#21: Paul Simon – “Graceland” (1986)

Friends, you join me today in the middle of one of the worst bouts of writer’s block that I can ever recall having. It’s not that I’m lacking in opinions – no fear of that – just that, the moment I try and write them down, they evaporate like this raccoon’s candyfloss.

Normally, this ought not matter. I can go away and do other things for a bit: read a book, watch a film, just generally soak up other people’s ideas for a bit. It’ll come back. But this time, I have to tell you what I think, which means I have to think a thing, and then somehow actually hang on to it. This time, I have deadlines.

Paul Simon is not helping.

It has taken me a very long time to get around to Graceland. Emily tells me it’s a long-time favourite of hers – and entirely aside from that, by rights, I ought to really enjoy it. I love me some cross-borders world music, some heavy-duty storytelling. You know that I love genre-mashing. And yet here I am, listening to all of those things, and I don’t know what to tell you, except that I am not really feeling it. I have sat at this screen with my headphones on for a very long time.

Part of it, I’m sure, is the pressure. I may not have listened to much of Graceland before, but Paul Simon’s voice is very easy to stumble upon, and he has associations in my head with people I’ve known that I’ve really wanted to impress, and I will tell you that this much time alone with him is tough. The song I most enjoyed is “Homeless”, which is also the one where we hear the least from Paul Simon. Entirely comprised of vocals, it’s soft and beautiful and I just really like the sound of it. Ladysmith Black Manzabo, the group of singers taking centre-stage, also start off “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, and are, I think, the best thing about that song. It’s a good song. They’re pretty great.

What this leads me to believe is that the best thing about Graceland is the South African influence, and the thing I’m least interested in is the Americana. Other songs are a combination of music that is very listenable to when I don’t pay too much attention to the words, and words that… there’s nothing wrong with them and they’re fine, it’s just that I can’t tune in to them right now. I can’t get on the right level to be interested in them. My mind is a blank slate; I have no opinion here. I have been like this for a fortnight now. It has been extremely irritating.

I mean – look at this. I ought to be lapping this up. It even starts with an accordion! This is exactly the sort of thing I usually go for. On my first listen, I was convinced I’d like it better second time around. But I didn’t, not really.

This is not really much of a review this week, so much as it is a bookmark. I promise I’ll come back to Graceland in a few months, when I can look it in the eye. It’s a good album. I can see what there is to like. But for now, I cannot for the life of me grab on to it properly.