Friday, July 5, 2013

The Rocky Road to Paul Simon's "Graceland"

by Garrett Sawyer

Paul Simon's landmark album "Graceland" sold 14,000,000 copies and earned the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. But the road to Graceland was anything but smooth.

Let's backtrack a bit to 1980. Simon had just released "One Trick Pony", both the movie and the soundtrack. Although the latter yielded a top ten hit with "Late in the Evening" the former was a flop at the box office, garnering decidedly mixed reviews.

Then there was the long-awaited Simon and Garfunkel reunion ... except it never happened. The legendary duo had reunited in the studio for the album Simon was working on.

But the same old interpersonal squabbles got in the way with the end result being that one day Simon unilaterally announced to Art Garfunkel that he had erased Garfunkel's vocal tracks and that he was going to be releasing the album solo after all.

"Hearts and Bones" came out in 1983 but failed to land a single song on Billboard's Top 40 chart for the first time since he flopped with Garfunkel as a fledgling folk-rock duo on "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." almost twenty years earlier.

I saw "Hearts and Bones" on "Ten Best of the Year" lists but that was probably scant consolation.

And finally there was his marriage to actress Carrie Fisher. It was his second marriage and lasted a grand total of one year, from 1983 to 1984. The title song from "Hearts and Bones" was written about their marital collapse ("One and one-half wandering Jews ...").

It was right around that time that Simon was reading one of the radio trade journals. This particular issue had an article on future trends in radio programming. One of the radio personnel interviewed actually said something like, "Well, we're not going to be playing people like Paul Simon anymore."

And Simon read that! He later said that you try to de-personalize such a statement. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, you can't de-personalize something like that beyond a certain point when they say it about you!

At that point, with a failed movie, a failed album, a failed marriage and a failed reunion under his belt (do you detect a pattern here?) Simon was understandably feeling something to the effect of, "Well, I might as well do whatever I want because it doesn't seem like anyone's going to care anyway."

With a fellow as talented as Simon you could almost guess what was going to happen next: it freed him of all expectation. So one day he was listening to a cassette a friend had given him of the Boyoyo Boys instrumental "Gumboots."

Simon later wrote lyrics for the song, which later was included in a new album that revitalized his career and helped put World Music on the map.

Vince Lombardi once said, "The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it."

I seriously doubt if Paul Simon ever played football but he sure showed what he was made of, coming back from multiple adversities to deliver what Rolling Stone would rank as one of the 100 best albums of all time.

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