Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland turns 25 this year. This gorgeous review at This Recording covers the politics and prose that marked Graceland’s debut — including musical recording in Johannesberg that violated South Africa’s apartheid regulations and Paul Simon’s creative struggle to find his voice.
This passage is particularly appropriate for the second generation of Graceland fans:
Context and time do sometimes matter. The Paul Simon who, on a bus en route to New York City told his sleeping girlfriend that he was empty and aching and he didn’t know why, that Simon belongs to our parents. My generation may love him but he’s not ours. The Simon who is soft in the middle (or at least feels an affinity for men who happen to be), however, the one who reminds young women of money, who has been divorced and has a kid to prove it, and who has the means to catch a cab uptown and take it all the way downtown talking dispassionately while doing so about the comings and goings of breakdowns, that Simon belongs to us as much as he does to our folks because he is our folks. Not our folks the way they were before we were born, but the way they were when we first knew them, as they were losing their edge and feeling maybe a little insecure about that loss; our folks as we knew them when we ourselves were entering that era of childhood which finally allowed for reflection and the retention of memory and for the level of awareness that clued us into the fact that a baby with a baboon heart was something to wonder at and to then distantly — vaguely — mourn when she died three weeks after her baboon heart first beat inside her body; this was our folks the way they were when they were trying to raise us right: to say please and thank you and to only send food back under dire circumstances; the way they were when we really saw them for the first time. At least, in retrospect. Now that we’re grown, that first introduction lingers. We also recognize not just our parents in the words of those songs, but ourselves and our own impending midlives that loiter like shortening shadows on the horizon.
Paul Simon is one of those songwriters (like Bob Dylan) who finds beautiful parts of life and makes it simple. Just hearing the word “Graceland” conjures such strong memories of driving home at dawn from college crew that I can smell the prairie.
Here’s a clip from the Graceland tour in Zimbabwe:
A quarter of a century ago Paul Simon identified the days of miracles and wonder; nice to remember we’re still in that age now.