Answers the Sixth!

Continuing my catch-up detail on Ask Me Anything! August 2012, I’ll wrap up all of Roger’s questions!

Here’s something I plan to do, so I’ll let you try first: come up with a list of the 20 (or 25) most important/influential people in your life. I’m particularly interested in those people who may be out of your life now (a music teacher, a lost friend) who you look back and see their impact.

With respect…I’m going to save this one for a future post. This one will take a lot of thought!

What do you think of the 1986 Paul Simon album Graceland? I know you hadn’t heard the album, but were you aware of the controversy over Simon going to South Africa, albeit to record with black South Africans?

Some background: a while back, I admitted someplace (was it here?) that I had never heard Graceland, the Paul Simon album from 1986. I didn’t ignore the album out of any dislike for Mr. Simon. It’s just that, like many things, it slid by me when it came out because I was into other things at that time, and it remained pretty much forevermore one of those pop culture artifacts that I just plain missed at the time. (Not unlike, as I’ve noted many times, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.)

Well, Roger decided that this constituted a fundamental failure on my part to explore a fine work of art, so he sent me a copy of the album, which I have now listened to in its entirety about seven or eight times (with some internal dipping here and there). I realize this falls into the general category of “Water is wet, film at eleven!”, but…Graceland is just wonderful.

I knew going in that Graceland features musicians from South Africa, and that this represented quite a cultural event in the 1980s, since Apartheid had not yet ended in that country. What I didn’t know was the general upbeat nature of the album. I was kind of expecting a more meditative work, dealing with issues of heavy import such as the relations between the races in a divided country. Instead, the record is…well, I found it a much for fun listening experience than I had expected. That surprised me. (I was also completely unaware of any controversy surrounding the album; I just looked that up, to discover that some people felt that Simon had broken sanctions against South Africa in going there to record his album. I can kind of see the point, but to me, economic sanctions are different from cultural ones.)

I was also surprised that the African elements in the album aren’t as forward as I had expected. I have a sad suspicion that this represents some kind of stereotype-based thinking on my part, but I honestly expected the kind of faux-African sound that marks the score to The Lion King. I wasn’t even aware that I had that expectation in my head until I listened to the album the first time and realized that some of it is just straight-up pop, and when the African sounds become undeniable and unmissable, they are…well, they’re uniquely refreshing. My favorite track on the entire album, for this very reason, is “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”.

The song is also effective, as are most on the album, because Simon’s lyrics tell a story. These songs have the feel of poetry combined with music, instead of many song lyrics which just sound like nonsensical rhymes set to a catchy tune.

Anyway, Graceland is just terrific, and I am indebted to Roger for finally getting it into my hands.

And a more general question: How many times do you need to listen to an album before feel that you know an album? (It’s three for me, BTW.

I’ve never really considered this. It’s a good question. I’m not sure what it is to ‘know’ an album. I can get a general sense of the album’s ebb and flow after a couple of listens — two or three — but for a more thorough exploration of an album’s themes, it takes me longer than that. Sometimes it can even take years, depending on the album! It’s not uncommon for me to listen to some work or album that I’ve ‘known’ well for years and still hear something new, or suddenly grasp something about a particular song, or the like.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that I ever really ‘know’ an album. But then, I am possessed of a constant fear that I am, in fact, a dolt who is masquerading as someone who knows something about anything. This is a useful attitude for a writer, I think — if nothing else, I’m motivated to create works that by definition I will know better than anyone else.

Have you made any plans for your funeral? I assume your wife knows your desires, but do others (e.g., embalming v cremation, organ donation,) should you and your wife die at the same time?

Not asking who, but have you made a decision where your child should stay should both of her parents pass away? What were the bases – her familiarity with them, their income, their values (religious or otherwise), their politics, the size of their house, their age?

Yeesh…I’ve given this very little thought at all, actually! I like to joke about being cremated and then snuck into pepper-shakers at some restaurant or other, but that’s obvious gallows humor. In truth, my attitude on this is basically for those left after I shuffle off to do whatever they feel is easiest and best for their peace of mind. I’m reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when a Klingon dies and Picard or someone asks one of the Klingon survivors what they want done with the body, and the response is, “The body? That’s just an empty shell. Do whatever you want with it.” I know that a lot of people have definite desires for what is to happen with their remains — where to bury, where to be scattered, et cetera — but in all honesty, I have little such opinion, as I figure that I’m not likely to care afterwards, so why care now?

Having said that, I suddenly realize that I’ve never signed my organ donor card. I should probably do that. And I have always admired my paternal grandmother, who had her body donated to a medical school after her passing, so that the next generation of doctors might learn something from her. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t envision something along the lines of the opening credits sequence of the old Jack Klugman show Quincy, which showed Quincy starting an autopsy for a group of police academy cadets, only to watch them all pass out.

OK, that’s it for Roger! Next time, we’ll wrap this whole thing up with some more lighthearted queries.

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4 Responses to Answers the Sixth!

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    Thanks for all your consideration. Sometime, I hope you see the movie about the making of Graceland. Oh, BTW, you are mentioned in today's post.

  2. Call me Paul says:

    I'm glad you had the chance to enjoy Graceland. Next up, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska…


  3. Call me Paul says:

    Also, it's my considered opinion that funerals are for the loved ones, not the deceased, so, put me down on the Klingon side of the equation. I encourage my family to hold my funeral, if they insist on holding one, in the least expensive possible way. But, if they choose to ignore my suggestions, I'm pretty sure I won't be able to intervene.

  4. Roger Owen Green says:

    Paul – you COULD haunt them…

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