Calling Me Al

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

  • Philippians 1:21

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”
“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”
Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”
At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

  • Nehemiah 5:1-13

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 in my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly, Beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
You know, I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore
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
A man walks down the street
He says, “Why am I short of attention?
Got a short little span of attention
And, whoa, 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?”
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
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
Call me Al
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
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
Scatterings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says, “Amen and Hallelujah!”
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
Call me
Na na na na, na na na na
Na na na na, na na na-na na-na
Na na na na, na-na na-na na na
Na na na na, na na na na
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can call you Betty
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can call you Betty
If you’ll be my bodyguard.

  • Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al

In 1986, one of my favorite music videos came out, You Can Call Me Al.  Some “experts” say that Chevy Chase’s cameo is the most significant music video cameo of the 80s, but how can it be a cameo when he lip-syncs the entire song while Paul Simon, the singer, composer, etc. sings back-up on the famous chorus.

From shoving each other to be the first in the room to placing the glass of water on the table to find it was a conga stand instead, the glass of water falling to the floor, to pretending to blow the trumpet up Paul Simon’s nose (the only time Simon cracks a smile), Chase is the star of the video, not a cameo.  Although Paul Simon’s acting as a “supporting” character is superb.

What made me think of this?  My wife was having yet another test at the Women’s Center and they had the song on the radio in the waiting area.  That was a couple of weeks ago and the earworm has been persistent.

But I never really pay much attention to modern music.  The lyrics were senseless.  The chorus made me wonder who Al and Betty were.

So, I did some research.  Paul Simon, and then wife Peggy, went to a posh party in New York City and the host introduced them to the other guests as “Al and Betty.”  Was this a slur or did the host really not know who Paul Simon was?  Rather than make a scene, they went with their names for the evening, playing the roles of “Al and Betty.”  Notice that the chorus never says that is what their names are, just that they could call each other those names.

There are a few musical improvisational riffs in the recording, but one was never played as it was recorded.  Paul Simon realized that the bassist’s birthday was the day of recording, so he had him do a fretless riff.  The sound engineer wanted it a little longer, so he duplicated and reversed the riff.  This created a musical palindrome.  Oh, how I love palindromes of all kinds.  It is disappointing that the word palindrome is not a palindrome.  Maybe do the same thing as the sound engineer, palindromeemordnilap.  Now that’s better.  I wonder if the bassist fretted over the recording of his fretless riff in that he did not play it that way?

Back to the senseless lyrics, they are far from senseless, and it brings us to the point of this madness.

Paul Simon said that, to come up with the lyrics, he played the music while tossing a baseball against a wall and catching it.  Some catches, some misses, some drops, what remained in his mind were the lyrics of the song. Wow, sounds like some of my fiction – a lot of my fiction?

In another interview, he simply explains the lyrics, if you have not figured it out.  The man going on the walk is totally self-absorbed.  He worries about the middle-aged battle with the belly bulge, the loss of his role model, the shameless fall of his role model, the fear of dying alone, his short attention span, etc.

Everything is all about being self-absorbed until the man on the walk opens his eyes to see other people, the angels in the architecture, spinning into infinity, until amen and hallelujah.  I would love to say that Paul Simon found the Lord, but he found the needy of Africa, a cause outside himself.  He shifted his music composition in the following years to support African musicians.

This life lesson is totally lost in the hilarious music video, and being a Christian, I would love to have that “come to Jesus” moment at the end.  But we can focus on that as the end.  Jesus tells us to help the poor.  In the Scripture above, Nehemiah cannot get his workers to stay on the job until he resolves their financial crisis.  He does so in a way that would never be done today, telling the rich to not charge interest and absolve the poor of their debts, and the rich do as they were told.  Wow!  What a novel idea.

Remember, when you next see someone in need, there is Jesus, and it may be you that needs to help them.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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