Monday, December 8, 2008

You Can Call Me Al

A man walks down the street
He says, Why am I soft in the middle
Why am I soft in the middle
When the rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard

Bonedigger, bonedigger
Dogs in the moonlight
Far away, my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly, Beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
Ya know, I don't find this stuff amusing anymore

If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long-lost pal
I can call you Betty, and Betty,
When you call me, you can call me Al

(*piccolo solo*)

--Paul Simon

I grew up listening to that song. My mom had a few Paul Simon CD's, and she'd play them whenever she took me somewhere in the car. Then her tastes changed, and she got some new music, and I forgot the whole thing.

I didn't rediscover Paul until my freshman year of high school. It was my first year in marching band, and I was excited. We were playing a show called "The Sounds of Simon," a collection of old Simon & Garfunkel medleys. There was a piccolo solo in the one song, "You Can Call Me Al," and I wanted it something fierce, so I listened to my mom's old CD and practiced myself hoarse until I had those shrill notes sounding like perfection.

Picture a younger me, five feet of cocky freshman, standing at the head of the marching band formation during halftime at a football game. They didn't tell me until much later that I was the only one marking time while the rest of the band was at halt. "It was like you were dancing!" they said, with a laugh at my expense. Oh well. At the time, I thought I was pretty dang cool. A genuine Mozart, indeed.

Well, true to my obsessive nature, I just had to listen to the original versions of all of the other songs we were playing, just so I'd know I was doing it properly. I amassed a small collection of Paul Simon music, and suddenly realized that it was the soundtrack to my life. How about that? I couldn't get enough of it. I memorized the lyrics to dozens of the songs. I couldn't believe that I'd been missing out on words that powerful and true for so long.

My taste in music is rather odd. I don't spend a lot of time listening to it. I've got an iPod (or, rather, a Dell DJ), but half the time I can't even remember where I left it last. I don't have an iTunes subscription. When I'm driving, I tune into my XM radio [favorite stations: The Loft, The Coffee House (a recent discovery), and Cinemagic (currently off-air)]. I can listen to and enjoy practically anything, but I'm cheap and won't buy new music.

But Paul is different. He's a true poet. "The last great singer-songwriter!" I used to lament. I dare you to truly listen to his lyrics and melodies without thinking, "Wow, this is about me. If I was more talented and more clever, I could have written this." Or maybe it's just me. That's possible, too.

I could post a list of my favorite Rhymin' Simon lines, or links to the music videos of every song he ever wrote, but that would take up more room and more time than I have here. I can't pick a favorite to post, because there are just so many relevant ballads to choose from, and to truly appreciate Paul, you've got to have the whole spectrum.

But here's a little taste, anyway. The song that got me started. A little more humorous than it is profound, but enjoyable all the same:

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