Posts Tagged ‘Graceland’

Tonight I am going to see Paul Simon play at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. I am very excited to see him perform live, he is one of my favourite songwriters and it’ll be the first time that I’ll have seen him in the flesh. I have watched the 1981 concert that he did in New York’s Central Park with Art Garfunkel countless times on DVD, and also his “Graceland – The African Concert”, a DVD of the 1987 concert he performed in Zimbabwe (the closest he could get to performing in South Africa in the days of apartheid).

I have blogged about Paul Simon several times, including here in Rolling Stone Magazine’s  list of the 100 greatest songwriters (Rolling Stone place him at number 8, I would place him higher in my own list).

Paul Simon is playing in Cardiff tonight (Friday 4 November) at the Motorpoint Arena.

In several interviews Paul Simon has said that he considers “Graceland” to be the best song that he has ever written, the title track to his seminal 1986 album of South African music. I have blogged about that album here, but I am surprised to see that I have never blogged about the song itself. So, here it is. Simon has commented on his process for writing this song; that the word “Graceland” was just a placeholder as he composed the words to fit the melody that he had recorded in South Africa.

He felt sure that he would replace the word as the song came together. But, he found that the word would not go away. He decided to take his first ever trip to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, to discover what the word may mean and how it could be relevant in the song. In making that trip, he got the opening lines for the song. He also realised that the word could mean “a state of grace”. Notice that in the last verse he drops the reference “Memphis Tennessee”, the “Graceland” that he is referring to at the end of the song is a more general, universal one than Elvis’ home.

The Mississippi Delta
Was shining like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I’m going to Graceland
In Memphis,Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never notice
The way she brushed her hair from
Her forehead and she said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Whoa, in Graceland, in Graceland
In Graceland,
I’m going to Graceland

And here is a video of this exquisite song. It is one of my favourite Paul Simon songs. Enjoy!

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Paul Simon is one of my favourite songwriters. In my opinion, along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, he is one of the best lyricists of the past 40-50 years. His songs with his singing partner Art Garfunkel (as Simon and Garfunkel) are probably nearly as well known as The Beatles’ songs. I suspect much of his solo work is less well known.

I blogged last summer about his seminal album, the amazing Graceland, which is generally recongised as his greatest piece of work. And Paul Simon himself feels his best ever song, of the hundreds he has written, is the song Graceland on that album.

Today I am sharing one of my favourite Paul Simon solo songs, American Tune. I am not sure how well known this one is, it is on his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. Until about 14 months ago I had only ever heard the live version of this song which is on Paul Simon’s greatest hits album Greatest Hits etc., but upon my first hearing it many years ago it quickly became one of my favourite songs by him. Last year I finally got around to buying There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and heard the studio version for the first time. In addition, the “new” version of the album that I bought also had some bonus material, which included a demo version of “American Tune

Paul Simon's American Tune is one  of his moist poignant songs.

Paul Simon’s American Tune is one of his moist poignant songs.

These are the lyrics to this wonderful song.

Many is the time I’ve been mistaken, and many times confused
Yes and I’ve often felt forsaken, and certainly misused.
Ah but I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be bright and Bon Vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home.

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease.
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees.
But it’s alright, it’s alright. For we’ve lived so well so long.
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on,
I wonder what’s gone wrong, I can’t help but wonder
What’s gone wrong.

And I dreamed I was dying. I dreamed that my soul rose
unexpectedly, and looking back down at me, smiled
reassuringly, and I dreamed I was flying.
And high up above, my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty, sailing away to sea.
And I dreamed I was flying.

We come on a ship they call the Mayflower,
We come on a ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hours
And sing an American tune.
Oh and it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.
You can’t be forever blessed.
Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest,
That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest.

This YouTube clip is of Paul Simon performing the song on Parkinson, a long running chat show in the Disunited Kingdom.

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This year sees the 25th anniversary of the release of Paul Simon‘s Graceland album. It is one of my favourite albums of all time, and it is my favourite by Paul Simon, including his Simon & Garfunkel days (and, that means it is up against some pretty good albums like “There goes rhymin’ Simon” and “Bridge over troubled water“). To my mind, it is one of the greatest albums of all time, and certainly in a very short list of greatest albums of the 1980s, along with “The Joshua Tree” by U2, “Hounds of Love” by Kate Bush, and one or two others. Graceland won the 1987 Grammy for the best album of the year.


Paul Simon’s Graceland album was released in the autumn of 1986.

I remember first hearing Graceland from a bootleg tape I bought in Bangkok in October 1986. I liked it straight away, even though it was like nothing I had ever heard before. I think it was the first time I had really heard any “African” music, and I was breath-taken by the complex rhythms and melodies in the music. [For any authorities reading this, I have since bought the album on record, CD, and just a few weeks ago downloaded from iTunes the 25th Anniversary edition, so have more than paid my royalty fees to Paul Simon and Warner Brothers 🙂 ]

On Tuesday of last week (3rd of July 2012), the BBC broadcast a fascinating documentary called “Paul Simon’s Graceland – Under African Skies”. The programme in particular looked at the album’s impact on the struggle going on at the time for South African liberation under the racist Apartheid system, but it also talked about the recording process for some of the songs.

Whether Paul Simon helped or hindered the cause for South African blacks’ liberation is a very interesting debate. Yes, he broke the UN embargo on cultural exchanges with South Africa, and flew in the face of the desires of the African National Congress and Artists Against Apartheid. But, as he points out in this documentary, he was invited by black musicians to go there and play music with them, and certainly his album Graceland brought this “township music” to an audience it would never otherwise have reached. I myself had not heard any African or South African music before I heard Graceland, but soon after I bought an album by LadySmith Black Mambazo. I have since gone on to buy albums by the Bhundu Boys, The Four Brothers and John Chibadura.

There is an excellent series of programmes available via the BBC Radio 3 website called “World Music“. Personally my two favourites are the ones Andy Kershaw made on South African music, Kershaw in South Africa, and on Zimbabwean music, Kershaw in Zimabwe.

My favourite song on the Graceland album is “Under African Skies“, although after saying that there is not a song that I don’t like. But, this one stands slightly higher in my liking than the others. The original version of the album has Linda Ronstadt duetting with Paul Simon. In fact, Simon specifically wrote the verse which begins

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing ’round my nursery door
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

for Ronstadt, as Ronstadt grew up in Tuscon, AZ..

The other version of this song that I adore is the version performed by Paul Simon in the Graceland concenrt he did in Harare, Zimbabwe. For this song he invites “mama Africa”, Miriam Makeba, onto stage to sing with him. Here is a YouTube clip of this version.

Is Graceland the best album Paul Simon has done? Is it the best album of the 1980s? What is your favourite Graceland song?

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