David Byrne Does Paul Simon (“The World’s Biggest Prick” According To Some Dude In Los Lobos)
Yeah, and if there’s even a shred of truth to this Simon story the Lobos is telling about the Graceland sessions, then Paul really is the world’s greatest dong. But first, the happy good times: David Byrne joined Paul Simon for one night of his month-long BAM residency last week. The video has surfaced, and as promised, we are sharing. So without further ado, here’s David (although you can call him Al, RIMSHOT):
Next up is “I Know What I Know” which clearly Byrne was born to perform.
Sounds so good, it’s almost like David wrote it! Which is an even less funny joke than it first appeared to be when you hear Los Lobos lay bare the sordid details of their days in the studio with Paul during the Graceland sessions. That Paul stole from many of the African musicians who worked on the album — and later gave them songwriting credits — is well known; that he stole “Myth Of The Fingerprints” from Los Lobos, not so much. Here LL’s Steve Berlin shares his side of the story with Jambase:
JAMBASE: Speaking of doing a lot of different records and working with a lot of amazing songwriters, I own a ton of the records that you’ve done over the years. One, in particular, I’d like to ask you about is Paul Simon’s Graceland. I obsessed over that thing when I was young. Do you have any recollections of working on it?
STEVE BERLIN: Oh, I have plenty of recollections of working on that one. I don’t know if you heard the stories, but it was not a pleasant deal for us. I mean he [Simon] quite literally — and in no way do I exaggerate when I say — he stole the songs from us….
And you know, going into it, I had an enormous amount of respect for the guy. The early records were amazing, I loved his solo records, and I truly thought he was one of the greatest gifts to American music that there was.
At the time, we were high on the musical food chain. Paul had just come off One Trick Pony and was kind of floundering. People forget, before Graceland, he was viewed as a colossal failure. He was low. So when we were approached to do it, I was a way bigger fan than anybody else in the band. We got approached by Lenny Waronker and Mo Ostin who ran our record company [Warner Bros.], and this is the way these guys would talk — “It would mean a lot to the family if you guys would do this for us.” And we thought, “Ok well, it’s for the family, so we’ll do it.” It sounds so unbelievably naïve and ridiculous that that would be enough of a reason to go to the studio with him.
We go into the studio, and he had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, “Well, let’s just jam.” We said, “We don’t really do that.” … Not by accident, not even at soundcheck. We would always just play a song.
… Paul was a very strange guy. Paul’s engineer was even stranger than Paul, and he just seemed to have no clue — no focus, no design, no real nothing. He had just done a few of the African songs that hadn’t become songs yet. Those were literally jams. Or what the world came to know and I don’t think really got exposed enough, is that those are actually songs by a lot of those artists that he just approved of. So that’s kind of what he was doing. It was very patrician, material sort of viewpoint. Like, because I’m gonna put my stamp on it, they’re now my songs. But that’s literally how he approached this stuff.
I remember he played me the one he did by John Hart, and I know John Hart, the last song on the record. He goes, “Yeah, I did this in Louisiana with this zy decko guy.” And he kept saying it over and over. And I remember having to tell him, “Paul, it’s pronounced zydeco. It’s not zy decko, it’s zydeco.” I mean that’s how incredibly dilettante he was about this stuff. The guy was clueless.
It was ridiculous. I think David starts playing “The Myth of the Fingerprints,” or whatever he ended up calling it. That was one of our songs. That year, that was a song we started working on By Light of The Moon. So that was like an existing Lobos sketch of an idea that we had already started doing. I don’t think there were any recordings of it, but we had messed around with it. We knew we were gonna do it. It was gonna turn into a song. Paul goes, “Hey, what’s that?” We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record. So we’re like, “Oh, ok. We’ll share this song.”
JAMBASE: Good way to get out of the studio, though…
STEVE BERLIN: Yeah. But it was very clear to us, at the moment, we’re thinking he’s doing one of our songs. It would be like if he did “Will the Wolf Survive?” Literally. A few months later, the record comes out and says “Words and Music by Paul Simon.” We were like, “What the fuck is this?”
We tried calling him, and we can’t find him. Weeks go by and our managers can’t find him. We finally track him down and ask him about our song, and he goes, “Sue me. See what happens.”
JAMBASE: What?! Come on…
STEVE BERLIN: That’s what he said. He said, “You don’t like it? Sue me. You’ll see what happens.” We were floored. We had no idea. The record comes out, and he’s a big hit. Retroactively, he had to give songwriting credit to all the African guys he stole from that were working on it and everyone seemed to forget. But that’s the kind of person he is. He’s the world’s biggest prick, basically.
So we go back to Lenny and say, “Hey listen, you stuck us in the studio with this fucking idiot for two days. We tried to get out of it, you made us stay in there, and then he steals our song?! What the hell?!” And Lenny’s always a politician. He made us forget about it long enough that it went away. But to this day, I do not believe we have gotten paid for it. We certainly didn’t get songwriting credit for it. And it remains an enormous bone that sticks in our craw. Had he even given us a millionth of what the song and the record became, I think we would have been – if nothing else – much richer, but much happier about the whole thing.
JAMBASE: Have you guys seen him since then?
STEVE BERLIN: No. Never run into him. I’ll tell you, if the guys ever did run into him, I wouldn’t want to be him, that’s for sure.
He goes on to talk some more fightin’ words and then adds, among other things, “That’s our version of it. I’d love to hear Paul’s version of it.” Yeah, we’d love to hear Paul’s version of it, too. Paul?