You can still call him Al…

Paul Simon – Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition

Way back in 1987 I remember watching a video for a song by a short, not particularly good-looking man who reminded me of my dad… singing something about calling someone Betty.

For the years following, that song and the album that accompanied it became a constant soundtrack to my life. Through good times and bad times. From living on the side of a mountain to living in the centre of cities, scraping a living ‘Graceland’ was always there for me – from that line “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar” to “that” bass solo.

At nine years old I had absolutely no concept of the political shit storm that the album was causing; none whatsoever. It was about Chevy Chase and his little mate, and calling people Al. I also had no idea that all of this was 25 years ago.That is how life goes I guess.

Anyways 25 years have passed since it came out, since that worn out cassette in the old man’s Mazda provided me with hours of entertainment on the way to school. And now there is a release of a 25th anniversary edition along with a film by Joe Berlinger, 2012 Sundance Film Festival-commended documentary “Under African Skies”. This is without question one of the most interesting, if you will, rockumentaries that I have ever seen. To see exactly how much went into this familiar masterpiece.

Paul Simon’s intentions for going to SA are portrayed as clearly musical, not political. As he states himself, he fell in love with South African pop music. These artists didn’t know who he was. He went there to play with them and make music with them because he loved what they were doing. Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo is quick to dismiss any kind of racial motives or divides: “Paul Simon, he is my brother”.

The film documents Paul as a pretty old man now, going back to South Africa and travelling around to put the band back together. And what a band! It’s interlinked with shots of political troubles and the sheer joy of a band of musicians getting together and jamming together to create stunning music.

Talking Heads in the film are literally talking heads… David Byrne shares his thoughts, as does Oprah Winfrey. That gives some idea of the scope of the fans. There is a far from comfortable theme throughout with Dali Tambo from Artists Against Apartheid discussing his thoughts with Paul Simon directly. Paul insists at all times that ‘Graceland’ was purely about the music, but they both get to put their thoughts across. What does stand out is how much the musicians love each other, love the songs, love Paul and love the opportunities that the album gave to South African musicians.

The guitar, percussion, vocals and bass playing is stunning. And remember, this is some years before Pro-tools.

One of the highlights of the DVD is a performance of ‘Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes’ from Saturday Night Live. Paul takes centre-stage and the band behind him play their hearts out and blow the audience away. That, for me was his reason for making the album. He loved the music and wanted to show it to the world. The cynics will always say it was for the money – but do you really think Paul Simon needed the money? A brilliant watch. Make up your own mind.

The music, as it always did, stands out. It still sounds fresh, still moving, still funny, heart-warming and beautiful at the same time.
Hopefully this special edition will open more eyes and ears. The extra tracks, a few demos and rarities, are interesting but it is the film that really makes this package stand out. You get the full album, the extra tracks and the story told in full. Eleven stunning original songs, with 40 or more musicians creating a timeless masterpiece. A brilliant album and a great film.

Not enough people listen to short, not particularly good looking men with acoustic guitars anymore.

Perhaps they should.

Jim Rhesus

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