Music, My life

Music to get divorced by: Graceland

In 2001-2002, when I was going through separation and divorce, there were certain songs that I listened to over and over. Some, like Gipsy King’s Tú Quieres Volver or Gordon Lightfoot’s I’m Not Supposed to Care, were simply excellent reflections of my melancholy and pain. Others named my hurt and began to take me beyond it.

The greatest of these was Paul Simon’s Graceland. It is full of lines that settle into your soul, poignantly expressing the pain of lost love and the hope that eventually healing will come. The frame of the song tells the story of a trip to Memphis, and then a couple of anecdotes come out of nowhere and smack you between the eyes, like the following:

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never notice
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said, “Losing love is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”

And this:

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say “Whoa, so this is what she means”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

Graceland becomes an explicit expression of grace as the song progresses:

For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received in Graceland

Here is the song and its lyrics:

Graceland

The Mississippi Delta
Was shining like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War
I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland
She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never notice
The way she brushed her hair from
Her forehead
And she said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow”
I’m going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland
There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland
Whoa, in Graceland, in Graceland
In Graceland,
I’m going to Graceland
© 1986 Words and Music by Paul Simon

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25 thoughts on “Music to get divorced by: Graceland

  1. ordinarybutloud says:

    My mother got divorced to “Memories,” sung by Barbra Streisand, and also the Bee Gees. For my dad it was Crystal Gayle. No accounting for taste.

    • Do you mean The Way We Were or Memory from Cats? Both of those are excellent sad songs.

      After my first breakup in high school, I spent a lovely melancholy weekend listening to vintage BeeGees (before disco). At some point I realized I was enjoying feeling miserable. I don’t remember ever enjoying feeling miserable during my divorce.

      • ordinarybutloud says:

        Actually, both. The soundtrack of my teenage years included both The Way We Were and Memory from Cats, and the Bee Gees, and some Johnny Mathis.

  2. I remember a fine date to dinner and a movie of my long ago. the dinner was a place now defunct serving flowerpot bread…now it’s a modern diner of zero renown… the movie was a tear jerker of michael keaton in “my Life.” wherein he must go through the hospice of leaving this life yet records on video all the things his knowledge might best be carried onto the next generation. often the best dates I have had where only after the chance of romance was gone. save one where that storied electric kiss came, that heady loss of reason …to only throw apart wouldn’t attend… ah, it’s difficult to charm an anorexic to dinner parties or to even stay alive (shh about my cooking!)

  3. It’s uncanny, but this song was also one that resonated with me during my divorce era. Not only that: the first two extracts you give from the lyrics above are exactly the two which have provoked the most thought from me over the years.

    I also think ‘shining like a national guitar’ is a wonderfully fruitful simile.

    • Them National guitars is awful shiny.

      Interesting that you found the same pieces of the song to be memorable and ponderable. I used to remember pieces of this song, and think that they were from two or three different songs from the album, but then I’d listen and rediscover the fact that they all came from just one song.

      I’ll bet a fair number of people have leaned on that song during hard times. Divorce has always been a powerful inspiration in Paul’s songwriting.

      • Thinking about it now, there is a beautiful rhythm to the scansion of “the missisipi delta was shining like a national guitar.” I say it as I thump my hand on the desk, and it reminds me of somebody strumming a dobro.

  4. Interesting! My own divorce music begins and ends with Suite Judy Blue Eyes, bookending a whole bunch of bad attitude songs — like Hair Of The Dog, which isn’t quite poignant but fits certain angrier moments that come during the legal proceedings.

    A friend who thought he was doing me a favor made me endure Queen’s Love Of My Life after Amethyst and I broke up in 1979. It was like a suicide attempt gone wrong, listening to that. I should’ve run the guy over with my car for making me endure that.

    • I’m not surprised by the angry songs you chose. Fits with your writings. My own tendency has always been toward depression rather than anger, which is one of the reasons my marriage failed in the first place.

      I just listened to Love of My Life. It sounds pretty sappy. My life’s ambition has always been to have a shirtless guy with buck teeth and a mustache sing that to me… ha.

      • I tend to become depressed when there is nothing to be done about an unpleasant situation, and angry when there is something that must be done that I would not ordinarily do.

        I’m glad I could help you to realize your life’s ambition! 😀

  5. Aw. 😦 What a sad and painful time of your life, Tim.
    It’s interesting how music accompanies our lives like a movie soundtrack.
    Good and bad times are held within songs and their messages and melodies.
    I can hear a song today and it whisks me back to another day and time…and I can remember what was happening back then, how I felt, what I was wearing, who was with me, etc. Sigh.
    (((HUGS)))

    • Yeah, music is really evocative. At one point I gave away all my LPs and cassettes because I was tired of living in the past. There was nothing there I wanted. Years later, after I went through some big changes and a lot of growth, I could listen to the music without melancholy, and it became okay to purchase some of it again.

  6. My associations are all positive, a long drive to the Tennessee Appalachian trail with Mary, listening to the Graceland cassette all the way. I love Ladysmith Black Mambazo! ‘Diamonds’ and ‘Call Me Al’ are downright euphoric. I do recommend the youtube vid of ‘Call Me Al’ in Zimbabwe. You’ll be amazed.

  7. Interesting topic. I can’t think of anything I have been listening to through this divorce that I didn’t listen to before. But the end-stage of marriage and divorce are not that distinct.

    • I was familiar with some of the music before, and some I picked up once I was on my own. It’s more a matter of what did I zero in on to listen to repeatedly, especially when I was deep in depression.

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