I bought the album for this song. I love this song. I love the fake synthesized trumpets, I love the bass line, I love the music video.

The lyrics: consistently cryptic. After much sleuthing, here are several purported meanings of this song:

1) It’s about a man having a mid-life crisis. Seems pretty reasonable, though doesn’t explain that “body guard” quip.

2) It’s all about Paul Simon. The beginning is Paul Simon worrying about his music career. The middle is Paul Simon worrying about his freshly broken family. The end is Paul in South Africa, realizing life will go on. Still no explanation for that “body guard” line.

3) It’s all about Dante’s Inferno. This one’s my favorite. A genius on Songmeanings.com put this one forward. Alighieri shortened is Al, Beatrice (Dante’s lost love) is shortened to Betty. He goes through Hell and purgatory to find her, and ends up in heaven. Betty is is body guard, because, well, she’s dead. She can rock the afterlife world better than him. Who cares if this is or isn’t what Paul Simon’s thinking. It’s brilliant.

4) It’s about apartheid. Black man in Johannesburg, shit sucks. Still nothing about Betty as a bodyguard.

5) It’s about alcohol. Al, as in alcohol. Betty, as in the Betty Ford clinic. Amusing. Apparently Paul Simon met Chevy Chase at said Betty Ford Clinic. And since Chevy Chase was in the music video…

6) Of course I know the story of Paul Simon at a party where the host supposedly consistently (and accidentally) called Paul Simon and his wife by “Al” and “Betty”, but, well. that’s boring. And still doesn’t explain the verses.

This song is clearly dated. The synthesizers are overwhelming. But they’re played with such promise. They’re not tired old synthesizers, they’re bursting with emotion and energy. When there wasn’t a million feet of snow outside, I would belt this song as I biked to work in the morning. It was good.


[...] Paul Simon Song Analysis: You Can Call Me Al [...]

by: Paul Simon – Graceland | Sound & Tonic on 2011.11.19 at 00:36

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