South Africa has been on my mind lately for a number of reasons and all of that has been tragically brought to the fore with the gun massacre at a mine near Johannesburg just a couple of days ago. Striking miners had allegedly armed themselves with machetes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever believe that that is an excuse to mow-down 34 people, killing them on-site and wounding as many as 78 more.
And unlike the dim-witted neo-Nazi who listens to my show and emailed from one of his menagerie of anonymous email addresses with this latest diatribe of dumbarsery: that “only a PC idiot like myself would be sad at this killing”, I am capable of understanding that it is OK to be compassionate about an issue where both sides may be at fault, albeit to catastrophically varying degrees.
With a dear friend from South Africa currently living in Brazil, with a documentary on American singer-songwriter Rodriguez who was massive in South Africa in the 70s but unknown in the States hitting the film festival circuit (Searching For Sugarman) and the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s South African-inspired Graceland (also supported by a feature-length doco Under African Skies), South Africa is right in my consciousness at the moment. Not to mention my love of cricket and it’s about time I made it to this beautiful but complicated land.
With all of that in mind, here is a song from one of the most perfect albums ever made. Paul Simon copped a lot of flak for making Graceland in the 80s, but as much as I’m pleased there was a UN boycott on South Africa, I’m just as pleased Paul Simon was the artist to break it so thoroughly. An album of largely Americana lyrics set to South African rhythms which takes me back to my Malaysian childhood more than any other recording, Graceland still sounds as meaningful and as vital as any album from that decade.
The inter-racial musical marriage is so fully realized it’s easy to forget its complexity. As for Simon’s lyrics, you have the beauty of lines like “losing love is like a window in your heart / everybody sees you’re blown apart,” (Graceland) matched with the one in a million oddities: “the bomb in the baby-carriage was wired to the radio,” (Boy In The Bubble). Just choosing a favourite from an album Oprah Winfrey has declared her all-time number one is difficult, but Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, Under African Skies, I Know What I Know and The Boy In The Bubble would be the top contenders. So with all the randomness of a blindfolded man flinging a dart at a board, here is The Boy In The Bubble, with that joyous accordion and bass-driven track . For all my South African friends, enjoy.