In case it wasn’t obvious from yesterday’s piece, Graceland — the real one I mean, Elvis’ mansion in Memphis — is a place of worship. The visitors are serene, experiencing belief not faith; a lot of them saw Elvis on TV or even in the flesh. They know that, as Paul Simon sings, in his lovely, lovely song also called Graceland, that there’s reason to believe that they’ll all be received there. And also just the name “Graceland” is the prettiest word imaginable.
“Poor boys and pilgrims” Paul sings, but getting into the mansion is kind of expensive so I guess it’s just pilgrims. That’s a word that brings another kind of worship to my mind, because of a related word: Peregrine, a falcon whose name is cognate with “pilgrim” etymologically. One of the most intense experiences of my life was when in 1989, an employee of the University of Waterloo, I got involved with the effort to re-introduce peregrine falcons to the area; a young rescued bird was being persuaded to nest on top of the eight-story library. We, the volunteers, took shifts as watchers, keeping track of the falcon’s movements, worrying when it went to ground, rejoicing when it started to learn to hunt. I loved that bird, the creamy beauty of its feathers, the drama of its “stoop”, a word which means dive; a hunting peregrine’s dive is the fastest movement known to be achieved by any animal, approaching 320 km/hr. A peregrine flying a couple of hundred feet high stoops to the ground in the same amount of time you or I stoop to pick up a fallen pencil; it’s awesome. Watching the pilgrim bird, I was full of reverence. Just for the bird; no metaphors or symbolism.
Oh, I seem to have gotten distracted.
You have to be a little ambiguous about Paul Simon, who got on the wrong side of some of the right people around Apartheid. But then he taught the world about the music of southern Africa, which has to count for something.
You don’t have to be ambiguous about Graceland, though; it’s a beautiful tune beautifully played, the chord changes are spookily epic, and the melodic hook on “I’m goin’ to Graceland, Graceland” is among the sharpest any songwriter ever embedded in anyone’s musical memory.