According to Paul Simon, the song’s inspiration came from a party he hosted:
Simon explained how he and his wife Peggy were having a party for some rock ‘n roll musicians. Simon had invited a friend who was fellow composer and Pierre Boulez, legendary French composer whom his friend was accompanying, to the party. After twenty minutes, Simon’s friend approached him, saying that Boulez wished to leave. According to Simon, in their goodbyes, Boulez said, “Sorry I have to leave, Al, and give my best to Betty.”
Also supposedly, this is the second video made for the song. Simon didn’t like the first one (a performance he did while hosting Saturday Night Live), so Lorne Michaels suggested this second version.
I’ve always been fond of it, although looking at it now, I can’t help but see the cracks. Why isn’t the camera more stationary throughout? And the framing’s thoroughly weak. (Look, for instance, at how high Chevy Chase’s head is in the frame 1:08–1:40.) But that’s also part of the 1980s charm, I guess; today it would be super-slick. And it’s such a great concept that the technical flaws don’t seriously detract.
It’s above all “very late 80s.” It was directed by Gary Weis, who seems to have made music videos only in 1986 and 1987. He shot a somewhat similar promo for George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set on You”:
… Unless he did the other video for Harrison’s song?
(Actually, he directed both versions.)
He also co-directed (with Eric Idle) the 1978 Rutles mockumentary, All You Need Is Cash, which I’ve always been liked, and which my parents once claimed was the funniest movie they’d ever seen.
My dad bought Graceland when it came out, and he and my mother and sister and I would all dance and sing along. And I re-performed the video for “You Can Call Me Al” in a grade school talent show with my then-best friend Joey Lampman. That would have been in 4th or 5th grade. I played Chevy Chase part and he played the Paul Simon part. (I’ve always been tall.)
I was reminded of all of this today because they were playing Paul Simon at New Wave while I was working. I went looking for a sketch he did on SNL, which is truly the funniest thing I can recall. Or, well, one of them. I couldn’t find the skit, but here’s the transcript.