Monday, January 30, 2012

You Can Call Me Al

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender looks over and says, "What is this, a joke?"

"Call Me Al" is the song that put Simon back on the map-- all over the globe. And yet it is not only one of the sunniest, but one of the funniest songs in his entire catalog.

It starts off like a hundred other songs, from Fats Domino's "I'm Walking" to Huey Lewis' "Do You Believe in Love"... to "The Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady. It could also be the set-up for a joke: "A man walks down the street..." (Probably the most common song opener is: "Well, I woke up this morning...")

The song then continues with a question the man asks himself about his physique: "Why am I soft in the middle?" The question contains the answer; "soft in the middle" is a phrase that might appear in the ad for a snack food. Then there is a pun on the word "hard" in its dual meanings of "not soft" and "not easy."

A "photo opportunity" is a staged setting in which photographers are invited to come take pictures of a celebrity, often of a politician or candidate, making a speech, opening a mall or kissing babies. And then another pun: "shot" means both "chance" and "photograph." "I want a shot at redemption," refers to the idea that such a redemption, actually a private spiritual matter, now takes place at photo opportunities, through public apologies and grand gestures meant to assure the public that a new leaf has been turned over. This is to avoid ending up as a "a cartoon/ In a cartoon graveyard,” presumably a political cartoon showing that his career is dead.

The next word, "bonedigger" can either be a metaphor for the kind of journalist that digs up old scandals and finds skeletons in closets of celebrities... or a kenning for the "dogs" in the next line (a kenning is a kind of metaphor found in such poetry as Beowulf, in which the sea is called a "whale-road").

Yet, it does not seem that the man is actually famous. He lives a building superintended by, or at least located past beyond, a man who is even softer in the middle, who does not have pastries to thank but alcohol ("Mr. Beerbelly") and also has a whole pack of noisy, pushy dogs.

"You know, I don’t find this stuff/ Amusing anymore." This can be a continuation of his comments his alcohol-loving neighbor, or a "this stuff" can be the kinds of shenanigans he feels he has put up with too many of already in life.

The chorus seems to be a conversation not involving the "man" at all. The song started with a narrator, who now seems to turn to the listener and draw us into a closer relationship: "If you’ll be my bodyguard/ I can be your long-lost pal." This role-playing is indicative-- the speaker seeks protection, and in turn offers friendship. One can't offer protection in return, if one already feels vulnerable.

Then the speaker reveals more-- he is talking to a woman, and he suggests they take on pet names: "I can call you Betty/ You can call me Al." According to Simon, the names come from a mistake the French composer Pierre Boulez made at a party, calling Paul "Al" and and his then-wife Peggy "Betty." So even this line is an in-joke.

The next verse kicks off with another pun, this time on the word pair "short" and "long." (Simon's website is again incorrect. The line is "whoa, my nights are so long," while the site has it as "woe.") The man (which could be the same one or not) now has a problem, a "short little span of attention" but "long" nights to fill.

"Where’s my wife and family?" It's odd that he doesn't know, even if he is divorced. If they had in fact run off or been taken away by surprise, he would have contacted the police! So a better interpretation is neither "Where is the family I have" nor "Where is the family I once had" but "Where is the family I should have by now?"

And what if he never finds love? What if he should "die" before it happens? And worse, he has no one to turn to for guidance, as his "role model is gone." Panicked, he grabs the first opportunity at any sort of relationship or connection, with no standards or thought for consequences: "He ducked back down the alley/ With some... girl." Something that happens too often with politicians and others, one might add.

Well, the consequences happen anyway, even to the non-famous: "There were incidents and accidents... hints and allegations." His reputation, whatever it was, is ruined. (The phrase "Hints and Allegations" has since become the title of a poetry collection, a novel, and a Collective Soul album.)

The final verse takes the man away from familiar streets and local alleys. It sets him down "in a strange world." There is the Old World, or Europe... there is the New World, or the Western Hemisphere (which is old, too, but not to Europeans) and then there is the "developing world"-- mainly Africa and southern Asia-- which used to be called "The Third World" until that expression was determined to be demeaning. ("Maybe it's his first time around" could be a reference to reincarnation, in that he is a new soul, one with no past lives and so no experience.)

This time, the man is entirely out of his element-- "He doesn't speak the language/ He is a foreign man." Wait, where's the pun? In the second line: "He holds no currency," which means that he has no local form of money... but this is also an expression that means he "has no importance" here, no weight or influence.

The man is not surrounded by the concerns of notoriety or self-fulfillment that he was at home. No, he is "surrounded by the sound" of this new-yet-older place, with its "cattle" instead of cars, "orphanages" instead of families, and "angels in the architecture" instead of corporate logos or gargoyles.

His response? To be received in grace-land, actually. His head starts "spinning." Then he has an epiphany, a religious awakening: "He says, 'Amen!' and 'Hallelujah!'"

The word "scatterlings" also appears in the song "Scatterlings of Africa," by South African singer-songwriter Johnny Clegg. The album Third World Child came out the year after Graceland did, and the song hit England in 1987, then was used in the 1988 American movie Rain Man. It is possible that Clegg picked up the word from Simon, or that they both took it from a third source, or the local dialect. Most likely, the word means "rootless people, exiled from their land." Clegg uses it to mean all of humanity, which began in Africa and scattered from there.

Back to our speaker, who is a foreign man, yes... but so is every one else! Here, he is just another one of the "scatterlings," not like in his home country where everyone has to live under the twin pretenses of stability and upward mobility. He finally comes to a place where no one has a place, and so everyone does. Even him.

There is a wonderful song by Dar Williams called "What Do You Hear in These Sounds?" about therapy. In it, her realization feels like this: "The wall came down/ And there, they stood before me/ With their stumbling and their mumbling/ Just like me."

The secret is that there is no secret. The epiphany, what he has found, is that everyone is lost. Everyone is "soft in the middle" and vulnerable. Everyone is "short of attention" that they can pay, and that is paid to them.

The last verse can be seen as Simon's version of "Amazing Grace"-- A sweet "sound" brings salvation and inner peace to a lost wretch. As for Simon himself, he had forever been searching for the origins of the music he loved as a child-- early rock, doo-wop, and gospel-- and he seems to have found it. Amen and Hallelujah indeed.

IMPACT:
This upbeat song remains one of Simon's most popular, a quarter-century on. It is used as a fanfare for everyone from athletes named Al to once-VP-candidate Al Gore.

The musicians are from his South African ensemble, made of up members of several local bands. The famous bass solo is by Bakithi Kumalo, first played forward then backward.

Also, Adrian Belew sits in on guitar synthesizer, Randy Brecker plays one of the driving trumpets, and jazz flutist Morris Goldberg has a solo on penny whistle.

It went to #23 in the US charts and #11 in Canada, but all the way #6 in New Zealand, #4 in the UK, #2 in Australia and also #2 in Ireland, where they know a well-played penny whistle when they hear one. The song has been covered by a few acts, but none whose names I recognize.

The seemingly offhand line "hints and allegations" has become something of a catch-phrase. It is used in the title of an album by Collective Soul, as the title of two books of poems-- one each by William M. Kunstler and Amanda J. Bradley-- and a book by Kimberly Dascenzo. Even more books use the phrase "Incidents and Accidents" in their titles.


Next Song: Under African Skies

Monday, January 23, 2012

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

Conspicuous consumption is not something one would expect to hear lauded by a graduate of the 1960s Greenwich Village folk-song scene. Yet, here we have a celebration of decadence-- a person with so possessed of so much wealth and ostentation that she can even walk, not merely in Cinderella's comparatively shabby crystalline footwear, but with "diamonds" embedded in "the soles of her shoes."

(Even if you could afford this, I would recommend against it, or you would need all of your diamonds to pay your podiatry bills.)

This song sort of takes off on the idea of "You don't feel you could love me/ But I feel you could" discussed in "Gumboots." Here, the divide is economic. We have seen how wealthy this woman is, while her beau is "empty as a pocket." That last word evokes Duncan, who was "destituted as a kid could be... without a penny in [his] pocket." (Also, we hear echoes of The Boxer and other downtrodden characters from Simon's earlier work.)

At this point, the song's pronouns shift, indicating that now the "poor boy" will narrate. And how does he feel about her outrageous display of wealth? He's philosophical about it: "Well, that’s one way to lose these walking blues." If you have to walk, you might as well do it in style, right?

At least, that's what he says openly. As they are walking, they lose physical contact until she slips her hand into his empty pocket (with his "car keys"? Then why are they walking? Maybe they have parked and are now walking to the door.) She senses that he is upset, and she is too.

"She said, 'You’ve taken me for granted/ Because I please you/ Wearing these diamonds.'" Well, that makes no sense-- if she pleases him, then by definition he is pleased by her and does not take her for granted! Maybe he's taken her for granted because she has diamonds and can pay for things, but it's not clear that he is pleased that she wears her diamonds this way.

"And I could say, Oo oo oo/ As if everybody knows/What I’m talking about/ Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes." It seems to me that he feels stuck. It's not his money and he has no right to tell her what to do with hers. But it's got to be a constant thorn in his side to see her waste money like this when he's so broke and would use that money so much more prudently if he had it. If anything is being taken for granted here, it's her money! Anyway, he can't say anything openly, but even his interjections give him away-- everybody knows that his sighs and groans are about this issue. Well, except her, it seems.

"She makes the sign of a teaspoon/ He makes the sign of a wave." The sign language for "spoon" is two fingers on the right hand spooning up imaginary food from an imaginary bowl in the left hand. And a "wave" is shown by undulating both hands palms down on a mimed roller coaster, much like a hula dancer might. So those are not the "signs" meant here.

I think that the average person, untrained in sign language, would indicate a spoon with an upturned, cupped hand (as if asking for something)... while wave would be a cupped hand, too, but palm down (as if telling someone to calm down). The two hands would compliment each other, like a yin-yang symbol. But if she is asking for something with an upturned palm, he's replying, with a downward-facing palm-- "Please ask for something I can actually provide-- keep your expectations low and realistic."

In any event, they prepare for an evening out (and the narrator takes back over). The man tries to gussy himself up "to compensate for his ordinary shoes." She seems already ready to go.

She is still attracted to him despite her earlier comment, calling him "Honey," and asking him, in fact, for something realistic: "Take me dancing." This is a lovely gesture on her part-- even though she knows he's poor, she is giving him the honor of being the one doing the "taking." She does not say, "I can get us into this posh club," or even "Let's go dancing," but "(You) take me."

Somehow, instead of a dance club, "they ended up by sleeping in a doorway." Not even the doorway to either of their buildings, but merely "a" doorway. What happened? Did they get drunk and pass out?

First, we learn what town they are in: New York City. They "ended up... by the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway." "Bodega" is the Spanish word for a small grocery or convenience store. And "Upper Broadway" is not the famous downtown theater district, but farther north, at which point the street gives way to residential areas populated by people of varying backgrounds. So these are not the dazzling "lights" of marquees but the gaudy neon of bars, shops, and small hotels.

And then a pronoun changes the story altogether: "...wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes." So that's what they did instead of going dancing. They went and made his "ordinary" shoes much less so. It must feel wonderful to have someone waste money on you, instead of making you watch them spend it only on themselves.

Now, the poor boy closes out the song, letting everyone know what he feels about this new development: "People say I’m crazy, I got diamonds on the soles of my shoes/ Well, that’s one way to lose these walking blues." Now he is playing it off like it's no big deal-- he's just trying to make walking more enjoyable. OK, sure.

I remember a story that came out of the Hurricane Katrina mess-- one family took the restitution money they received for losing their home to the floods and went grocery shopping... in a limousine. At first, this upset me-- how dare they waste money like that, in their situation! Then I remembered that limos are not necessarily that much more expensive than cabs. And that if you have a large family and a lot of groceries, you might need more than a sedan-size car.

And if you finally have enough money for once and had never been in a limo before, this might be a fun, memorable way to cheer everyone up for an afternoon. After all, going to the grocery store is hardly fun. But if you do it in a limousine... well, that could be one way to lose those shopping blues.

Musical Note:
While they get much more to sing later on "Homeless," this song is the first time most people got to hear the powerful-yet-tender vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. More about that amazing ensemble when we reach that song.

The track itself was remixed as a dubstep number, called "Diamonds Dub," by Todd Terje.

Next Song: You Can Call Me Al

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gumboots

This track, sent to Simon as an instrumental by a friend, was what sparked his whole Graceland odyssey.

First, the title. The "gum" in question is not chewing gum, but rubber. In some parts of the world, "rubber bands" are called "gum bands." "Gumboots," then, are rubber-soled boots, as opposed to leather-soled ones. The title came with the instrumental, and so bears little if any relationship to the song itself; if anything, it might reflect the bouncy rhythm of the tune.

The chorus of the song is the meaning: "You don’t feel you could love me/ But I feel you could." Each verse discusses a potential relationship that one party feels is possible and the other one... not so much (That second person could be right, though!).

The third verse's couple is easiest to parse. The man is "walking down the street" when he is greeted by someone who seems, shall we say, surprised by the obvious; by her observation, we see that she does not appear to be the brightest bulb in the lamp, even if she is gregarious and charming. But his response reveals a rich vocabulary, with words like "astute" and "institute." He is possibly multilingual, as he addresses her as "senorita." A relationship between two such mismatched intellects is a non-starter, right?

Not necessarily. While we might assume that the swifter one might dismiss the slower one, it is he whom we find reassuring her: "You don't feel you could love me, but..."

In the first verse, we have two friends talking in a cab. At first, it seems like the friend with the breakdown is not necessarily in the car, but then the word "you" makes it clear that he (or she) is, and is also the one he is "having this discussion" with.

As he is "rearranging" his position on his friend's nervous breakdown, which implies he had made a decision about it, but is now reassessing that "position." His question reflects this ambivalence. "Breakdowns come and... go" implies "OK, so it's over now, whatever," while "what are you going to do about it?" means "How are you going to make sure this doesn't happen again-- therapy, medication, yoga, what?" and indicates ongoing concern. He is so unsure about what to make of his friend's panic attack that he is at once dismissive and almost pushy-- "...That's what I'd like to know!" As if the other person's breakdown unresolved response was now his problem!

Usually, if someone has a nervous breakdown, people are hesitant to enter into (or ramp up) relationships with them right after. And yet the very next line is: "You don't feel you could love me, but I feel you could." This might be a nervous response on the part of the speaker, perhaps rushing in to fill the void in his friend's life. In this case, reassurance is taken a step too far, and "You know I'm here for you" might have been a less provocative, more appropriate response to the breakdown.

The second verse is the most abstract. How does one "fall into a phone call"? Perhaps the person who answered was not the person for whom the call was intended, but a conversation is struck up anyway; this often happens to me when my wife's friends call-- I end up chatting for a moment before passing the phone on. In any case, "falling" indicates surprise, as in "falling in love" or "falling for a trick."

"Believing I had supernatural powers/ I slammed into a brick wall." Everyone has overestimated his or her abilities at some point; a quick glance at the videos on failblog.org reveals this malady is especially common in teenage males. Somehow, in the course of this unexpected phone call, the speaker tried to solve a problem and be a hero, but ran into an unexpectedly immovable obstacle (much like the earlier scene in which he tries to solve a friend's breakdown with a come-on.) Say my wife's friend called to vent about a personal matter and I, instead of commiserating briefly and passing her on, dared to offer my own opinion. I would definitely hit a brick wall (or have one dropped on me).

OK, first the phone call itself was thrust upon the speaker, then his attempts to help were rebuffed, and now he's just upset: "I said, Hey, is this my problem? Is this my fault?" Well, it wasn't... but now he has inserted himself into the situation and, characteristically, is blaming everyone else for not appreciating his compassionate genius-- "If that’s the way it’s gonna be/ I’m going to call the whole thing to a halt!” Imagine instead of just apologizing, "Sorry, I was out of line," I said to my wife's friend, "Well, that's the last time I try to help you!"-- as if anyone has asked for my help to begin with.

Just as quickly, our speaker sees the error of his hubris and protest that, in fact, he is really a decent guy: "You don’t feel you could love me/ But I feel you could." This time, the sentence comes across as pure arrogance: "Come on, I was only trying to help!"

And so we come back to the third verse. The speaker-- having failed to be helpful with a friend's psychological trauma and then having failed by helping when his help was not requested-- now meets a simple-minded, friendly woman. Maybe they will end up together, maybe not. But at least this time, when he acts out of hand, she might be too slow to catch it, and he might be able to correct himself before she notices he should. And maybe he will learn that, despite his intellectual superiority to her, she is able to take care of herself now just as she was before she met him.

Maybe.

Next Song: "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes."

Monday, January 9, 2012

I Know What I Know

This song records the kind of vapid conversation, disguised as witty repartee, that occurs at cocktail parties.

It starts with a man realizing he is being, as they say, "checked out" by another party-goer. He can tell by her assessment that she is only approaching him because he is one of the least unappealing people in a roomful of people with limited appeal altogether. He uses the shrugging words "guess," "thought," "all right," "limited" and "off-night."

This is hardly the response, say, the Caribbean Queen has to the speaker of the Billy Ocean song of that name at another get-together: "She said I was the tiger she wanted to tame."

The woman in question here, seeing no tigers worth taming, opts for our speaker and leads with a version of, "Haven't I met you someplace before?" In her case, it's the more sophisticated version: "Don’t I know you from the cinematographer’s party?" (A "cinematographer" being someone expert in the technical aspects of film-making, possibly also with an eye toward their artistic possibilities).

Now, our speaker may or may not know a cinematographer. He may or may not have been to this party, and he may or may not have met this woman there. Even if he did, he may or may not remember her. But he can't tell her this. And anyway, it doesn't matter-- she knows him now.

If I say "no," he thinks, the conversation is over. But I can't give a definite "yes," either. So he obfuscates. He says something like, "Sure, why not just say so, if it means we can talk?" But in this case he opts for the more poetic, more off-handed, "Who am I to blow against the wind?"

The woman knows this is an obfuscation, so she sets him up by insulting him somewhat, and vaguely: "There’s something about you/ That really reminds me of money." Now, there is no way this a good thing, but he is unsure in which way she means it as a bad thing! Does she mean he is materialistic? Opportunistic? Elitist? He knows he is being insulted, and so thinks: "She is the kind of girl who could say things/ That weren't that funny." But he doesn't know how he is being insulted.

Trapped, he has no choice but to ask for clarification: "What does that mean..?" To which she shoots his own line back at him: "Who am I to blow against the wind?" now meaning both, "Hey, that's the way it is, I can't control how I feel about you," but also, "How does your own medicine taste, mister?"

He is stung, but impressed at her wit. Also, she seems very lithe: "She moved so easily/ All I could think of was sunlight." (And isn't that a beautiful line!) But he can't say anything that overtly sensual at this point. So instead he compliments her intelligence, asking “Aren't you the woman/ Who was recently given a Fulbright?”

A Fulbright scholarship is an extremely prestigious honor. It means that you are so excellent in your field, so innovative, that you are being sent by a Presidential panel to study and teach at a key institution or research station somewhere in the world. It is like being a Rhodes scholar.

She brushes off the question, responding that she is sure she knows him from that other party. He still refuses to answer her directly with either, "Yes, in fact, and I'm glad to have run into you again," or "Actually, no, but I'm glad I met you now." He replies again with, "Who am I to blow against the wind?"

The chorus is much more straightforward than all of this bandying about, but it gives a clue to this hesitancy and around-the-bush verbal dance the speaker is doing. He is certain of something-- that all things end.

Decades after the closing verse of "Leaves That Are Green" was written, Simon is still saying "Hello, hello.../ Goodbye, goodbye.../ That's all there is." Only here, he says it more succinctly: "We come and we go."

Life ends. Relationships end. There will be a "goodbye," a "go"-ing, no matter what. So the "hello" had better be worth it. If I am going to spend some of my limited time on Earth with you, he implies, I want it to be something that has a long and good time until the "goodbye."

On the one hand, she is attractive, or at least graceful. And she's not entirely unintelligent, as she did sting him back with his own barbed comment.

But there is something unattractive about being someone's "you'll do." ("Weird" Al Yankovic has a very funny song about this called "Good Enough for Now.") Read the opening lines again-- she doesn't truly want him, and will leave as soon as someone better shows up. Wouldn't it be better if he treated her fairly coldly and she just left him now, before the heartbreak and break-up?

The comment about her receiving a Fulbright wasn't a compliment-- it was a test. Of course she didn't receive a Fulbright; she doesn't even know what one is. When she doesn't answer directly, he thinks, "...Aaaand that's what I thought." Now he doesn't have to feel bad about not being good enough for her looks-wise... because she's not good enough for him brains-wise.

At all times, "in the back of [his] head," he remembers that things end. It's a good thing to keep in mind, because it stops him from beginning things that have the seed of their end before they even start.

And so he should only start up with people who are worth his time. Maybe he'll find one at the next cocktail party.


Next song: Gumboots

Monday, January 2, 2012

Graceland

While a trip to Elvis Presley's (in)famous Graceland estate is the set-up for this song, it's more about a state of grace than an actual, geographical place. Like Graceland itself, it is a place in which all are welcomed. (I even know the couple who had the mansion's first Jewish wedding; the skullcaps given to guests where made of-- what else-- blue suede.)

The trip that sets off the stream-of-consciousness lyrics seems to proceed northward from the "Mississippi Delta," perhaps down Nawlins way (that's "New Orleans," with the local accent), upstream along the river itself, through the former Confederate States, to "Memphis, Tennessee." So the word "down" in "down the highway" is to be taken as "along," not "southward"; perhaps it should be "up the highway," but in songs it's always "down the highway."

National is a brand of guitar. The maker specializes in the "dobro" a guitar with a steel plate mostly covering the soundhole (You can see one on the cover of the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms). This guitar can be played vertically or horizontally, usually with a slide and thimble-like picks (called "plectrums") and is known for its tremolo, or warbling, twangy sound. Simon is comparing the sunshine reflecting off the Delta wetlands to the shiny steel plate on this guitar, favored in country music.

"Poorboys" could be taken as "poor boys," simply "needy people," the kind that throng to a shrine like "pilgrims." But a "poorboy" is also local slang for a kind of large sandwich elsewhere known as a "hero" or "submarine" sandwich (or a "hoagie" or "grinder"). By adding some local slang, Simon is trying to evoke a sense of place. As it happens, the "Civil War" is in this area known as "The War Between the States"... but "Civil War" rhymes better with "National guitar."

Another way Simon proves his Southern bona-fides on the track is including The Everly Brothers themselves on high background harmonies (called "descants," technically). Don Everly was born in Kentucky... then Phil in Chicago, but still.

Who are the pilgrims in thos speaker's car? Himself and his son, who-- if the speaker is Simon-- is Harper, the "child of [Simon's] first marriage," to Peggy Harper. I have not done the math, but "nine years old" seems reasonable.

"But I’ve reason to believe/ We both will be received/ In Graceland." There could not have been a doubt about his son, an innocent child, being thus received. The doubt, which is here brushed away, must have been about himself, now a double divorcee.

This thought leads to its source, the memory of his love's leaving: "She comes back to tell me she’s gone." She seems to come to collect her things and let him know that her leaving is, in fact, permanent. He fumes at the insult to his intelligence: "As if I didn’t know my own bed." He knows her so well, he knows what "the way she brushed her hair from her forehead" means.

Then she makes an interesting observation-- a divorce, the loss of a love, is a public matter. As if being able to peer through "a window in your heart," everyone will know that you are devastated, "blown apart." Furthermore, those people will also feel the impact and shock wave: "Everybody feels the wind blow.”

Here, the website, liner notes, and book dispute the line. These first two sources have "Everybody sees the wind blow," which would imply people appreciate the impact but are not affected by it, which the Lyrics book says they are. Here's how this dispute breaks down, also taking the repeat of the chorus into account. The website has "Everybody sees the wind blow" both times; the liner notes have "sees" and then "feels"; the book has "feels" both times!

So we listen to the song. Simon sings "sees" the first time and "feels" the second time. The liner notes win. And this makes sense. The first time thinking the incident through, a person might only focus on himself: "Everyone sees my devastation, and I am exposed." The second time, he might see what impact his sadness and anger have had on those around him: "Everyone feels my devastation; I should be compassionate toward them, too."

And, on the second time through, the speaker realizes that he has more in his car than himself and his son. He has the skeletons from his closets, "ghosts and empty sockets."

The throw-away line that repeats changes "empty [eye] sockets" to "empties," usually a reference to empty cans or bottles of beer, as in "We should return these empties for a refund at the store." The sight of all the empties of beers consumed during a period mourning over a lost love, strewn around the floor the following morning, is a sobering thought. (Don Henley has a song with the lines: "If you still want to hold her, you must not be drinking enough.")

What else might keep someone out of grace, aside from losing love, and so now having no love? What about too much love? We'll have to find someone who has that issue and ask them. How about a girl who is, um, "bounced" on so often even she calls herself "The Human Trampoline," as if she were a circus sideshow attraction?

The speaker, who does not have that sort of chaos in his life, nevertheless knows "turmoil" of the kind a trampoline causes: "falling, flying... tumbling" in uncertainty. Yes, yes-- even someone that tumultuous can, um,  "bounce" into grace.

And now the speaker is ready to admit that he was not the only one impacted by the explosions in his life. To be fair, when his former lover told him this to begin with, she may have been speaking about herself, or telling him what to expect, from her own experience.

Simon, in interviews, has said that, when he was a teen, he wanted to be Elvis (Simon has admitted to the song being influenced by Presley's "Mystery Train"). So the idea of making a pilgrimage to Graceland, the source of his artistic inspiration, at a time of reassessment, should not surprise him so much: "For reasons I cannot explain/ There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland." Isn't this album, recorded on a trip to Africa-- the ultimate source of even Elvis' music-- just a further exploration on that same journey?

So what does grace mean? The word "unconditional" often precedes the word "love," but we have just seen that romantic love is not necessarily unconditional. There are everything from divorces to one-night stands. And what if "I may be obliged to defend/ Every love, every ending," worries the speaker, so used to-- so conditioned to-- conditional love. "What if I can't justify or excuse my actions well enough-- won't I be refused?"

And then the key realization dawns and the beginning of grace is achieved. "Or maybe," he wonders, "maybe there’s no obligations now." Maybe love is conditional when it is human love, and only God's grace is pure, obligation-free, and unconditional.

If that's true, it's true for everyone: "Maybe I’ve a reason to believe/ We all will be received/ In Graceland." All. Everyone. Even him.

IMPACT:
The song won the Grammy for Record of the Year, which goes to the person or people who performed and recorded the song (as opposed to Song of the Year, which goes to the songwriter. That year, 1988, that went to "Somewhere Out There," from An American Tail.). (Album of the Year is for the entire album. We'll see if that's phased out as downloads take over...)

The song hit charts internationally, going to 81 in the US, 98 in the UK, and 70 in Canada, and all the way to 27 in Ireland. It also cracked the top 100 in Australia and The Netherlands, and the Top 40 in New Zealand and Belgium.

It has been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to, inevitably, Elvis impersonators. Also a band with the clever, if sad, name of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

Next Song: I Know What I Know