I Know What I Know
and I’ll sing what he said. Ethan Zuckerman has two great posts lately: “From protest to collaboration: Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and lessons for xenophiles” and “Argentine economics and maker culture.” The Paul Simon post talks about the deep history of the Apartheid boycott, Paul Simon’s approach to creating Graceland. Graceland was a collaboration of the hardest sort. Not only across boundaries of culture, but of money, fame, power and an international boycott. It’s always been one of my favorite albums because..
At its best, Graceland sounds like Simon is encountering forces to large for him to understand or control. He’s riding on top of them, offering free-form reflections on a world that’s vastly more complicated and colorful than the narrow places he and Art Garfunkel explored in their close harmonies. In “Boy in the Bubble” (video above), the chorus, “These are the days of miracle and wonder, this is the long distance call” could serve as a tagline for anyone confronting our strange, connected world. Simon’s not cutting and pasting from a global palette of sounds the way McLaren is – he’s being swept forward by the brilliant musicians he’s playing with, trying frantically to tell us what he sees through the window as the train rushes forwards.
while just a few days before he had time for a long rumination about the impact of currency on culture in Argentina:
I started thinking things were a bit strange when I noticed an Italian restaurant advertising the fact that they used a particular dried pasta imported from Italy. The pasta in question – DeCecco – is fine stuff, but I buy it for $2 a box at my local supermarket. This restaurant was charging a steep premium for these noodles, roughly twice what they charged for handmade. In the US, where labor is at a premium, “handmade” almost always means “expensive” – in Argentina, handmade means local, which means cheap, while the imported noodles demand a premium.
The world is a weird and wonderful place, and Zuckerman is a fascinating linker, bringing together interesting and diverse threads to make a mosaic.
Ultimately, Simon emerged from Graceland as a bridge figure. Producing Ladysmith Black Mambazo albums, he found himself literally attempting to share what he saw as beautiful and transformative in Zulu choral music with an American audience…Xenophilia involves this sort of complex negotiation, finding a path that’s about collaboration, not appropriation. It finds ways to engage as well as to protest, to build joint projects that, in turn, build relationships and bridges. In rare cases, you might get something truly special, a record that’s very much worth a listen more than twenty years later.
I wanted to tie this a little (because it’s hard to tie it a lot to very much of anything, and that’s not only ok, but great) to some of what I’m learning lately, but I’m short on time.
So go read Ethan’s posts.