Issue 6 - Fall 2007 - The Sound Issue
PAUL SIMON'S GRACELAND
BY JON NATCHEZ
Like most young kids, I didn’t actively seek out my music. I took what was given to me, gravitating toward some of the songs that came out of the TV, the radio, or my parents’ record collection. I was first drawn to Paul Simon’s Graceland when I was ten. I don’t remember how or why, exactly; I have the feeling that the very kid-friendly fact that Paul Simon was sanctioned by both my parents and Fletch helped a great deal.
When I was in the seventh grade, still riding my Paul Simon infatuation, I started carpooling with the Falk brothers. One of them was my age, and the other was four years older. They had both started weight lifting in the fourth grade under the supervision of their testosterone-crazed father, and on our rides to school, between the purple nurples, dead arms, and Indian sunburns, they took particular pleasure in savaging my “gay-ass” taste in music. (It bears mentioning that for my bar mitzvah, they got me an electric razor; the card they wrote read, “Maybe one day you’ll actually have some use for this.”)
The Falks, father included, were partial to the particular genre of classic rock that, I suppose, inspires eleven-year-olds to power through that extra set of squats: Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, etc. — and they found my music hopelessly fruity. Through them I was introduced to the idea of musical taste as a shibboleth of cool — it wasn’t that I thought the Falks’ music was particularly great, it was just that I realized for the first time that the music someone liked, or hated, could reveal how sophisticated or lame he was.
After those traumatizing car rides, I couldn’t listen to music without performing that neurotic music dork calculus, never deciding to commit to any song/artist/album until I was sure that its extramusical associations were safely hip. I was convinced that the weirder and more mysterious the music I listened to was, the further I’d distance myself from the shrimpy boy with the Jew-fro and gay-ass musical taste I feared I’d always be.
Graceland suddenly embodied everything I wanted to run screaming from: my parents’ taste, a homogenized NPR world-music aesthetic, overblown commercial production values, a counterfeit white-bread appropriation of other cultures. I had to cut the cord.
Before my fall from grace, though, I went to see Paul Simon play live. Being thirteen-year-olds with zero savoir faire, my friend Ben and I had bought tickets that put us in the last row directly to the side of the stage, meaning that we had to watch the entire band in profile the whole night. But these seats did have the unexpected bonus of giving us a view of the area behind the stage, where the entire crew of roadies and techs danced around like maniacs for the entire show.
I remember, a couple of years later, being embarrassed for them and thinking that such an undignified display of enthusiasm was clear evidence of the sappiness of Paul Simon’s music and, man, was I glad to have cultivated a more evolved musical sensibility — you know, one that allowed me to deeply appreciate two hours of saxophone skronks and earsplitting feedback loops. But I’m happy that it seems I’m coming full circle; with each passing year, it has become easier for me to accept those dark, clammy truths inside my soul, and over the past couple of years I’ve learned to celebrate (or at least embrace) the simple truth that I’m a pop-whore who loves a catchy melody and a good beat, and who might, somehow, love Graceland again. &
Paul Simon battles Connie Hawkins!!