Skip to Content

Why Did People Criticize Paul Simon for Graceland?

Why Did People Criticize Paul Simon for Graceland?

Among many things, Paul Simon is famous for his Graceland album. 

That record is as controversial as it is adored. But why? And what else has Simon done, aside from Simon and Garfunkel? 

Let’s take a look.

About Paul Simon

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was born in New Jersey in 1941. His mother, Belle, was an English teacher, and Louis, his father, was a teacher and a bandleader.

That may help explain Simon’s stunning lyrics and musical skills!

Simon and Garfunkel

Simon moved to Queens in his early childhood and first met Art Garfunkel in the sixth grade. They immediately started singing together. 

The two later formed Simon and Garfunkel, a folk duo that was one of the biggest acts of the ’70s. Their hits included “Sounds of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair,” and “Mrs. Robinson.” Despite their act’s success, the two couldn’t get along and split. 

Solo Work

In 1972, Simon released a solo album. The songs were stylistically different than those he recorded with Garfunkel. His solo hits like “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” were more peppy and lighthearted. And, no, he never actually decided what he and Julio were doing down by the schoolyard.

After appearing in the Woody Allen classic Annie Hall, Simon decided to write, direct, star in, and soundtrack a movie of his own. His movie One-Trick Pony was a colossal flop, but some of his soundtrack songs did well.

In his 40s, Paul Simon became fascinated with international music and traveled to South Africa to make Graceland. His next release was the Latin-American-inspired Rhythm of the Saints, which didn’t do very well. 

After that, Simon worked on Broadway shows, which inspired his music. As a result, Simon’s subsequent few solo albums did well, even winning Grammy awards. He toured again with collaborators including Garfunkel and his former neighbor, Sting. 

Due to his friendship with producer Lorne Michaels, Simon has appeared on Saturday Night Live many times.

Personal Life

Simon’s first marriage ended in divorce. He then married Carrie Fisher, but that didn’t work out either. In 1992, Simon married singer-songwriter Edie Brickell. They have three children. 

Simon contributes to several causes around the world. He’s received special awards for campaigning for underserved children to get better healthcare. 

Simon continues to perform music, though he also enjoys family time. 

About the Album, Graceland

Graceland is a landmark solo album of Paul Simon’s. It’s also his most controversial due to the South African influence. 

In 1984, Lorne Michaels gave Simon a cassette of South African street music. Simon became obsessed with the sound and wanted to make an album there. 

He flew to South Africa the following year. Unfortunately, the United Nations banned artists, musicians, and writers from participating in activities there at the time. South Africa was still under apartheid rule, and the UN didn’t want to support that in any way.

Nevertheless, Simon went and recruited local musicians. He paid them very well, even with obstacles owing to curfews. Simon also paid the musicians to travel for additional recordings after he’d returned home.

The Graceland album was released in 1987 and stayed on the chart for 97 weeks. It peaked at number three. 

The controversy has never gone away, but the album is considered a classic.

What Is the Meaning of the Song, Graceland?

The title track of Graceland is about visiting Elvis Presley’s Memphis home. Simon did so after divorcing Carrie Fisher, and the song contains his thoughts on that relationship ending. 

What is Paul Simon’s Biggest Hit?

“Kodachrome” is his biggest hit and has a fun easiness to it. It was on his 1973 album “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.” The lyrics are nostalgic but not too serious. 

They give us those nice bright colors
Give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah

What Caused the Rift Between Simon and Garfunkel?

Simon and Garfunkel had some long-standing issues, namely jealousy. By the time they had their first hit with “Sounds of Silence,” they had parted ways. Simon was even living in England. 

They came back together to seize the moment, and it worked out well professionally. However, things didn’t go so smoothly. Simon resented that Garfunkel got credit for singing the songs that Simon wrote. Garfunkel envied Simon’s songwriting skills.

Both Simon and Garfunkel were cast in a movie adaptation of the novel Catch-22. However, Garfunkel’s part was more significant than Simon’s. In fact, the producers edited Simon’s part out altogether. Garfunkel was on set while Simon sat at home feeling livid. Also, they couldn’t tour or record with Garfunkel away for so long. 

Both men have spoken harshly of the other. But they still come back together for the occasional performance.

What Is Paul Simon Doing Now?

Simon is still recording music and performing. Most recently, Malcolm Gladwell and journalist Bruce Headlam released an audiobook. “Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon.” The project consists of five hours of interviews with Simon, including discussing new music in the works.

Criticized and Critically Acclaimed

Paul Simon is a huge part of the Americana tradition. That’s true of his work with Garfunkel and also as a solo artist. 

Yet, one of his most famous albums celebrates South Africa when it was taboo to do so. Thirty years later, many still question Simon’s decision to travel and work there. 

It’s hard to say if he made the right choice or not, but he certainly helped uplift South African musicians and delivered a very personal album in the process.