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not only does art not transcend politics... art is politics
January 27, 2014 7:35 AM   Subscribe

And I met with AZAPO, who had a very frank conversation — I was talking to the translator — about whether they should kill me for even being there. That’s how serious they were about violating the boycott. I eventually talked them out of that and then talked them into maybe going kinda with my thing.
Tthey showed me that they have an assassination list, and Paul Simon was at the top of it. [NOTE: In 1986, Paul Simon recorded tracks for his Graceland album in South Africa, in direct violation of the cultural boycott.] And in spite of my feelings about Paul Simon, who we can talk about in a minute if you want to, I said to them, “Listen, I understand your feelings about this; I might even share them, but...”
-- On the eve of Bruce Springsteen's first ever tour of South Africa, Little Steve van Zandt talks to Dave Marsh about Sun City, the boycott and getting Paul Simon off an AZAPO hit list
posted by MartinWisse (35 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's something very funny to me about the idea of Paul Simon and his good buddy Henry Kissinger hashing out the global Communist conspiracy.
posted by clockzero at 7:46 AM on January 27


I just found this on Twitter. What an odious person. Just made it easy to not spend a lot of money to see him live.
posted by viramamunivar at 7:59 AM on January 27


The last line - "...we live in a country where the money means you don’t have to apologize..."
posted by 445supermag at 8:03 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Great interview and a damning indictment of Graceland. I'd like to hear Paul's side of the story, but it sounds like that side is "Ehhhh who really cares?"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:05 AM on January 27


Hearing stuff like this is frustrating, because Paul Simon was a childhood musical hero of mine — not for Graceland, but for stuff like Hearts and Bones, which was the first smart, literate pop music I'd ever been exposed to. He was sort of a gateway drug for the Magnetic Fields and the Mountain Goats and John Prine and early Eno and all sorts of other things. And he was also one of the only musical referents points I still had in common with my parents when I was a teenager, and getting into 90s confessional shit like Tori Amos on the one hand and all that weird nerdy literary stuff on the other: we could agree on Joni Mitchell's Hejira, a couple of Rickie Lee Jones albums and a couple of Paul Simon albums and that was basically it.

Anyway, now I know better than to assume good musicians are saints. The problem, I guess, is that I had Paul Simon up on that pedestal before it occurred to me that it might be a bad idea, and I'm still awfully reluctant to take him down.

But yeah, by all accounts he's kind of an egocentric asshole.
posted by this is a thing at 8:13 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Paul Simon's side (2012): "As for regrets, no I don’t have any regrets because it's a happy ending."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:15 AM on January 27


(Also FWIW: the rest of the interview here is really interesting in its own right, and there's probably a lot to be said about it that isn't "fuck Paul Simon.")
posted by this is a thing at 8:16 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I generally just listen to my Simon and Garfunkel albums and imagine that it was Garfunkel doing all the hard work.

(I have no idea how Art Garfunkel is as a human being. Leave me to my delusions please.)
posted by kmz at 8:17 AM on January 27


(I have no idea how Art Garfunkel is as a human being. Leave me to my delusions please.)

He keeps a list of every book he's ever read and what he thought of it and carries it around with him.

The Manila folder in my brain labelled "facts about Art Garfunkle's personality" is now empty.
posted by Diablevert at 8:24 AM on January 27 [11 favorites]


He keeps a list of every book he's ever read and what he thought of it and carries it around with him.

That's quite cool, actually. He even has an online version of it; although without his thoughts on the books. (But he has a list of his personal top 157 among the total of 1195. Spoiler: Fifty Shades of Grey is on this list.)
posted by erdferkel at 8:31 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Hey, I heard that Diablevert keeps a manilla folder full of every fact she's ever heard about Art Garfunkle's personality and carries it around with her. INSIDE HER BRAIN.
posted by this is a thing at 8:33 AM on January 27 [11 favorites]


I just think of Art as Nately from Catch-22.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:39 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


And I can't forgive Paul Simon for trying to bring back the bow tie.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:41 AM on January 27


And I thought the worst thing about Graceland was that he stole songs from Los Lobos (starts about halfway down the page).
posted by norm at 8:52 AM on January 27 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I pretty much shelved Graceland and my love for PS after the whole Los Lobos thing came to light.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:23 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


That's quite cool, actually. He even has an online version of it; although without his thoughts on the books. (But he has a list of his personal top 157 among the total of 1195. Spoiler: Fifty Shades of Grey is on this list.)

That comment was exactly one sentence too long.
posted by TedW at 9:41 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


"Sun City" is almost inarguably the best "disparate musicians perform together for a cause" track ever recorded. In addition to having an important purpose, it was actually a kick ass song.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:44 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Art Garfunkel appeared as himself in an episode of "Flight of the Conchords", so I'm on his side.
posted by Fnarf at 9:59 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Art Garfunkel has a masters degree in mathenatics.
posted by drezdn at 10:55 AM on January 27


re: Mr. Simon + Graceland ...

I had immediate issues with the album when it came out, because he was getting so much coverage for "discovering" African music etc. Which was A. dumb in the worst sort of colonial way, B. incorrect anyway as Peter Gabriel, Ginger Baker and any number of other colonials had already been there ...

But enough about him. This Little Steven interview is about so much more, Sun City being a genuinely powerful and innovative album -- magnitudes more interesting and relevant than any of the Big Deal benefit albums of the time ... culturally, musically and politically.

From about half-way through the interview:

Well, it was courageous at the time, because we’re naming Ronald Reagan in the song at the height of his popularity, which people don’t remember right now, but this was, like, a big deal at the time. And every single artist who went on that record felt it could be the end of their career, and they still did it. It was not a social-concern record, “feed the people”...

Yeah, this was way beyond...
It crossed the line from social concern to political. We pointed fingers. We said, “Here’s the problem; it starts right here with our own President.” And we named him. And everybody on that record, man, made a commitment — a very serious commitment — to do that.


Final thought. The whole SUN CITY album is a special kind of gem, agit-prop art reaching very high indeed.

The main single ...
Let Me See Your I.D. (the rappers etc having their say)
Revolutionary Situation (cut-ups, samples telling the story)
No More Apartheid (Peter Gabriel cutting loose for a few minutes)
Sun City live in 1990 (Mandela Tribute concert)
posted by philip-random at 10:55 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Wow, I've not watched that video in two dozen years or more and I'd forgotten that Joey Ramone is the one who specifically names Reagan. Of course he does. In your face, Johnny.

Wikipedia has a complete (?) list of the artists involved:
When Van Zandt was finished writing "Sun City", he, Schechter and producer Arthur Baker spent the next several months searching for artists to participate in recording it. Van Zandt initially declined to invite Springsteen, not wanting to take advantage of their friendship, but Schechter had no problem asking himself; Springsteen accepted the invitation. Van Zandt was also shy about calling legendary jazz artist Miles Davis, whom Schechter also contacted; with minimal persuasion, Davis also accepted. Eventually, Van Zandt, Baker and Schechter would gather a wide array of artists, including Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil-Scott Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone
Even though the song only reached the high 30's on the Billboard Hot 100, this may have been the biggest hit Joey ever sang on.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:08 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Also:

The Struggle Continues - Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, et al.

Silver and Gold - Bono with Keith Richards and Ron Wood. (Honestly way better than the live version on R&H.)
posted by kmz at 12:08 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Even though the song only reached the high 30's on the Billboard Hot 100,

from the interview ...

You were with Arthur [Baker], who knew how to make hits. You had been involved in making the hits on Born in the U.S.A.
Well, yeah, but Dave, remember one thing: radio wouldn’t play it. It was too black for white radio, too white for black radio.

That’s the only reason it wasn’t a big hit, ‘cause it was bigger than most... It was actually ahead of its time, because it was a record that sold very, very well without airplay. That’s what happens now, but back then that didn’t happen ever.
That’s right. No, it was strictly MTV and BET playing that video that got the message across. We hit our own apartheid on radio.

It was officially, legally banned in South Carolina.
Oh yeah? I didn’t know that one.

posted by philip-random at 12:18 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


He keeps a list of every book he's ever read and what he thought of it and carries it around with him.

And here's what we had to say about that.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:13 PM on January 27


Well, it was courageous at the time, because we’re naming Ronald Reagan in the song at the height of his popularity

Ronald Reagan was never as widely popular at any one point as many other presidents were at varying times, and was never as popular over an extended time as Clinton was in the late 1990s. But he never hit the heights of either Bush during war times, or LBJ or Carter toward the beginnings of their times in office. Opposing Reagan was not THAT big of a deal, unless your target audience was most Deep South/Texas fraternity dudes or certain Northeastern prep schoolers or something.
posted by raysmj at 1:54 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


It was officially, legally banned in South Carolina.
Oh yeah? I didn’t know that one.


Come on, at least give the footnote, also from the article: [NOTE: Marsh’s Sun City book reads as follows: “In South Carolina, one station was told by the Ku Klux Klan that either ‘Sun City’ came off the air or the station and its personnel would face serious consequences. Quite naturally, the record came off the air.”]

Not great, but not official or legal either.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:59 PM on January 27


Huh. Apparently playing the Spot the Biggest Douchebag in the You Can Call Me Al video is harder than I thought.
posted by delfin at 2:30 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


There's something very funny to me about the idea of Paul Simon and his good buddy Henry Kissinger hashing out the global Communist conspiracy.

...Carrie Fischer wanders by in the background, rolls her eyes, pours herself another bourbon...
posted by theweasel at 5:29 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I was only tangentially involved in pop culture when this came out, and growing up, hearing the song over the years but never really digging into the backstory, I somehow got it in my head that Sun City was from the Johnny Lydon / Jah Wobble / Mick Jones corner of the music world. I know that's really dumb, but even now it sounds very Public Image Limited or Big Audio Dynamite to my ears. Or at least more so than it sounds like a Steve Van Zandt song.

"Hello, is this Bonnie Raitt? Hello, Ms. Raitt, this is Johnny Rotten and I was hoping I could tell you about a charity single I'm putting together..."
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:12 PM on January 27


To be honest, while Paul Simon was arguably wrong in what he did and was obnoxious about it, his was a very human failing and it wasn't quite that he went to Sun City just to get a shitload of money to prop up the Apartheid regime. And while the end of Apartheid doesn't absolve him from his failures, it does make it slightly easier to forgive him his blind spots.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:51 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I somehow got it in my head that Sun City was from the Johnny Lydon / Jah Wobble / Mick Jones corner of the music world. I know that's really dumb,

not really when you consider something like World Destruction which had Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa working together over big beats (courtesy of Bill Laswell). NYC really was the center of the cool universe in the mid/late 80s.
posted by philip-random at 10:06 PM on January 27


He keeps a list of every book he's ever read and what he thought of it and carries it around with him.

I recall reading an interview with Garfunkel where he claimed that he filed all his books on his bookshelves in the order in which he had read them. I still consider that little tidbit from time to time and lean back in wonder. What a great idea!

I've always wished I had such a list of my own (literary/musical/filmic) journeys - what fascinating opportunities that would afford for idle reminiscences.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 2:50 AM on January 28


(Honestly way better than the live version on R&H.)

Am I bugging you? Don't mean to bug ya.
posted by norm at 7:54 AM on January 29


Edge, play something that I guess shares some notes with a blues scale but is in no way the blues!
posted by COBRA! at 7:59 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


MartinWisse: "And while the end of Apartheid doesn't absolve him from his failures, it does make it slightly easier to forgive him his blind spots."

Eh. It seems like just one in an ongoing string of self-benefiting "blind spots".
posted by Lexica at 8:22 PM on February 9


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