On loving Paul Simon’s Graceland

Graceland, Memphis – Tennessee

When I was in America in 2008 I visited Graceland. I am aware of Elvis Presley and his music, but the real reason I was excited about going to Graceland was the Paul Simon song. In the hotel car park in Memphis, on the morning of our visit I put Paul Simon onto my ipod nice and loud and had a little over-excited silent dance party, because – I was going to Graceland!

Elvis image – one amongst many at Graceland
‘…following the river down the highway through the cradle of the civil war. I’m going to Graceland… poor boys and pilgrims with families we are going to Graceland…’  
I have loved the Paul Simon album Graceland for as long as I can remember. The title song evokes a legend of music, it is about a journey and it literally bounces you along the road. It was released twenty five years ago – which (if my parents bought it when it was first released) means that I would have been about six years old when I first heard it. There was politics around the making of the album in South Africa and his fusion of sounds was ground breaking, but as a child I did not know a thing about any of that.

All I knew was that the loose limbed sounds were joyous and different, and there were evocative words like cinematographer, diamonds, delta, Memphis and bat-faced-girl, mingled with energetic whoooops. The music reverberated with a beat that made you want to move and then snatches of stories would burst through – conjuring up images of people and places far away from my world in regional Victoria:

‘people say she’s crazy she’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes…’
‘there is a girl in New York city who calls herself the human trampoline…’
Of course I can only glimpse that child through the sive of my current self. But I know how the music touches me still, and I have no hesitancy saying that that little tape was from the beginning of our intimacy a precious object holding a special magical energy.
My trip to America was not particularly a Paul Simon pilgrimage, but the man, and his music touched various legs of my trip. Early on, I had an overnight bus ride from San Fran to LA, arriving in the pale empty city very early in the morning, hassled on the bus, with no sleep, already missing my new San Fran friends and my boyfriend terribly. I sank into a rather deep hole. With four hours to kill before I could get into my room, have a wash and a sleep I turned to the only thing I could think of to lift me out of my funk- I sat down with my ipod and listened to Paul Simon – and the magic worked. He pulled me out.
There is a Graceland 25 year anniversary tour going on in Europe starting this week, and I came very close to buying myself a ticket to go and see the man, but the stars were not aligned properly for me to go on that particular journey.
New Orleans – 2008
I did see him once, not in a concert hall, or at a rock concert but in a bookstore in New York. Weeks after he helped dry out my tears in LA, and I had visited many many iconic locations (including Graceland) I was scanning the street press for New York things to do, when I saw that the man himself was speaking at a bookstore.
Central Park and two mad hatters – 2008
I went along to the packed event and took a spot near the back. My hero talked about song writing, his long career as a performer and New York, and every now and then he sang. The legs of some must have tired, because as the evening wore on I was able to make my way closer to the man sitting on a stool with a guitar at his side. And at the close of the evening, while others had given way to the fatigues of standing upright, neck craning for a view- I did not have to crane my neck at all to be able to watch Paul Simon sing the Only living boy in New York right in front of me.
Paul Simon New York 2008
I have always felt blessed to have been lucky enough to see Paul Simon in his hometown… and although I am sad that I won’t get to see him perform for the 25th anniversary of Graceland I carry the music with me in my heart nonetheless.


1 thought on “On loving Paul Simon’s Graceland”

  1. Is it a kind of a dream
    Floating out on the tide
    Following the river of death downstream
    Oh is it a dream?
    There's a fog along the horizon
    A strange glow in the sky
    And nobody seems to know where it goes
    And what does it mean?
    Oh is it a dream?

    Bright eyes, burning like fire
    Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
    How can the light that burned so brightly,
    Suddenly burn so pale?
    Bright eyes

    Is it a kind of a shadow
    Reaching into the night
    Wandering over the hills unseen
    Oh is it a dream?
    There's a high wind in the trees
    A cold sound in the air
    And nobody ever knows where you go
    And where do you start?
    Oh into the dark

    Bright eyes, burning like fire
    Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
    How can the light that burned so brightly,
    Suddenly burn so pale?
    Bright eyes

    Bright eyes, burning like fire
    Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
    How can the light that burned so brightly,
    Suddenly burn so pale?
    Bright eyes


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