What does You Can Call Me Al mean?

Paul Simon: You Can Call Me Al Meaning

Album cover for You Can Call Me Al album cover

Song Released: 1986

You Can Call Me Al Lyrics

A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon...

  1. gigsley
    click a star to vote
    May 30th 2008 !⃝

    He seems to be talking about his mid-life crisis in this one. He might be referring to himself in the third person walking down the street-could be like the 'street of life' or something. He says why am I soft in the middle now-obviously a reference to his sex drive, or lack thereof. and I love how he repeats that line, almost like he's really pondering on it quite hard.

    He wants to redeem himself, redemption. photo opportunity being something cool that happens in your life that you can look back on and be happy about. I see that at that point in his life he had gone through a fase where he had several unsuccessful albums and he doesn't want to be a has been, a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard. bonedigger bonedigger, the repetition is great because he is making fun of himself.

    Far away his well lit door-seems like death. This seems kind of ironic in a way because death is far away still at that age but he looks forward to it. He just wants it to happen. well lit means happy and he can see it from here. mr. beerbelly, beerbelly, he's making fun of himself by the repetition and the way he repeats himself.

    Get these mutts away from me, you know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore- here he seems to be referring to drinking and partying, he wants it to stop. as for the chorus I don't know what he's talking about.

    In the next verse, he's walking down that same street, and he has no attention span, and again he repeats that-really ponders on it. He's not interested in anything. woe his nights are so long. night being darkness and darkness being times of sadness. I don't know if he had a wife and family at the time. maybe he lost his wife or something and his kids have moved out or whatever the case me be. What if he dies like this? His role model is dead because he or she might have been much older than him in simon's childhood or maybe he just doesn't care about them anymore and he has matured and moved on. when he ducks down the alley with the girl-could be some girl he doesn't care about, had a small stint. all along there had been incidents and accidents. There were hints that this was going to happen. Still pondering on his life and walking down the street. This time in his life is strange. maybe it's a third world and it's his first time around. He doesn't speak a language-could refer to writing or maybe he just doesn't feel like talking with anybody at the moment. He holds no currency-he is an old man with no money. He is a foreign man-to this part of life. He is surrounded by the sound of cattle in the market place-scatterlings and orphanages-could be that he is depressed about the way the world is and all the suffering and junk. but finally he looks around and around he sees angels in the archetexture (of his life)- could be this redemption he was looking for, some sort of relief, maybe a new idea for an album. Spinning in infinity, he says hallelujah.

  2. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Mar 11th 2008 !⃝


    To me it is pretty clear that this song is about an experience in a third world country, in a foreign land. Probably inspired by his travels to South Africa at the time.

    A man walks down the street
    He says why am I soft in the middle now
    Why am I soft in the middle
    The rest of my life is so hard
    I need a photo-opportunity
    I want a shot at redemption
    Don't want to end up a cartoon
    In a cartoon graveyard
    Bonedigger Bonedigger
    Dogs in the moonlight
    Far away my well-lit door
    Mr. Beerbelly Beerbelly
    Get these mutts away from me
    You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore

    He is expressing his initial distaste for this strange place. He resent being here... He is scared and feels vulnerable but he has made this trip in his attempt to succeed.

    If you'll be my bodyguard
    I can be your long lost pal
    I can call you Betty
    And Betty when you call me
    You can call me Al

    If you have ever been on a trip to a third world country, you will find that there is always a local which you have to make friends with in order to survive. They become your bodyguard... guide you around the place... You essentially put all your faith in that person, and they become your best friend and only friend. In fact you pretend like they are your long lost pal...

    A man walks down the street
    He says why am I short of attention
    Got a short little span of attention
    And why my nights are so long
    Where's my wife and family
    What if I die here
    Who'll be my role-model
    Now that my role-model is
    Gone Gone

    A person feeling scared being in a foreign country. He has made the trip alone without his family... wondering what the hell he is doing here. He has already gotten sidetracked...and he is feeling guilty about his adultery... Lost his role model... because he is cheating..

    He ducked back down the alley
    With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl
    All along along
    There were incidents and accidents
    There were hints and allegations

    Cheating with a little young girl... In some dingy back alley way. All of which he obviously denies... calling them 'allegations'.

    A man walks down the street
    It's a street in a strange world
    Maybe it's the Third World
    Maybe it's his first time around
    He doesn't speak the language
    He holds no currency
    He is a foreign man
    He is surrounded by the sound
    The sound
    Cattle in the marketplace
    Scatterlings and orphanages
    He looks around, around
    He sees angels in the architecture
    Spinning in infinity
    He says Amen! and Hallelujah!

    This is pretty clear now... Third world market.. exotic sounds smells and such.. feeling out of place he sees angels in the architecture (maybe a glass window??) ... angels being a western anglo christian symbol which he can recognise.. and feels good about.

    The song in its entirety captures the moods and emotions of a lonely person on a trip to a third world country.

    Where he got the names is irrelevant to me. He might have picked them out at a party like it has been described but that is not the gist of the song.

  3. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Mar 4th 2008 !⃝

    I just watched the documentary on VH1 Classic about Graceland and Paul Simon talks about each verse of this song, and he doesn't agree that much with what you have presented, except for what you said about the last portion about the "third world".

  4. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Mar 26th 2006 !⃝

    Are you nuts? The song is about being an alcoholic and recovering, I can call you Betty (betty ford) and and you can call me Al (al-coholic), abd there are a million other references.

  5. eure22
    click a star to vote
    Jun 17th 2005 !⃝

    I actually saw an interview many years ago with Paul Simon where he was asked where he got the lyrics for this song.

    Paul Simon and his wife at the time Carrie Fisher were throwing a party (or attending a party I can't remember). There was an aquaintance at the party that kept calling Paul - Al and Carrie - Betty. At least that is how I remember the story. " ...so Betty when you call me..."

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