The music suffers but the music business thrives


Oohh -- direct jab?
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2011


Man, this woman wrote a decent essay but needs an editor so badly. So much weak, affected phrasing undermining what could be a strong piece.

Re: Colonialism:

Something that might help you understand it, AZ, is thinking of colonialism in a more economic context. Colonialism was largely about going to undeveloped or under-developed places and setting up a system that would allow the colonizer to extract resources, process them, and sell them across the globe. It's fair to say that Paul Simon went to South Africa, extracted the musical resources, and made a fair amount of money (rebooting his career) off of the raw materials that the musicians he worked with provided.

Now, I think that this model is a lot more abstract when applied to culture, but then, I'm white and first world. I can understand how some people would disagree, especially if they'd had a different experience.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Mississippi delta was shining like a National guitar.

I don't care who you are, that's some fine god damn song writer right there.
posted by Bonzai at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


Paul Simon : the official music of people over 40

Some people over 40 just appreciate good music, whether it's Paul Simon, Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens or Talking Heads. Defining yourself by what you listen to is child's play.
posted by davebush at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


All of my friends who were born in the late 70's/early 80's grew up hearing this album on long car trips.

This was my experience. For my family the Holy Trinity of car-trip music was So the Father (serene, awe-inspiring, impossibly distant--is there a more terrifying pop song than "This Is the Picture"?), Graceland the Son (human, sentimental, sometimes embarrassing but always reassuring), and Stop Making Sense the Holy Ghost ("Take Me to the River"--verbum sat).

We also spent a lot of car time listening to Don Henley's The End of the Innocence, which I guess would be Satan. "If thou beest he--But O how fallen!"
posted by DaDaDaDave at 2:32 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


>I will give Byrne credit for being more dedicated to the concept of collaboration than that theiving Simon.

Although My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and Holger Czukay's Movies... chust saying.

My god, where does it end.
posted by Devonian at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2011


"Paul Simon : the official music of people over 40"

I was dating this girl from Spain, and we were in my room, getting intimate and she wanted to hear some music. I grab the first tape I can lay my hands on and jam it in the boombox, and it's Simon and Garfunkle's Greatest Hits.

"What is this old man music? Turn it off! This is awful!" she starts yelling, and then we have to take a half hour break for her to sort every tape I owned into music that was appropriate for sex and music that should be discarded forever.
posted by klangklangston at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


I like Graceland, but I think Paul Simon's first self-titled album is better. Like, desert island album good. And I'm closer to Afroblanco's age than to 40.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:34 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"This was my experience. For my family the Holy Trinity of car-trip music was So the Father (serene, awe-inspiring, impossibly distant--is there a more terrifying pop song than "This Is the Picture"?), Graceland the Son (human, sentimental, sometimes embarrassing but always reassuring), and Stop Making Sense the Holy Ghost ("Take Me to the River"--verbum sat)."

We brooked no Henley in our car (call it a schism), but this is the church we went to when I was a kid.
posted by klangklangston at 2:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


He tries to rebut by calling David Hidalgo "Hildegger"? Oh dear...
posted by queensissy at 2:39 PM on April 12, 2011


The songs are often structurally colonialist, in that Simon's voice covers the voices of the African musicians, Simon's role in the song eclipses theirs.

I understand some of the colonalism accusations, but what was he supposed to do, sing backup vocals instead of lead?

I spent a couple of hours with Paul Simon when he was making You're the One and was interested in putting some Balinese gamelan on it (the sticking point apparently ended up being that he couldn't deal with the instruments' non-Western tuning). He put a bunch of instrumental songs-in-progress on the stereo and we gamelanists would noodle around trying to find things to put on top of it.

He did not seem particularly engaged, either with the music we were making (there was a lot of "no, I don't like that" rather than "this thing isn't working but maybe we could take it in this other direction?") or with the people involved (IIRC he mostly talked to his handler).

That plus the Los Lobos story makes me wonder how Graceland turned out as awesomely collaborative as it sounds.
posted by dfan at 2:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


The greatest difference between So and Graceland is that So isnt boring, soulless, tepid mush that got canonized largely because the baby boom set needed something to play interminably in the Aerostar. Something that took their minds off how lame they'd become.
Enter "world music", ambassador'd directly to their ears by one of their own and all of a sudden everyone is Tim Robbins in High Fidelity; pretending to give a shit about Johnny Clegg & Savuka and feeling all multi-culti about some bland MomRock that has just enough superficial African ornament hot glued to it that it seems like a real exploration of other forms.

And we are still paying for it today via Vampire Weekend's overrated songpuffs, no doubt triggering some sort of primal recognition in the brains of the very kids who were strapped captive inside those Aerostars 25 years ago.

In summation, Paul Simon is as interesting as a wet Saltine.
"Kodachrome" is a pleasant enough song though.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:40 PM on April 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


"You know what annoys me? That Simon is pilloried as "colonial," but Vampire Weekend is "innovative," even though they're pretty much doing the exact same thing Simon did (only without the Los Lobos debacle)."

White kids at Yale don't give a shit about colonialism, but the rest of the right-thinking blogosphericals slagged VW for being shitty knock-offs pretty quick. As per usual, we were prophets in the wilderness.
posted by klangklangston at 2:42 PM on April 12, 2011


This album is really important to me--I remember my mother spinning me around the room to Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes when I was two or three. I rediscovered it at 13, and then again at 20. I know pretty much all of the words--the lyrics had an indelible impact on my poetry. At 22, I hoped to make a pilgrimage to Graceland (after listening to the song Graceland, natch), because an uncle who kept my father's journal after he died lived in Memphis and I wanted to get it back, but couldn't convince any of my friends to go because, Graceland, euch. "For reasons I cannot explain," I said to them, smiling, "Some part of me wants to see Graceland." Never got to Graceland. Eventually the uncle mailed me the journal. Call me Al is still my karaoke song. It never fails to 1. impress, 2. get people dancing.

I did not know about the Los Lobos thing. Time to go murder my heroes. Sigh.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:46 PM on April 12, 2011


Great line, yes, but the Mississippi Delta (the region south of Memphis) was settled almost entirely after the Civil War.
posted by raysmj at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2011


The songs are often structurally colonialist, in that Simon's voice covers the voices of the African musicians, Simon's role in the song eclipses theirs.

I understand some of the colonalism accusations, but what was he supposed to do, sing backup vocals instead of lead?


Well, supposed....he's not supposed to be resource-extracting among African musicians; he's supposed to be collaborating. If it were a different type of album either the song would be structured differently or the overall meaning of the album would be so different that one song wouldn't matter.

It just struck me one time that on "Homeless" for example, there's supposed to be this meaningful song about humanity and violence and displacement, and the person who is the privileged narrator in the song is the white first world guy, while the actual Africans sing backup. That's like the album in a nutshell, even with the lyrics.
posted by Frowner at 2:49 PM on April 12, 2011


The greatest difference between So and Graceland is that So isnt boring, soulless, tepid mush

I know this is a betrayal to my generation, but "In Your Eyes" meets my definition of boring, soulless, tepid mush. Ditto "Don't Give Up." And God, "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" are so incredibly dated.

"Mersey Street" is transcendent, though. I'll give you that.
posted by dw at 2:49 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, "I Know What I Know" might be my favorite song on the album. Shallow people having pretentious conversations. It's terrific and, after I went to grad school, I saw how searingly accurate it was.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:53 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't heard So in its entirety in a long, long time...but in grade eight "Don't Give Up" was my go-to song when it was time to sit around and mope about the girl I had an unrequited crush on. Oh the pain of it all!!!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoopo: "Yeah, but who would win in a fight?"

Gabriel. Just hold his hand out, elbow locked, on Simon's forehead.
posted by notsnot at 3:07 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Peter Gabriel's height: 5' 10.5"

Paul Simon's height: 5' 2"

Holy shit, he's right.

Source: celebheights.com
posted by tapesonthefloor at 3:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't heard So in its entirety in a long, long time

It's worth tracking down, The Card Cheat. Truly excellent album. The Gabriel fans thought of it as the 'sellout record', deriding it heavily, but they still listened to it at the time, and I bet they still do now. All these years later, it's probably the most easily listenable album he ever did.

I also really enjoyed Passion Sources, which is the original music that he pulled the themes for Passion from. He's present in many of the songs, but typically with the lightest of touches. For those complaining of colonialism (which is all brand-new to me, so I have no particular opinion), I think that's a good example of how to do it right.
posted by Malor at 3:11 PM on April 12, 2011


he's not supposed to be resource-extracting among African musicians

Wait, what? Resource extracting?

Next you'll be condemning Cyndi Lauper for using (quelle horreur!) REAL BLUES MUSICIANS on her Grammy-nominated blues album from last year. You know, resource extracting from whatever-the-fuck-the-blues-may-be-but-isn't-Cyndi-Lauper.

I mean, c'mon. He went someplace and was inspired and wrote music and actually helped make a good number of the people he worked with famous on a global level. It's not like he hid all of them behind pseudonyms or had a batch of white americans learn the style and play on the album.
posted by hippybear at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but who would win in a fight?
Peter Gabriel would tell Paul Simon that he refuses to do violence. Simon would agree.

Gabriel would turn around to leave. Simon would shiv him in the back and blame Los Lobos.
posted by Flunkie at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


All of my friends who were born in the late 70's/early 80's grew up hearing this album on long car trips. Our parents all loved it, little kids loved it, and you could play it start to finish without wanting to fast-forward through anything.

This makes me so glad my parents didn't have this album.
posted by chillmost at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I confess. I liked Graceland.

I also feel this is a great opportunity to give dacre's stellar re-working of "Boy In The Bubble" a shout-out.
posted by Decani at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2011


http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=blue+aeroplanes+boy+in+the+bubble&aq=7

Another great cover of a song off this album.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:26 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never before in my life have I felt that liking Graceland should be a "confession."
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 3:29 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Source: celebheights.com

There is actually spirited debate about celebrity's heights on those pages, and people guessing to the millimeter, as well as discussion of morning, midday and evening heights. Dude.
posted by maxwelton at 3:30 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a fucking awesome album.
posted by fire&wings at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was shocked by how much I liked 'Graceland' when it came out. It was on a tape in the coffeeshop I was working in and I would hear it at least three times a day for the next couple of years. The flipsideof the tape was Byrne's 'Little Creatures,' which stood up to 'Graceland' at first. Over time, though, that album faded out and 'Graceland' as remained, not least due to this line, possibly the best line ever written for a rock song:

The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar

You all are already saying everything I have to offer, otherwise.
posted by mwhybark at 3:34 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Your favorite post-boomer 80's yuppie album sucks.

My favorite post-boomer 80's yuppie album rules.
posted by chillmost at 3:36 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


klangklangston : The main difference is that colonialism involved (and involves) killing people and dismantling their system of government in order to facilitate the extraction of resources.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Simon's role in the song eclipses theirs.

I'm guessing that's because it's his album.

I appreciate Graceland now more than I did when it came out. I was 21 and was into some decidedly non-pop and non-mainstream musical styles at the time. Now I like pretty much everything and, yeah, this is a clean, well produced record with no crappy filler tracks.
posted by rocket88 at 3:44 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Gabriel fans thought of it as the 'sellout record', deriding it heavily, but they still listened to it at the time, and I bet they still do now

Wow, you nailed me to a tee. I'm not being sarcastic at all.

The big difference between Simon and Gabriel is their approach. Gabriel tried really hard in his music to get across that people in Africa were suffering as well as joyous and we should help.

Simon used the music to make bland feel-good music.

Compare literally anything Simon has ever made to Biko. If you don't think there's a difference, it's probably useless to talk to you about culture at all.

All that being said, Simon isn't a monster and Gabriel isn't a saint. They've worked together on African charity events a couple times and seem to respect each other. But Gabriel for a while lived part of each year in Africa, and started several charities, as well as his own world music label. He always put his money where his mouth was.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:51 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not even finding out that Graceland was one of Joe Strummer's favorite albums was enough to make me wanna listen to anymore of it than I'd accidentally heard.
posted by ericthegardener at 3:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't mean to sound like a "your band sucks" kind of person here but I really cannot stand the sound of Graceland. It epitomizes that awful late 80s overpoduced gloss not to mention banal "world music". It came out when I was in high school. And the fact that people ten years younger than me like it today baffles me. I've gone on numerous intoxicated tirades on how terrible it is when some hipster put it on in a bar.
I've got nothing against Paul Simon btw, I think some of his stuff is good and I don't care about whether he did or didn't give credit to African musicians in the making of it.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:57 PM on April 12, 2011


I'd actually agree that it sounds overproduced. But Paul Simon is such a lyrical genius that I've never really cared.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:03 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I've gone on numerous intoxicated tirades on how terrible it is when some hipster put it on in a bar.

Really? Hipsters play Graceland in bars?
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:05 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Paul Simon : the official music of people over 40

No way dude. Admittedly I started liking him about 13 years ago...so I was late to the show.

But its good shit for everybody....

except hipsters. you stay away with your oddly-defined irony.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really? Hipsters play Graceland in bars?

Pendy's Law: whatever you think hipsters don't play in bars is what hipsters play in bars. This remains true even if you account for Pendy's Law.
posted by penduluum at 4:11 PM on April 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Next you'll be condemning Cyndi Lauper for using (quelle horreur!) REAL BLUES MUSICIANS on her Grammy-nominated blues album from last year. You know, resource extracting from whatever-the-fuck-the-blues-may-be-but-isn't-Cyndi-Lauper.

Funny you should mention that, because Lauper recorded that album in Memphis with Memphis musicians and by all accounts was a complete bitch to everyone she came into contact with.

At 22, I hoped to make a pilgrimage to Graceland (after listening to the song Graceland, natch), because an uncle who kept my father's journal after he died lived in Memphis and I wanted to get it back, but couldn't convince any of my friends to go because, Graceland, euch. "For reasons I cannot explain," I said to them, smiling, "Some part of me wants to see Graceland." Never got to Graceland.

Next time you're in the neighborhood, memail me and I'll take you to Graceland. It's awesome.

Also, I like Graceland, the album, but fucking hate Vampire Weekend.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:12 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Pendy's Law: whatever you think hipsters don't play in bars is what hipsters play in bars. This remains true even if you account for Pendy's Law.

That's the best Zen Koan I've heard in quite a while.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:15 PM on April 12, 2011


Really? Hipsters play Graceland in bars?

I've been hearing a lot of Graceland mixes (Hot Chip in the article, Todd Terje, etc.).

Of course I was in this super hip hipper hip hip bar in New York (I want to say "Milk & Honey", it was in Greenwich and had no sign and everyone there wore shoes from the future). Everyone was like, super hip. Anyway they played nothing but Muppet movie music. It would have been a cool bar, if they had varied it up or dubbed up the mixes, but just straight Muppet songs. It was a bit surreal. There are also some crazy weird rules, all I got out of it was that people were trying really hard for $15 drinks.
posted by geoff. at 4:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Pendy's Law: whatever you think hipsters don't play in bars is what hipsters play in bars. This remains true even if you account for Pendy's Law.

This would mean hipsters enjoy and play all music, and cannot be defined by what they hate.
posted by ardgedee at 4:22 PM on April 12, 2011


This would mean hipsters enjoy and play all music, and cannot be defined by what they hate.

That's pretty much true, as 'hipsters' is pretty much a catch-all for anyone you hate these days.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:27 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hipsters: the ill-defined minority it's socially acceptable to denigrate on the internets.
posted by panaceanot at 4:27 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


This would mean hipsters enjoy and play all music, and cannot be defined by what they hate.

You can find people who you would call hipsters (and be right), who also like any given kind of music. I have watched the Lawrence Welk show with hipsters while they talked about the quality of his accordion.
posted by penduluum at 4:28 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obligatory: Los Lobos uncensored skewering of Simon from the time they worked with him for a few tracks on Graceland.

You know, for the Zy-Deco music.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:33 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody talks about Welk's accordion playing. But Myron Floren was the shit.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:37 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I played the grooves off this when I was in high school. It just grew and grew on me, the more I heard it.

My parents were fond of it too, which was kind of a first, and made me feel a little weird. As as a bit of an experiment, I gave a copy to my grandfather for his birthday. Turns out he loved it as well.

So there we were one day, all of packed into my grandfather's car, stuck in traffic on the freeways of Houston, three generations of white, middle-class southern midwesterns: my ultra-conservative grandparents (the type who called Martin Luther King Jr. a "troublemaker"), my Republican but *relatively* progressive parents, and my geeky, misfit, soon-to-realize-he's-queer self -- all grooving out to the copy of Graceland in the car's cassette player.

That's something. I'm not sure what exactly, but it is something.
posted by treepour at 4:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Wait, what? Resource extracting?

This!

"Resource extracting" hardly started with Simon, and and he's faaaar from the worst offender. I can appreciate that Los Lobos felt they got stiffed of credit during their collaboration. But c'mon.

FWIW, Graceland never really made the cut into my regular circulation. Interesting that it's being compared to So here, another one that never made the cut. The one that really did it for me, setting that kind of 80s direction was Peter Gabriel's third album (melting face).
posted by 2N2222 at 4:46 PM on April 12, 2011


I was born in 1980 and I grew up with this album. I still have it, still listen to it occasionally, still love it. I also love early U2 even though Bono eventually turned into a giant pair of sunglasses with an even bigger ego. I'm okay with all of that. The music is a little part of who I am.
posted by kate blank at 4:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what I've learned from this thread:

1) A great many people who like Graceland think the lyrics are neat, and if that Los Lobos thing is true, it's terrible, but the album still sounds neat.

2) A great many people who dislike Graceland think it is objectively terrible and anyone who likes it is not allowed to talk about music, and is probably terrible.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:04 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


I can't believe no one's posted the Willie Nelson/Paul Simon Graceland duet.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:06 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arguably, if Graceland is colonial, Missa Luba is even more so.

This history of rock and roll (the Beatles and Zep spring to mind) is an exercise in colonialism and cultural appropriation. But it's only music, and you like what you like.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:06 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Graceland is a good album. But not that good. Plus it spawned a whole lot of easy-listening-with-ethnic-instrumentation that's refferred to as 'world music,' by dipshits.
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I quite liked Missa Luba. But I didn't find out about it until after I had discovered Misa Andina, which is pretty outstanding all around. (Which then led me to discover Leonard Bernstein's Mass, which is something else entirely.)
posted by hippybear at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I've gone on numerous intoxicated tirades on how terrible it is when some hipster put it on in a bar.

Really? Hipsters play Graceland in bars?


Really? Hipsters go on intoxicated tirades in bars?!

I don't know, Liquidwolf. Like I said, I kind of hear what you're saying about his music sounding overproduced. But I also can't help but feel like there's something about this album that's a litmus test to whether you allow for the possibility of, I don't know, unabashed joy and goodness in your life (again, recognizing its flaws and the problems with Simon's colonialism). I realize that's hyperbolic, but there are certain things I've heard people kvetch about being overrated--this album, or, say, The Beatles, or Shakespeare--that just kind of makes me shake my head. It's not overrated. It's perfectly rated!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


BErnstein's Mass was one of the most religiously vital momemnts of my life.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:25 PM on April 12, 2011


Any album that however indirectly led me to My Son by Wasis Diop did a good thing in my book.

I still remember our school's music teacher giving us extra credit for staying to watch the whole concert video, something I would have done at the cost of demerits.
posted by nomisxid at 5:32 PM on April 12, 2011


Astro Zombie: "Gumboots" was an instrumental by the Boyoyo Boys. Simon wrote lyrics to sing over the top of it, brought the musicians in to rerecord the song, and credited them on the album. The song is number four, and is credit as follows: Lulu Masilela/Jonhson Mkhalali/Simon

There's supposedly a "Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits" (sometimes listed as vol. 2) mixtape that was given to Simon that inspired Graceland, I was curious as to how similar the two albums are. "Lifted" probably wasn't the best word to describe it, I meant "did he basically rework this mixtape?" not "did he take their songs without attribution?".

I'm of the "good music is what you like" school, trying to describe why you like what you do is typically futility. the "World Music" section usually has Fela Kuti as well as Tuvan throat singing.
(I like Graceland)
posted by Challahtronix at 5:36 PM on April 12, 2011


This album came out shortly after my parents divorced and we moved to Mississippi. My dad remained in Arizona, and the highlight of my year was shaking off the culture shock of living in the deep south and flying back out west to see him in the summertime.

For me, Graceland is a time machine, because just hearing those opening wheezing accordion chords instantly takes me back to the hot dry Tucson summers and swimming pools and the smell of roasting car vinyl and lemon Eegees and cruising through the back streets around the U of A campus with the windows down and this album blasting.

I said take this child, Lord, from Tucson, Arizona, give her the wings to fly through harmony, and she won't bother you no more.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:46 PM on April 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Remember "The Boxer"? Fine early example of Simon using music from another culture. He's always mined other cultures. I can't speak to the Los Lobos scandal, I wasn't there, I don't know what happened. But I do know a bit about the Ladysmith deal. Can we please place this into context? The group was VERY HAPPY and VERY PROUD that their music was being taken seriously in the so-called First World. They rightly believed that the album would mean greater exposure, not just for them, but for all African music. It was a taster, an introduction for those who had never heard the like. And the album enabled many groups to then sign distribution and/or recording deals with international companies, because there was now an audience.

And the concert in Zimbabwe? VERY BIG DEAL. You must remember, it wasn't very long after Rhodesia had finally collapsed, Canaan Banan and Robery Mugabe came into power, there had been horrific internal struggles (remember Fifth Brigade/Matabeleland/ZANU/ZAPU), while many whites had fled to South Africa so the economy began its descent into hell. Simon was adamant that tickets to the concert be cheap enough so they were available to the black population. There was dancing in the streets at the announcement. I'm not kidding. In the days leading up to the concert, security was a nightmare, with so many flocking to Harare to witness the big event, which spelled international cultural and political and racial acceptance to Zimbabwians.
posted by likeso at 5:55 PM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Canaan Banana *sigh*
posted by likeso at 5:56 PM on April 12, 2011


Robert Mugabe

(for crying out loud)
posted by likeso at 5:58 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What other culture does The Boxer use music from?
posted by Flunkie at 5:58 PM on April 12, 2011


Peru.

The Boxer, aka El Condor Pasa
posted by likeso at 6:00 PM on April 12, 2011


The Boxer, aka El Condor Pasa

"El Condor Pasa" and "The Boxer" are both on the album Bridge Over Troubled Water, but other than that they are unrelated.
posted by dfan at 6:03 PM on April 12, 2011


She said losing love is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow...

posted by tuesdayschild at 6:06 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hmm, granted, was thinking of the live versions, in which Peruvian flutes were used in both. Still, early example stands.
posted by likeso at 6:07 PM on April 12, 2011


I wonder how "Porgy and Bess" fits into this.
posted by Trochanter at 6:16 PM on April 12, 2011


I think it's a waste of time to listen to this album (well, at least the lyrics anyway) until you're 40 years old.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:17 PM on April 12, 2011


I think it's a waste of time to listen to this album (well, at least the lyrics anyway) until you're 40 years old

I've been listening to it since I was 15 and my first love gave it to me as a gift right when it came out, knowing that I was totally smitten with Simon and Garfunkel, whose albums (from my parents' collection) I would play every day after school in my room, on a cheap turntable from Sears. I have loved it ever since; it has never aged for me.

But yeah, now I'm 40 and I love it even more.
posted by ericost at 6:46 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Recently, in the sidebar, there's a wonderful linked comment by cortex on the subject of music criticism:
There's a lot of this sort of detached entitlement out there. It's certainly not unique to music, but listening to music is such a universal experience, and as crafts go music-making such a common outlet, that it's that much more visible when "I want content generated to my tastes" collides with "I'm making something with my bare hands" in such a way that the folks in the more passive former camp feel somehow totally comfortable asserting the high ground on the people in the latter.

Personal taste is personal taste and everybody's got a right to it; criticism is useful, at least when it's useful. Beyond that, though, there's a lot of Why Am I Not Being Correctly Entertained out there in the world that manages to get off the leash for no good reason, and from the doing-the-work, learning-the-craft, making-the-content side of things that does get awful tiring.
To which I'd like to add some thoughts on this so-called "musical colonialism".

First off, saying this is musical colonialism is literally the same thing as when LaRouchers liken Obama to Hitler. In fact, I'm really surprised that people allow such an ugly concept to linked to art. You say Paul Simon is like a colonialist? You are using a false analogy, a logical fallacy. And like the Obama=hitler crowd, you sound like an idiot.

Music can best be viewed as being like an organism and having memetic properties. There is no such thing as "original" music, it's like the chicken and the egg.

Did Fela Kuti created an entire genre of music? No, he took American funk and James Brown's sound and put a Ghanian beat and structure behind it. And similarly, Paul Simon didn't create anything new here, duh, though he strung together existing sounds and compositional styles in a new and interesting way. Each of these artists evolved a sound from other existing styles - they stole no more than Chuck Berry did from T-Bone Walker.

Paul Simon is an American song writer firmly steeped in American song writing styles. So why should it come as a surprise when he takes South African melodies and frames them in an American manner? And if you really think this is wrong, why not levy the same "music stealing" accusations against Fela Kuti?

Also: Rhythm of the Saints. Though, to be honest, I prefer my sounds with more doooooom
posted by special agent conrad uno at 6:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


I'm also one who thinks Graceland is great but Rhythm of the Saints is even better. Better music, better tunes, better writing.

And I have absolutely no time for anyone who complains about "musical colonialism." If you view music primarily as some scarce economic resource that we have to be careful not to "exploit" then your worldview is so different I don't even see how to have a conversation with you.

If someone takes some music you wrote, adds something to it, and produces something beautiful, something that other people enjoy, and your primary reaction is not happiness but a possessive determination to make sure you get all the credit and money that you "deserve," then I have a very hard time recognizing you as a real musician.
posted by straight at 6:57 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But Gabriel for a while lived part of each year in Africa, and started several charities, as well as his own world music label. He always put his money where his mouth was.

Not to mention that Gabriel was instrumental to the founding of Witness, one of my favorite not-for-profits that no one knows about: WITNESS was born in 1992, becoming an independent nonprofit organization in 2001. WITNESS has since trained and partnered with hundreds of human rights activists to utilize video in their respective campaigns.

I met the woman who was the Director of Witness.org in 2001 at the Doubletake Documentary Conference. The videos she screened from Bosnia brought the conference to its knees. And I've been a fan ever since, especially of the work they do smuggling video out of countries where human rights are violated and getting them archived for use by the ICC. Peter Gabriel has a LOT to do with why/how Witness.org has helped to bring criminals to justice. More information on their blog about their work on behalf of Human Rights.

Paul Simon's lyrics on Graceland are transcendent. But if he had to be forced to credit some of the songwriters and musicians on the album, well, that is a shame. Because he could have been more collaborative and still have gotten credit for a magnificent piece of work without all of this bad backstory.
posted by jeanmari at 7:00 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Okay the whole musical colonialist thing is weird. Leopold II was a colonialist. Things he did:

1. Ordered villagers massacred and maimed for not meeting rubber collection quotas.
2. Forced Britain, who practically invented the concept of colonialism, to pass a resolution against Belgian colonialism.
3. Created such distortions in the Congolese economy that repercussions are still being felt to this day.
4. Drafted natives into slavery in campaigns to, get this, end slavery.
5. Prompted Joseph Conrad to write Heart of Darkness.

Paul Simon is a musician, his crimes against Africa are as follows:

1. Singing over his backup singers.
2. While crediting African songwriters in the liner notes, calling it a Paul Simon solo album instead of, say, Paul Simon and Friends.

I'm not simply being facetious. Colonialism is a really loaded term. I can't imagine a tour of Africa, with African artists and widely regarded by a Good Thing by all contemporary sources at the time (UN, etc.), can be regarded as musical colonialism.
posted by geoff. at 7:26 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


I was 12 when Graceland was released. Loved it then. Love it now. A few years ago I ranked my favorite albums of all time and it came in at #20. Apart from being a great album in its own right, it also inspired me to learn about different styles of music and artists I would not otherwise be aware of.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:28 PM on April 12, 2011


One other observation regarding Paul Simon being a asshole who is difficult to work with is that it seems more appropriate that Chevy Chase appeared in the video for "You Can Call Me Al" since Chase is also a notorious asshole who is difficult to work with. I guess like finds like.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:31 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW, colonialism is an accepted term in literary criticism, philosophy, etc. I think when people are referring to Graceland as 'colonial' they mean it in the sense of postcolonial theory. I don't think it's an inappropriate term to use in a discussion of aesthetics and art.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:33 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Count me in as one of those who totally reject claims about theft and colonialism leveled at Paul Simon regarding Graceland, not only after countless hours spent discussing it in academic and non-academic sessions, but also after living through the earliest accusations in real time.

The topic came around again recently on MetaChat, with specific regard to the Los Lobos accusations, and my comment there was this (some light editing done here in the excerpt):
I think Rhythm of the Saints and Hearts and Bones were great work. I also followed the Ladysmith Black Mombazo thing pretty closely and have revisited it in lots of discussions through an ethnomusicology/colonialism lens, and though it was certainly complex I don't agree that it was exploitive, and it has certainly changed that group's trajectory as well as music history [some stuff here about LBM's subsequent successes attributable to their exposure on Graceland].

In addition, this musical-borrowing mode is one Simon had experimented with in his work with the Dixie Hummingbirds on "Loves Me Like a Rock," in producing "Mother & Child Reunion" with members of Jimmy Cliff's band and Toots and the Maytals, or the use of the Afro-Cuban drumming pattern mozambique on Late in the Evening. Or even just the free draw he and Garfunkel took so early on from New York street-corner singing, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly, or a little later from Dylan and the Beatles.

I go to bat in a pretty serious way for the ability of musicians and other creative artists to exchange, borrow, '"steal," reuse, and redevelop music as freely as possible, in recorded contexts just as they do in vernacular contexts, and it would be hypocritical of me to take this one instance and argue that it was wrong and should never have happened. It's not that it happened, but the way it happened - with poor communication and mismatched expectations, I suspect - that's problematic. And there ended up being some strong money involved, which always complicates issues of authorship and ownership.

...

I mean, I'm sympathetic, but it looks like what happened with "The Myth of Fingerprints" is sort of ambiguous. It seems to come down to the basic issue of a writing credit (and the concomitant residuals). Wikipedia gives this response from Simon:

"I just said at this stage I don't care whether the album comes out without Los Lobos on it. I was getting really tired of it—I don't want to get into a public slanging match over this, but this thing keeps coming up. So we finished the recordings. And three months passed, and there was no mention of 'joint writing.' The album came out and we heard nothing. Then six months passed and Graceland had become a hit and the first thing I heard about the problem was when my manager got a lawyer's letter. I was shocked. They sent this thing to my manager, not me. If there was a problem, they could have contacted me direct. They've got my home number; we talked a lot. If you ask me, it was a lawyer's idea. You know, 'The record's a hit, and there's $100,000 in it.' They had nine months from the recordings to talk to me about all this, but I heard nothing. And it's still not sorted out, because they still keep bringing it up—I heard they'd done this interview for you. I don't want to get into a public slanging match with them, because I really like their music." [3]

Is Paul Simon, in person, an asshole? Probably. He's been famous since he was a teenager and probably has a very overinflated sense of his own importance - there seems to be plenty of evidence for that. Did he make a lot of mistakes in the way he coordinated the production of Graceland? Yeah, I would say so. But the type of project he was doing was totally unprecedented. Certainly, David Byrne and Ry Cooder and T Bone Burnett and everyone else who followed in these footsteps did it better and more wisely. I think that Simon kind of clomps around like a gorilla, focused on the product and not really sensitive to the nuances of collaboration, especially cross-cultural collaboration. Music producers have come a long way in this regard - paternalism hasn't been at all a stranger to the development of a world music scene, recording, folk festivals, or any other place where mixing occurred until pretty recent times. I've seen it evolve even in the last twelve years at a folk and indigenous sea music festival I've helped coordinate. Others have learned from this and done better. But there is not enough here to convince me to disparage Simon's entire catalogue or his overall contribution to the development of Western pop music. Like any artist with a 40-year career - and that's a small club - he has won some and lost some in terms of overall project quality, sure. But I think as far as evaluating all of his collaborative work, its successes and failures, that the story is pretty complex, has a larger context that takes in widespread concerns about collaboration and borrowing and the invention of creative work, and is probably not easily reducible to "Simon stole."
There's some kind of strange irony in that it's generally the same sectors of people who want an end to sample licensing, critique the music business, advocate open source everything, opine about cross-cultural influence, appropriation and collaboration in the development of every single musical form of the last two centuries, and support free culture for most art forms are eager to take up the "Colonial" torch against Simon for one album out of an entire career, - no, wait, an entire musical genre - built on nothing other than borrowing and building on what's been borrowed. It's a broken-down bandwagon. Isn't it time, 25 years later, for a bit of a wider perspective on this issue?

And for those of you who loved Graceland and/or Rhythm of the Saints, you will definitely want to pick up the album he released today, So Beautiful or So What. It's definitely the best since that era, if not a contender for best after Graceland. I listened to it for several days running on NPR First Listen and it's well worth purchasing the whole album. Really fine work you won't want to miss if you like this approach!

A sampling:

Afterlife
Getting Ready for Christmas Day
Rewrite - live on Jimmy Fallon - good performance but lacks some of the snap on the recorded version
posted by Miko at 7:38 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Peter Gabriel on covering Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble". Paul Simon on covering Gabriel's "Biko".

Here's Gabriel's haunting cover of "Bubble" (performed live at the WOMAD festival).
posted by New Frontier at 7:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


And here's the album track of Simon's "Biko" cover.

And here's the album track of Gabriel's "Bubble" cover.

Both are fantastic.
posted by New Frontier at 8:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to take this moment and gore everyone's ox by suggesting that the only reason Graceland was so highly regarded by the Dockers crowd was because 1986 was a really shitty year for significant album releases.

Also, this:
it spawned a whole lot of easy-listening-with-ethnic-instrumentation that's referred to as 'world music,'

Finally, your favorite culture-appropriating plagiarist sucks.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:26 PM on April 12, 2011


I want to be clear that despite agreeing with some tenents of post-colonial theory, I wouldn't accuse Simon of that. Troubles with Los Lobos aside, he really did a fine job of crediting his African partners. Ladysmith Black Mambazo probably tripled the size of their global audience thanks to that record, and they've plowed a lot of cash back into SA, as well as being an excellent ambassador for non-white culture from SA.

I don't think Simon should be pilloried (at least not for this album), and I don't think anyone should stop listening to it if they enjoy it.

But I really disagree with treating it like it was some kind of cultural breakthrough. It was a compression of what a lot of other pop artists were doing with African artists into a bland enough pablum to appeal to virtually every citizen of the Western world. It's a painfully nice album. That's not a crime, but it's not exactly art.

It's an album that a ton of people have stories about connecting with their parents with. Okay. Doesn't that make you a tiny bit suspicious? My parents and my grand-parents used to like to sing 'Yummy Yummy Yummy' together because it reminded my grand-parents of WW2 era songwriting.

Simon has always reminded me of the Douglas Adams description of Earth. 'Mostly Harmless'

(I'd also like to take a moment to champion the best thing Los Lobos members ever did. Check out the two Latin Playboys albums. Killer.)
posted by lumpenprole at 8:28 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


it spawned a whole lot of easy-listening-with-ethnic-instrumentation that's referred to as 'world music,'

I don't think this is a legitimate reason to dislike something. I mean, E. E. Cummings spawned several generations of people who think that abandoning the left margin and conventional spelling makes inane word soups into profound poetry, but E. E. Cummings is still stone-fucking awesome.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:29 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the type of project he was doing was totally unprecedented.

It wasn't even unprecedented in Simon's own previous work, which you cited, unless you're talking pure mileage/distance down to South Africa. People travelled across the globe to do pop music work before Simon did, or brought people from other parts of the world to do their thing here that either mixed American and international styles or formed some strange hybrid. And Los Lobos is from the United States, as were Rockin' Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters, so why does the breathless "unprecedented" label matter at all in the cited Los Lobos case?
posted by raysmj at 8:33 PM on April 12, 2011


To close the Peter Gabriel covering an artist mentioned in the thread loop, Peter Gabriel (and Hot Chip) covering Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa."
posted by dw at 8:45 PM on April 12, 2011


While Googling about, I discovered that the Boyoyo boys apprently had no beef with Paul Simon, but apparently they did sue Malcolm McLaren in 1983 for sampling from their song Puleng to create the song Double Dutch.

After falling in love with Graceland, in my freshman year of college I started listening to township kive, and still have my bootleg cassette of a great record called Mahlathini: Lion of Soweto. Anyone who thinks Simon "lifted" township jive rather than reworked and reinterpreted it, you should listen to some that hasn't been through the hands and ears of American producers.

There is no turning up Gumboots in the original on the internet, at least not tonight, and it appears more avid detectives have discovered neither that original track or any trace of the compilation that inspired Simon to begin working with South African musicians. Here's some other Boyoyo boys, though.

But the type of project he was doing was totally unprecedented.

Ooh, attempted zing! The type of project - an ambitious and very consistent-sounding full-length album, based on blending contemporary urban American lyrics and vocals with African and African-diaspora lyrics - hadn't been done to my knowledge, unless you know of one. As you note, I well understand that nothing about musical cross-pollination and collaboration was new, but consciously building it into a major concept-based pop album involving multi-continent live and studio collaborations with artists from a variety of traditions and then putting in wide realease arguably was. Unless you know of an example of that prior to 1986.

Like the album or don't like it, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with considering it an artistic and cultural achievement...or a precedent setter.
posted by Miko at 8:48 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Paul Simon is a definite colonialist. I once saw him in the East Village wearing breeches and a tri-corner hat.
posted by dr_dank at 9:08 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


You implied that the way in which the recording was made or what he was doing was unprecedented from the standpoint of the recording or artistic intent. That's different from saying he made an artistic statement that was of a singular nature. If you think so, that's cool, I think it's great album but I don't think the Los Lobos or Rockin' Dopsie numbers were new or un-frickin'-precedented in the slightest.

I just wasn't familiar with South African styles of music, so I can't really judge. What I heard was fresh and new to my ears. If the Los Lobos or Rockin' Dopsie numbers sounded exotic to you upon first listen, and you live in the US, you'd been missing out previously. Maybe I'd been missing out re the South African music, but it wasn't accesssible to me, and zydeco and the Wolves were. But otherwise, it wasn't that bold or that new, in regard to recording with people from out of the United States or Europe (hello, bossa nova and Getz with the Gilbertos and Jobim), or experimenting with burgeoning international folk or, say, Afro-Cuban or Latin styles with musicians known for working in those styles or genres.
posted by raysmj at 9:15 PM on April 12, 2011


"Paul Simon is a definite colonialist. I once saw him in the East Village wearing breeches and a tri-corner hat."

No, no, that was Paul Revere (and the Raiders), not Paul Simon.
posted by mwhybark at 9:33 PM on April 12, 2011


"Ooh, attempted zing! The type of project - an ambitious and very consistent-sounding full-length album, based on blending contemporary urban American lyrics and vocals with African and African-diaspora lyrics - hadn't been done to my knowledge, unless you know of one."

I largely agree with you, Miko, though I think this isn't a good way to define "Graceland" without doing a lot of jiggery-pokery with "urban" to only mean "white urban," or have a default assumption of white pop form as normative, because anything from "The Harder They Come" to "There's a Riot Going On" to "Songs in the Key of Life." The internationality of "Graceland" and the scope of it were remarkable, but at that point, you're down to a pretty complex statement of why it's not just good but also notable and not problematic.

As for concerns over sampling in general, I think it's always worthwhile to be skeptical of appropriations by those in power from those not in power.
posted by klangklangston at 9:40 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


i was listening to graceland last night - it's good, but a little too cleanly produced to have the oomph of a lot of the music it's patterned after

i think what paul simon did with the opening of opportunities to s african musicians was a good thing - and represented something beyond their music industry was offering them

if that's "colonialism" it's still better than being ignored and poor

but i'll shut up now and post links to the songs of the dark city sisters, who were the precursors to mahlathini and the mahotella queens -

shala shala twist (with mahlathini)
ngiboniseleni
tap tap ntshebe
amangwane amyame
change jive bafana

there's lots more on you tube ... so good - and so few people (less than 2500) listening to them
posted by pyramid termite at 9:53 PM on April 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I love this album. Y'all can try and drown me in my gumboots.
posted by localhuman at 10:02 PM on April 12, 2011


> we have to take a half hour break for her to sort every tape I owned into music that was appropriate for sex and music that should be discarded forever...

I don't know whether to be impressed or dismayed that these were the only two categories.
posted by contraption at 10:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah, the discontents of DRM. I own the record on CD and vinyl and it's in my sprawling iTunes library, which in theory now can be streamed locally to iPhones. But the library is hosted on a pre-intel Mac mini and I have never yet got the share to resolve on the handset.

The solution? YouTube posts of every song on the record including the live versions from the concert mentioned upthread. Which led me to realize I am now older than Simon was when he released the record.
posted by mwhybark at 12:31 AM on April 13, 2011


Just to clarify: have we forgiven Los Lobos for La Bamba yet? Am I sufficiently old that this has come back into fashion?
posted by MuffinMan at 12:39 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, we haven't, because they helped re-popularize it and I heard (extraordinary boxer) Manny Pacquiao sing it in a concert.
posted by ambient2 at 1:04 AM on April 13, 2011


I remember arguing for weeks with a friend who thought Paul Simon was Chevy Chase thanks to this.
posted by vbfg at 2:14 AM on April 13, 2011


Los Lobos was certainly a major critical darling at the time

...and Spanish Americans. Which makes the squabble about colonialism even more absurdly hilarious. One bunch of European descended musicians whose ancestors spend hundreds of years raping and looting the Americas are apparently not colonialist because they lost their race to fuck over the indigenous peoples to another bunch of Europeans.

At this point it becomes a meaningless bullshit term whose only real value is apparently slagging off artists one doesn't like.

This history of rock and roll (the Beatles and Zep spring to mind) is an exercise in colonialism and cultural appropriation. But it's only music, and you like what you like.

The history of *art* is the history of cultural appropriation. And anyone who doesn't like it can hand their fucking guitars back to Spain and learn to make music with whatever the fuck they were using in whichever village your family hailed from a few hundred years ago. And you don't get to write it down with modern notation unless you're a fucking Italian.
posted by rodgerd at 3:17 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish I'd been better able to keep up with this thread. As mentioned way up above, the list of people who manage to be produce pretty terrific art while being, at the same time, tremendous assholes, is not a short list. Simon is evidently one of those people. I don't declare myself to be a fan of the man, but I do love the music, and while my tastes are almost entirely different from what they were when I first heard Graceland, several songs from the album are still on my 'favorites' playlist. Diamonds, Fingerprints, Crazy Love Vol II, The Boy in The Bubble are all awash with stunningly crafted lyrical gems that remain as powerful to me today as the first time I heard them, managing, in just a part of a phrase, to conjure a whole world of possibility in them, from "these are the days of miracle and wonder/don't cry baby, don't cry" to "fat Charlie the archangel files for divorce," I love the words as well as the music.

As for Rhythm of the Saints, honestly, I've never gotten that much into the album, but the sound of The Obvious Child is one of the best things I think I've ever heard. I'd love to hear of suggestions for other songs that capture the power of the drums with the droning (what, acordian?) over it. Damn, that's a good song. Also, damn good lyrics.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:39 AM on April 13, 2011


He's a poor boy, empty as a pocket.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:47 AM on April 13, 2011


...and for sure, cultural appropriation is how music lives and travels on Earth, but it seems more like theft when one set of musicians gets rich because they have the backing of a gigantic recording/distribution industry....and they just happen to be the right ethnicity to appeal to a more well-heeled audience.

One bunch of European descended musicians whose ancestors spend hundreds of years raping and looting the Americas...

I'll bet that the members of Los Lobos (like the vast majority of Central and North Americans who speak spanish) have a lot more native blood than spanish. Just saying.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:53 AM on April 13, 2011


but it seems more like theft when one set of musicians gets rich because they have the backing of a gigantic recording/distribution industry....and they just happen to be the right ethnicity to appeal to a more well-heeled audience.

And that's why we must condemn Ladysmith Black Mambazo at every turn.
posted by dw at 7:10 AM on April 13, 2011


You implied that the way in which the recording was made or what he was doing was unprecedented from the standpoint of the recording or artistic intent.

No - you inferred it.

I largely agree with you, Miko, though I think this isn't a good way to define "Graceland" without doing a lot of jiggery-pokery with "urban" to only mean "white urban,"

I don't really agree with that. What about Paul Simon's lyrical style is necessarily "white?" His most major influence, throughout his career, is doo-wop - one of the most polyglot musical styles ever developed. He's about as urban as they come, and by urban I really only mean "concerned with the things of the city" - he's not a country or rural songwriter, he's a cosmopolitan one, focused on human relations in post-industrial city settings.

As for concerns over sampling in general, I think it's always worthwhile to be skeptical of appropriations by those in power from those not in power.

Skepticism is never wholly unwarranted, but in the first place, we'd have no music at all without such appropriations; and in the second place, in the case of Graceland this concern is overapplied. In taking it up we're already projecting the idea that our Western music-business context is a superior one by defining the African musicians as 'not in power.' They didn't have the fame or the economic power of a Western pop star, but in their own context, they and their artworks are phenomenally successful.

The internationality of "Graceland" and the scope of it were remarkable, but at that point, you're down to a pretty complex statement of why it's not just good but also notable and not problematic.

I wouldn't say it's not problematic, but all pop music has its problematics and always has. O Brother, Where Art Thou seems like a much less controversial work to most people, and yet has been rife with struggles over attributions. There's something exceedingly odd about the way Graceland is singled out, and I think that has partly to do with what you and I both agree is its remarkable scope, but is partly a function of Western culture going through the convulsions of a developing attempt at multicultural perspective in education and public life in the 1980s. Part of my argument is that the album is not notable in the sole fact of the mixing of a variety of cultural musical influences, but is notable in the intentionality of same, its scope in developing it as a statement throughout one unified work, its overall quality, and of course the great popular success it became.

I just believe it's high time for a wider perspective. I find most of the criticism of Simon for this knee-jerk and poorly informed. I think we have very little good evidence that Paul Simon did something uniquely "colonialist" that he deserves to be singled out and vilified for. He was a musician acting like a musician, focused, as I said, on the musical product and the excitement of the process. In his work with other genres of music, he appropriately recognized and acknowledged his influences and the work of the musicians he partnered with. I agree that there are always relative power dynamics in musical exchange - there was when minstrelsy developed, when country and the blues developed, when rock'n'roll developed - but I think it is a far more interesting conversation to think about the broader kinds of musical interactions that have taken place across time and across the world, recognizing that such interactions even in what seem rather extreme cases are rarely reducible to one party "ripping off" another. If we want to talk about influence and attribution, great, but we don't need to elect a scapegoat and project everything we imagine we know that could negative about musical exchange onto one person or one work.
posted by Miko at 7:18 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and babies.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:20 AM on April 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Another interesting thing I'm reflecting on about the experiment of Graceland was that it could have been awful. Zydeco was a little bit popular in the US at the time, but township jive certainly wasn't, and I'm not sure what reason there was to think that that particular sound would have wide appeal. I bet you anything the producers were highly skeptical, and the whole thing could have badly flopped, and then we'd be talked about Paul Simon's 1970s songwriting career and how it all crashed when he jumped the shark and put out that weird African-music album.
posted by Miko at 7:39 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I don't really agree with that. What about Paul Simon's lyrical style is necessarily "white?" His most major influence, throughout his career, is doo-wop - one of the most polyglot musical styles ever developed. He's about as urban as they come, and by urban I really only mean "concerned with the things of the city" - he's not a country or rural songwriter, he's a cosmopolitan one, focused on human relations in post-industrial city settings."

But black musicians had been making music about the urban experience combined with African diaspora music and themes for years. Ambitious albums doing just that had been done, like "There's a Riot Going On," or even arguably "Thriller." Within jazz, there are even more albums — especially since African identity and reactions to the diaspora became a major theme from the mid '60s through the '70s. What Simon did wasn't special in that respect, but rather through incorporating such a broad range of direct influences and musicians into the singer-songwriter tradition (which in America had largely stemmed from white folk, rather than black blues).

I like the album a lot, but arguing that it's special because it is concerned with life in the city rather than pastoral or rural concerns, and that admixture with African instrumental styles, really does ignore a pretty significant tradition in favor of Simon's purported novelty.

It's a much stronger argument to say that the scale and breadth were distinguishing, rather than the mode, even if for a large part of his audience, the mode was novel.

"In taking it up we're already projecting the idea that our Western music-business context is a superior one by defining the African musicians as 'not in power.' They didn't have the fame or the economic power of a Western pop star, but in their own context, they and their artworks are phenomenally successful."

I am playing devil's advocate here, but that's a pretty weak defense — LBM did not have the power that Simon did in that project. I tend to agree that the colonial criticism of "Graceland" is overapplied, but Western music is pretty dominant globally and it's not untoward to acknowledge that.

"I just believe it's high time for a wider perspective. I find most of the criticism of Simon for this knee-jerk and poorly informed. I think we have very little good evidence that Paul Simon did something uniquely "colonialist" that he deserves to be singled out and vilified for."

I understand that as your position, but I have to say that rejecting the criticisms outright seems to miss a lot of the complaint and rely on a fairly privileged position to decide what complaints aren't worthy. I don't think it's too much to see that "Graceland" participated in a project coherent with the structures of colonialism and that colonialism can be an instructive viewpoint from which to critique "Graceland," even if it ends up being insufficient on the whole.
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 AM on April 13, 2011


Without Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo would not have become popular in the United States, and we would never have Jim Henson as Kermit singing with them. And that would have been a crime.
posted by cereselle at 8:47 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Minor derail: I understand that "The Capeman" was pretty terrible, but I lucked into a promo copy of the soundtrack when I was working at Borders, and stage awfulness aside, the music in there is pretty delightful. It's a really remarkable blending of Puerto Rican music with the doo-wop stuff of Simon's childhood. "Bernadette" is a bouncy little tune with shades of Buddy Holly, "Sunday Afternoon" is gorgeous with longing and regret, and "Can I Forgive Him" is Simon revisiting the stripped-down acoustic roots that made him famous. There are definitely some gems in there.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:53 AM on April 13, 2011


Sorry, that should've read "a promo copy of 'Songs from the Capeman,'" which is Simon singing with the cast on a handful of tunes from the show, rather than the actual cast recording.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:56 AM on April 13, 2011


yeah, the Capeman is great.

I have to say that rejecting the criticisms outright seems to miss a lot of the complaint and rely on a fairly privileged position to decide what complaints aren't worthy. I don't think it's too much to see that "Graceland" participated in a project coherent with the structures of colonialism and that colonialism can be an instructive viewpoint from which to critique "Graceland," even if it ends up being insufficient on the whole.

That's fine, but then you'd have to put black musicians in the jazz and black urban music idiom in the same colonialist category. Graceland isn't unique in this way.
posted by Miko at 9:13 AM on April 13, 2011


I think you also have to look at the ways in which Graceland not only could be said to have participated in, but also inverted or challenged structures of colonialism at the same time, which it also did.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2011


I'm probably 2 years older than the author and this post totally resonated with me. I was going to buy a copy of the album for old time's sake, but after learning about the deal with Los Lobos and the other allegations, I don't feel too much compunction about firing up Bittorrent for a change.
posted by spinchange at 9:38 AM on April 13, 2011


Miko and klang: One question.

Do you like the music on the album, on an aesthetic level?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on April 13, 2011


Yeah, we both do.
posted by klangklangston at 10:22 AM on April 13, 2011


"That's fine, but then you'd have to put black musicians in the jazz and black urban music idiom in the same colonialist category. Graceland isn't unique in this way."

And I think that's a bit more of a stretch. Not to get all essentialist, but an African American working with African idioms has less colonial baggage than a white American doing the same thing. There are certainly colonialist African American musicians, but the appropriations are more fraught on Simon's end.

"I think you also have to look at the ways in which Graceland not only could be said to have participated in, but also inverted or challenged structures of colonialism at the same time, which it also did."

I agree with this too, and I think without considering it, you wouldn't get a very full picture of the album in a post-colonial context.
posted by klangklangston at 10:29 AM on April 13, 2011


Then the whole colonialism discussion is reminding me of a story about two guys arguing about whether a given wine glass was half-full or half-empty, and how with proper measuring tools they could ascertain which it was, but then when they asked the waiter for measuring tools so they could evaulate this, the waiter just looked at them both, then picked up the wine glass, toasted them, and drank it, and walked away.

Sometimes it makes more sense to just drink the wine, and listen to the music, if you like it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking just for myself, I think something like 40% of the enjoyment I get from art is the ability to talk at length about it.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:42 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another week and I am 18 years past 40. I'd rather listen to Brötzmann than Rhymin' Simon.

I've heard before that Paul Simon (the singer, not the former Illinois senator) can be dickish. So what? Miles Davis had a reputation from stealing from his band--and had a well-deserved reputation for being dickish.

The Los Lobos guy sounds like a case of sour grapes to me. By the time of recording Graceland, the annals of artists being ripped off by agents/managers/producers had a nearly 60 year history. If anyone enters into a creative collaboration without some form of agreement, they don't have much of a leg to stand on after the fact.

And seriously-does he really think that Paul Simon in a fallow period really had less pull or cache than Los Lobos?

For example--I have been solidly in the free jazz (American and European and any other stream) camp since 1971. I own Graceland, Rhythm of the Saints, and probably a best of Paul Simon. I own exactly one song by Los Lobos--although I am aware of them and like their music generally, I find them so derivative of the strains of Chicano music that the tag of colonialism could perhaps be applied to them as well.

Music is not a zero-sum endeavor. The world's big enough for both of them. For now, I think I'll go back to listening to Getachew Merkuria playing with The Ex. Maybe someone wants to cite The Ex for colonialism, too?
posted by beelzbubba at 10:47 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


lumpenprole: Simon used the music to make bland feel-good music.

No. "The bomb in the baby carriage/was wired to the radio" isn't a feel-good lyric. "Boy in the Bubble" was actually damn good at capturing some of the anxiety of the time and putting it in a pop song, much as Buffalo Springfield did with "For What It's Worth."

Purposeful Grimace: I'd like to take this moment and gore everyone's ox by suggesting that the only reason Graceland was so highly regarded by the Dockers crowd was because 1986 was a really shitty year for significant album releases.

You've got to be kidding me. Significant in what way? The Queen Is Dead demolishes your argument all by itself. As does Tinderbox, as does London 0 Hull 4, as does Especially for You, as does Raising Hell, as does Licensed to Ill .....

rodgerd: ...and Spanish Americans. Which makes the squabble about colonialism even more absurdly hilarious. One bunch of European descended musicians whose ancestors spend hundreds of years raping and looting the Americas are apparently not colonialist because they lost their race to fuck over the indigenous peoples to another bunch of Europeans.

"Spanish Americans"? How about "Mexican Americans," or Chicanos, descended from mestizos? Mother of God, that's a shitty argument. Kick Los Lobos's asses all you want, but don't accuse them of being too fucking white for your taste.
posted by blucevalo at 10:55 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking just for myself, I think something like 40% of the enjoyment I get from art is the ability to talk at length about it.

A fair point. It strikes me, though, that an ongoing debate about the impact of said art on the global socio-political landscape may be straying off into something of a tangent. At least, after a while it makes me want to shrug and say "screw it, I like the accordions."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on April 13, 2011


1986 was a really shitty year for significant album releases.

1986 Pazz & Jop:

Paul Simon: Graceland
The Costello Show (Featuring Elvis Costello): King Of America
The Robert Cray Band: Strong Persuader
Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band: Live 1975/85
Run-D.M.C.: Raising Hell
Beastie Boys: Licensed To Ill
Peter Gabriel: So
R.E.M.: Life's Rich Pageant
Elvis Costello & the Attractions: Blood and Chocolate
The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto

So two of Elvis Costello's best 80s albums, two landmark rap albums, an REM album that a not-insignificant people think is their best, and some previously mentioned albums.

Janet Jackson's Control was #11. Graceland, So, and Control were nominated for Grammies. And The Queen Is Dead is further down the Pazz & Jop list.

1986 was a bad year for music? Heck no. Maybe down from 1983-84, but still better than some of the bad years of the late 70s and mid-90s.
posted by dw at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


It strikes me, though, that an ongoing debate about the impact of said art on the global socio-political landscape may be straying off into something of a tangent. At least, after a while it makes me want to shrug and say "screw it, I like the accordions."

That's a fine thing to do, but speaking for myself, I play music and am really interested in music history and ethnomusicology and have a small bit of training in it, so the discussion of it is as enjoyable to me as the music itself. And they're not mutually exclusive anyway - my discussing music in no way lessens my opportunity to listen to and enjoy it (If anything, it gives me more opportunities, because I tend to learn about additional music through conversations like this). I don't see music as something just to be liked or not liked, but as a really powerful form of human expression that surfaces as an incredibly consistent component of cultures throughout history, much more than just an entertainment or pastime.

I think klang and I are probably not that far apart, and I guess that saying I "totally reject" the consideration of Graceland from a postcolonial perspective is too extreme, when what I really object to is this sort of what I called "knee-jerk" response to any mention of Graceland that seeks to condemn the entire project and artist based on an accusation of inappropriate borrowing. You really cannot talk about Graceland without a super-simplified caricature of the project coming up, completely lacking in context, often by people who don't know a whole lot about musical tradition OR about history but know that there was a big flap about how terrible Graceland was supposed to be -- and that's a shame, because the whole issue of cultural exchange is really more complex and more interesting than that and deserves to be seen in full perspective, not to have one album - and album that was a really good thing for most of its collaborators - bear the brunt of the shortcomings of an entire Western commercial musical culture or the focus of all concern about inequalities in cultural borrowing and exchange.
posted by Miko at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great line, yes, but the Mississippi Delta (the region south of Memphis) was settled almost entirely after the Civil War.

The Mississippi Delta "contains some of the most fertile soil in the world" and a lot of cotton was grown there; Mississippi was the largest cotton-producing state in America before the Civil War (with most of the cotton being grown in southern Mississippi below the Delta). Most plantations in the Delta were along ridges near the rivers, and 90 percent of the bottomlands were undeveloped after the Civil War, and were a frontier for people who could get land there in exchange for clearing it.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2011


1986 was a bad year for music? Heck no.

1986 was a great year for music. There's really only one word that I need to type in support of 1986: Skylarking.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:47 PM on April 13, 2011


Also, Miko, it seems to me that with a little bit of introduction and fleshing out, we could probably run that long comment in the MeFi mag.

Jus' sayin'.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on April 13, 2011


Damnit Devils Rancher, I fully expected to beat you to inserting XTC into the conversation this time. What a fool I was.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:48 PM on April 13, 2011


And furthermore, Skylarking is only #33 on the Pazz and Jop list, which can't possibly be right. Fucking Song X is 19! (Though at least Rum Sodomy & the Lash is 18.)
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:54 PM on April 13, 2011


Re the line about "The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar" --

I'm not sure why the settling of the Delta, whether ante- or post-bellum, has anything to do with that particular line. I always interpreted it to mean that that the waters of the Mississippi were literally shining like the actual metal-covered National Guitars. Or is the point of contention that the next line talks about following the highway through the cradle of the Civil War?
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:13 PM on April 13, 2011


The Colour of Spring by Talk Talk and Victorialand by the Cocteau Twins.

I enjoyed 1986 for music as much as 1989. The rest of the latter half of that decade I think I spent listening to old Steely Dan records.
posted by Grangousier at 2:24 PM on April 13, 2011


I am sure it is far too long since I have sang Miko's praises as - dare I say it? - awesome, but allow me to rectify that.

And thank you for reminding me about Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, a group I had the good fortune to see live. I believe it was at Zootz in Portland Maine, where I was introduced to so much fabulous live African music. (...bless you Kris Clark!) But Ladysmith, I learned about from Paul Simon and for that and more, I thank him.

God, if I have to start evaluating art by whether it was produced by assholes or nice likeable people, my cultural world will be considerably narrower. And by the same measure, I might have to write off some of my favorite mefites, too!
posted by madamjujujive at 3:23 PM on April 13, 2011


I came across this lovely old Mahotella Queens video when I was looking in vain for some Johnson Mkhalali last night.
Also seen in that video is West Nkosi, their producer and saxophonist who I think also played a part in Graceland (I know he worked a lot with Johnny Clegg in those days).
posted by Flashman at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


This thread's done, but I would humbly suggest that the people taking the idea of misappropriation here have never co-written a song before. It's just not that simple nor is it ever, really, done.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:35 PM on April 13, 2011


>worth a read if anyone's curious about Paul Simon's legendary dickishness.
. . .
>Paul Simon : the official music of people over 40

Good to know that Paul Simon, Afroblanco, (and I, by making this comment) have at least one thing in common.
posted by spock at 6:16 PM on April 13, 2011


The rest of the latter half of that decade I think I spent listening to old Steely Dan records.

That's how I'm spending this decade. "Kick off your high heeled sneakers/It's party time!"
posted by kirkaracha at 7:09 PM on April 13, 2011


AWWW, release date August 12, 1986. I have been rolling in my head the how and why and excellence that this would have been released on April 12 and it turns out to be just me projecting.

I'm still kinda stunned about the batteries aimed at Fort Sumter temporoballistically traveling through the mind of Jules Verne to launch Colonel Gagarin, who transforms automagically into Neil Armstrong and eventually Sam Elliott. THESE are the times of miracles and wonders.
posted by mwhybark at 9:06 PM on April 13, 2011


kind of you, klang! But I'd really like to find something for the mag that's better thought out and maybe higher on the "hey, neato" scale and maybe a bit better thought out.
posted by Miko at 9:20 PM on April 13, 2011


it was mentioned upthread, but The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (1985) is an even better album than I remembered.
posted by puny human at 8:08 AM on April 14, 2011


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