"You Can Call Me Al" as written by and Paul Simon....
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

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 wo 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
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!

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


Lyrics submitted by bonj, edited by Mozbo

"You Can Call Me Al" as written by Paul Simon

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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You Can Call Me Al song meanings
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73 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentI have no reason to doubt any of the explanations given above; but I have noticed something about this song of Simon's. Which seems to explain why, for example, one would want someone named "Betty" to be one's bodyguard....

    This song can be read as a kind of modern/hip updating of Dante's "Divine Comedy". You'll recall (if you've read/studied it) that Dante descends into Hell on Christmas Day in the year 1300. He travels through Hell, guided by Virgil, viewing all the sinners being tormented; then through Purgatory; and finally makes it to Heaven, where he is reunited with Beatrice, his true love in real life, who died very young.

    So...Dante's last name was Alighieri. Let's shorten it to Al. Beatrice could be shortened to Betty. In the poem, he wants to get to Heaven to meet her, but also to get her to protect him...she could be his...umm...bodyguard. And he would be her former friend/companion.

    So that's the basic structure. It's also worth noting that there are three stanzas, presumably corresponding to the three worlds he visits--Hell, Purgatory, Heaven. There is talk of "redemption" and of being in a "foreign land" (understatement there). There are angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity.

    ...now, maybe this is all just coincidence. Maybe Simon has never read The Divine Comedy. But the parallels (and there are plenty more, but I'll stop here) are pretty striking.
    kflauxon August 23, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe video notwithstanding, I think of this song as coming from the perspective of a sheltered American lost in another culture. Believe me, when I moved to a large African city some time ago, this song became my favorite, since I identified so much with it. I especially like the last verse where the man finally sees the good in things, and realizes he doesn't have to be in his familiar surroundings to be comfortable. I so identify with that moment.

    I realize I may be reading way too much into this, but at that point in my life the song meant so much to me. BTW it was recorded in South Africa, not a thousand miles from where I was living.

    I also love the four measure bass solo towards the end of the song. It is so smooth and rhythmic it must have been played by an African. Listen to authentic African music for a while and you'll understand what I mean.

    The Graceland album, along with Paul's follow-up project called The Rhythm of the Saints (recorded in South America), are quite refreshing to one with a wide cultural world view. Everything here is so damned Americanized, and we almost force our culture and language upon visitors and immigrants. As Paul Simon realized, there is so much to be enjoyed by indulging in the language, music, and culture of others.

    Garare //uba /i !omse.
    madawabon April 14, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Commenti actually saw an interview with paul simon about this song. its alot about his life and alot about going to africa and stuff written in a joke-like format. 'a man walks down the street' its the same as 'a man walks into a bar' its a classic opening line for a joke, paul simon actually said that. amusingly in this interview he also said that the first 4 lines of the second verse are actually a penis joke... think about it
    the betty and al thing is as jed said in the first comment posted.
    attila_carnakion March 15, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI was drinking with a friend the other night and she suggested the song could be about alcoholism - Al being the alcoholic and Betty being the Betty Ford Clinic. It has a nice fit for some of the song. I talked to Paul Simon on the phone once. It was at a hotel. He said "Hello." I said," Good afternoon sir, this is David from housekeeping. I was calling to see what time you would like your room cleaned today." He was a great guest.
    propodon September 26, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOk, if there is ONE song that really should be discussed here, it would be this one!!

    Although I think this is a really great song, I don't have a clue what it is about!!

    I want at least 50 comments!!;-)
    Non July 08, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is about a many who feels empty/lacks spiritualism and drinks and doesn't think that's what he should do with his life (1st verse). He doesn't think he's seeing the real things to life, then he picks up and leaves his family to a foreign country possibly Africa and there he apparently finds God.(2nd and 3rd) as far as the Chorus I think while he's in this strange place he is asking someone to watch out for him in exchange for his friendship. Basically I think its about Paul being in Africa and sort of finding himself.
    anakin821on March 04, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song was one of the first songs i knew all the words too. i think it has friendship as a theme.
    emma.leeon March 12, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLike madawab, I've always loved the bass solo on this song (which is 2 measures, not 4). On VH1's Behind the Record, Paul said the solo is 1 measure of bass solo spliced to the same solo played in reverse!
    bobtauruson July 08, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIn regards to the bass solo being played by an African, it wasn't. Paul Simon played a six-string electric bass throughout the song. The incredible bassline is really the driving force behind the song, in my opinion, and I think that Paul should get the credit that he deserves for it.
    redbirdjazzzon October 08, 2005   Link
  • +1
    Memorythis song reminds me of my older sister, she was always my body guard and i was her long lost pal. i heard it the other day and it made me cry. great song!!
    gd1246on May 05, 2009   Link

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