BlindedBySound Music Television: "You Can Call Me Al" - Paul Simon

With great simplicity Paul Simon created one of the great music videos.
  |   Comments

paul simon you can call me al

My wife was born in Sierre Leone - that's in Africa for you people with poor geography skills or those of you raised in the American public educational system. Her parents were missionaries, but they moved back to the states not long after she was born so she doesn't actually have any memories from the continent, but its still pretty cool to say she's from Africa.

When they moved home to America they didn't own a television, nor did they buy one for many years. Her mother likes to brag that her kindergarten teacher gave her a hug when she found out this information as it was refreshing to see a child who still had an attention span. Even when they did purchase a television they didn't buy into a cable or satellite package and thus my wife was raised on just a handful of TV stations.

I, on the other hand, was a TV junkie before I could even say "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" A huge part of my nostalgic memories involve one television moment after another - from ALF to the Huxtables singing "Night Time is the Right Time" to the Challenger Explosion to hundreds of music videos. I absorbed all those moments and all those moments became who I am. My person-hood is, in so many ways, a conglomeration of thousands of pop cultural moments.

This annoys my wife to no end. I'm constantly asking her if she remembers a movie she never saw, or an episode of a TV shows shes never heard of, or more often than not if she recalls some old music video that never graced her television bulb. She is - and I'm not making any negative judgments here - completely devoid of any popular culture for the first decade and a half of her life.

The other day I decided to make her a Youtube playlist filled with all the old classics videos that I grew up on but that she missed. I wanted to be able to finally have her answer "yes" to the question of her remembering whatever piece of nostalgia I'm waxing on at any given moment. I wanted her to have some pop cultural references from the '80s. I wanted her to be able to give my messed up pop life some sort of positive affirmation.

First on the list, without question, was Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al." It is easily one of my favorite videos, and ranks up there with the best of all time. It is a deceptively simple video with Mr. Simon sitting in a plain white room with Chevy Chase as his companion with nothing but a couple of chairs, and a few instruments to keep them company. Yet it is a thing a hilarious beauty. Chevy Chase hams it up with gesticulating facial movements, wacky dance moves all while lip-synching the lead vocals while Paul Simon plays it straight. I'd never actually noticed this until today but on the first line you can see Simon start to sing, but is quickly overpowered by Chase. He then walks off the stage, looking annoyed, only to come back with a big bongo. He spends most of the rest of the video looking bored, only to then brilliantly find his groove by singing the bass lines to the chorus. The video ends with the two of them forming a small, energetic danceline.

It is an amazingly simple video and I can't imagine that it took any time to think up, nor to actually shoot, yet it remains one of my favorites. Its low concept and goofiness gives it a charm that surpasses all the expensive set ups so many other videos go for and replay value that has lasted years.

It helps that "You Can Call Me Al" is also a great song coming from Simon's magnificent Graceland album which itself was inspired by African rhythms. Which can now inspire my African-born wife. Cirlce of life and all that.