Graceland [Enhanced CD]

Paul Simon

1986/1996: Warner Bros. 9 46430-2

  1. The Boy in the Bubble
  2. Graceland
  3. I Know What I Know
  4. Gumboots
  5. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
  6. You Can Call Me Al
  7. Under African Skies
  8. Homeless
  9. Crazy Love, Vol. II
  10. That Was Your Mother
  11. All Around the World (or The Myth of Fingerprints)

So much gloriously rich music! I remember hearing it probably first while interning at Alaska Repertory Theatre (where it was definitely a favorite to play in the tech shop), certainly in late 1986 anyway and that’s where I was then, and I found it delightfully captivating if not fully consistently so…the three closing tracks in particular left the album petering out or dissipating after such a mighty combination of amazement after amazement. Regardless of which track you play, however, there is such sonic richness in this gorgeous beauty of an album that it really never ceases to surprise me with yet another unnoticed gem sparkling here or there on a thousandth listen to any one track.

There’s no question that the World Music influence (not to say “trend,” which would unjustly strip it of what was involved and real) heightened my appreciation of this album, but it also was partly responsible for the creation of this album: Paul Simon hearing a tape of “Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II,” reminds me greatly of my introduction to the music of Bulgarian women’s choral music just after this time thanks to a wonderful dance recital by Jennifer Walker, held at the Nippon Kan Theatre, for which I did the lights; she utilized Balkan folk recordings (thanks to her brother Dez) to astonishingly deft effect for her choreographed pieces which she then compiled for that concert. Furthermore, Graceland massively contributed to World Music becoming a music genre and fostered the introduction of a tremendous amount of only locally known music to the ear of the general public in a way that hitherto had only been accomplished by world-band radio.

Probably “I Know What I Know” is my favorite track off this album, largely because of the Gaza Sisters’ chordings and sound serving as both inspiration for and descant to the eventual recording, but the title track rivals it for evocative heft (underscored by Simon utilizing the Everly Brothers on backup vocals), and anyway so many of the tracks are so iconic in their way that only those last few sound like stapled-on stepchildren. As for the problematic question of whether one should celebrate or criticize what Simon was doing culturally with Graceland, in his utilization/hijacking/exploitation of South African music (NOT to detriment of the musicians themselves as has been made abundantly clear, as they all not only were well paid but also benefited from the worldwide exposure and resultant interest), I can only say that I was grateful for what it gave us—among other things the bewilderingly beautiful effect of simultaneously melodic instrumental lines played to virtuostic levels. And, oh, that excellent and yet slightly challenging riff in the chorus of “Graceland,” slipped in there repeatedly as we’re trying to process the emotional debris the verses leave us sifting through….