SDSU Paul Simons Cultural Boycott of South Africa Discussion

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urefpurywhavbe

Humanities

San Diego State University

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I'm working on a music writing question and need a sample draft to help me study.

For this discussion activity, first be sure to read the Steven Van Zandt interview. How do you feel about Paul Simon's breaking of the cultural boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era in order to make his acclaimed Graceland album? The South African government was killing people for opposing apartheid. Should he have respected the boycott, particularly as it was authorized by the United Nations and supported by most musicians? Or do you believe that his album ultimately did so much good for South Africa that we should acknowledge that it did far more good than harm and helped to bring attention to South Africa at a critical time? Do you think Simon simply was following his creative muse, which he should be free to do? What do you think of Simon's claim (via Van Zandt) that he was interested in art, not politics? What about Van Zandt's response? Should we ultimately concern ourselves with the music and not worry about the circumstances under which it was recorded? Today, star musicians who collect a paycheck to perform for an oppressive government or dictator usually are called out in the press or social media. Did Paul Simon get a pass? Would this have been overlooked if it happened today? Pick any of these questions or topics (one question/topic is fine) to briefly address in either a new or existing thread.

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Steven Van Zandt Interview: Apartheid, Sun City, and Paul Simon Figure 1: Little Steven speaking at a 1985 press conference where Coretta Scott King (widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.) accepted the first $50,000 royalty check (on behalf of The Africa Fund) from artists who created the Sun City album and video. Behind Little Steven (from left) are King, Congressman Julian Bond, and Vernell Johnson (of Manhattan Records, who donated studio time for the recording of the Sun City album organized by Van Zandt). Courtesy African Activist Archive. Figure 2: Cover of the 1985 benefit album Van Zandt produced that featured a superstar lineup of recordings artists. Van Zandt financed most of the album himself, and dozens of musicians dedicated their time. Sun City was an exclusive casino resort in South Africa that booked foreign acts for wealthy White South Africans to enjoy. Below is an interview excerpt with musician Steven “Little Steven” Van Zandt on rock critic Dave Marsh’s radio show recorded on December 13, 2013, shortly after the death of Nelson Mandela on December 5, 2013. Van Zandt, a longstanding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, led the group Artists United Against Apartheid, which encouraged artists to respect the United Nations resolution to boycott South Africa due to its racist policies. (Approved in 1980, United Nations Resolution 35/206 stated in part that: "The United Nations General Assembly request all states to prevent all cultural, academic, sporting and other exchanges with South Africa. Appeals to writers, artists, musicians and other personalities to boycott South Africa. Urges all academic and cultural institutions to terminate all links with South Africa.”) Van Zandt also raised money for the anti-Apartheid cause through benefit concerts and recordings (eventually raising a million dollars). Below the interview picks up at the point where Van Zandt describes working against apartheid, meeting Mandela, and convincing a radical South African anti-apartheid group not to murder Paul Simon in retaliation for breaking the cultural boycott: Dave Marsh: …But let’s talk about [the passing of] President Mandela for just a minute and then turn to the “up” side. Although President Mandela, I imagine, was himself the “up” side. You met him. Steven Van Zandt: Twice. Yeah, I gotta tell ya something. I met a lot of people in my life. I never met anybody like him. He had an aura that you read about in, like, the Bible, okay? I mean, he had a religious... and I don’t mean like meeting a priest. I mean he had a religious-leader vibe, like running into John the Baptist or the Buddha or something. I’m not exaggerating. He had that vibe, just emanating warmth and kindness and understanding. You felt good being in his presence. Shaking his hand, you felt this electricity. It was something else, man. He was the only person who believed in 1984 what you believed, actually. If he had been out on the street, you would’ve had one guy agreeing with you. [laughter] Yeah, yeah. I’m laughing about it, but that’s true; he never wavered about “we will win this thing.” No. He evolved [in jail], as we all know. We did one Wembley [Stadium concert in London] to get him out of jail, and then another Wembley to celebrate him getting out. I met him there, and then they chose me to run their fundraiser when he came to New York, and I brought in Bobby DeNiro and Eddie Murphy and Spike Lee and we did the dinner at the Tribeca Grill. He came down and spoke and was very enthusiastic about what we had done. You could tell by the way he says... Does he say “Little Steven” on the stage at Wembley? I listened to the speech last week, and I was listening for that. I’m not sure if he mentioned me or not. He did mention you. Yeah? He just says your name, but he pauses before and after it, so he puts some emphasis on it. Wow, that’s nice. I didn’t even remember that. That’s wonderful. But anyway, [at Tribeca Grill] he congratulated us on the universal communication of music and how effective that can be and all that, so he was really quite hip about the power of using the media and all that. It was wonderful to meet him. You know, when I went down [to South Africa] the first time, I’m trying to do all these meetings. Then I had to do some secret meetings and get away from anyone resembling a handler or political operative. And I snuck into Soweto, where they were under [military isolation.] Yeah, they were surrounded. So I snuck in and met with AZAPO, the Azanian People’s Organisation, who were like a more radical, violent version of our Black Panthers. They were actually on the front lines blowing shit up and stuff like that. And I had to plead my case to them, because they were sort of the hard line. And I said to them, “Look, all due respect, man, you’re not gonna win this fight. I don’t blame you for picking up guns and defending yourselves.” Because it was brutal; the regime down there was brutality. “I don’t blame you, but you’re not gonna win. You cannot win this way. Let me please try my idea, and I’m gonna win this war for you in the media, on TV.” Now this already would’ve been a stretch for most people, but when you’re trying to tell this to people who don’t have electricity, that you’re about to win their war on a box that you plug in somewhere, they looked at me like, “This guy is really nuts.” [laughter] If you thought Stevie’s kidding... the truth of the matter is that South Africa, for a very, very long time, well into the '70s or early '80s, did not have television for exactly this reason. There was no television if you’d been talking to a white South African. Yeah, because when you’d go into Soweto, which was this huge area — I mean, it’s huge — you’d see, like, two or three feet of fog all over the ground. No lights. And it just had this very, very surreal feeling to it, because that was all from the coal-fires and whatever they were burning for heat. So it was like a really interesting movie-scenario sort of thing. And I met with AZAPO, who had a very frank conversation — I was talking to the translator — about whether they should kill me for even being there. That’s how serious they were about violating the boycott. I eventually talked them out of that and then talked them into maybe going kinda with my thing. They showed me that they have an assassination list, and Paul Simon was at the top of it. [NOTE: In 1986, Paul Simon recorded tracks for his Graceland album in South Africa, in direct violation of the cultural boycott.] And in spite of my feelings about Paul Simon, who we can talk about in a minute if you want to, I said to them, “Listen, I understand your feelings about this; I might even share them, but...” I was with you the first time you saw Paul and talked to him about this, at [entertainment attorney] Peter Parcher’s 60th birthday party. That’s right, that’s right, that’s right! I’m glad you were a witness, because wait’ll you hear the latest on that. Anyway, I said to them, “Listen, this is not gonna help anybody if you knock off Paul Simon. Trust me on this, alright? Let’s put that aside for the moment. Give me a year or so, you know, six months,” whatever I asked for, “to try and do this a different way. I’m trying to actually unify the music community around this, which may or may not include Paul Simon, but I don’t want it to be a distraction. I just don’t need that distraction right now; I gotta keep my eye on the ball.” And I took him off that assassination list, I took Paul Simon off the U.N. blacklist, trying to… You mean you convinced them to take him off… Yeah, because this was a serious thing… Because this was gonna eat up the attention that the movement itself needed. Yes, and the European unions were serious about this stuff, man. You were on that [U.N. blacklist], you did not work, okay? Not like America, which was so-so about this stuff, man. Over there, they were serious about this stuff, you know? Anyway, so yeah, this was in spite of Paul Simon approaching me at that party saying, “What are you doing, defending this communist?!” What he said was, “Ah, the ANC [African National Congress, the organization of which Mandela was President at the time of his arrest and imprisonment], that’s just the Russians.” And he mentioned the group that [murdered black South African activist Steven Biko] had been in, which was not AZAPO… Was he PAC [Pan-Africanist Congress]? It doesn’t matter [for this story], but [Paul Simon] said, “That’s just the Chinese communists.” Yeah, yeah. And he says, “What are you doing defending this guy Mandela?! He’s obviously a communist. My friend Henry Kissinger told me about where all of the money’s coming from,” and all of this. I was, like, all due respect, Paul… I remember it very vividly, because it was aimed at everybody standing in the general direction. Yeah, but mostly he was telling me. Well, yeah, you were the one… Everybody knew who to get mad at first. [laughter] He knew more than me, he knew more than Mandela, he knew more than the South African people. His famous line, of course, was, “Art transcends politics.” And I said to him, “All due respect, Paulie, but not only does art not transcend politics… art is politics. And I’m telling you right now, you and Henry Kissinger, your buddy, go fuck yourselves.” Or whatever I said. But he had that attitude, and he knowingly and consciously violated the boycott to publicize his record. Well, to make his record. That’s the violation of the boycott — to make his record. Yeah, and he actually had the nerve to say, “Well, I paid everybody double-scale.” Remember that one? Oh, that’s nice… no arrogance in that statement, huh? [laughter] Now, the punchline. Cut to 30 years later, or whatever it is. He asked me to be in his movie [Under African Skies, the documentary on the making of Graceland, included as a DVD in the album’s 25th anniversary boxed edition]. I said, “Alright, I’ll be in your movie, if you don’t edit me. You ready to tell it like it is?” He says, “Yep.” “Are you, like, uh, apologizing in this movie?” “Yep.” “Okay. I’m not gonna be a sore winner. I’ll talk to you.” I did an interview. They show me the footage. Of course, they edited the hell out of it to some little statement where I’m saying something positive about Paul. [laughter] And I see the rest of the footage, where he’s supposedly apologizing, with Dali Tambo [founder of Artists Against Apartheid and son of late ANC leaders Adelaide and Oliver Tambo]. He says, “I’m sorry if I made it inconvenient for you.” That was his apology. In other words, he still thinks he’s right, all these years later! You’re the only person who’s ever met Paul twice who thinks that’s surprising. [laughter] I mean, at this point, you still think you were right?! Meanwhile, that big “communist,” as soon as he got out of jail, I see who took the first picture with him. There’s Paul Simon and Mandela, good buddies. I’m watchin’ CNN the other day. Mandela dies, on comes a statement by Bono and the second statement’s by Paul Simon. I’m like oh, just make me throw up. You know, I like the guy in a lot of ways, I do; and I respect his work, of course. He’s a wonderful, wonderful artist, but when it comes to this subject, he just will not admit he was wrong. Y’know, just mea culpa. Come on, you won! He made twenty, thirty million dollars at least, okay? Take the money and apologize, okay? I mean, say “Listen, maybe I was wrong about this a little bit.” No.
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Running head: MUSIC DISCUSSION

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MUSIC DISCUSSION

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Music Discussion

At the peak of the apartheid regime in the 1980s, the whole world was committ...

uraelcebsrffbe (115559)
Boston College

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