"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

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

You Can Call Me Al song meanings
Add your thoughts

79 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +7
    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
  • +4
    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
  • +3
    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
  • +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
  • +3
    General CommentMy sixth grade students were studying song lyrics as a form of poetry. When we were trying to interpret this song, a usually silent and not particularly academic young man said, "It's about a man who is lonely and confused. He proceeded to explain how many of the lyrics supported his idea. That was a little over 25 years ago and I'll never forget it. It was my first inkling that, as a teacher, I needed to look beyond pencil and paper to find my students' gifts. Thank you, Chad.
    wanderlustwomanon March 09, 2012   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationI read years ago when Paul Simon was married to his first wife they were invited to a party of a well known French artist in NYC. The artist could not get the name of Paul Simon or his wife correct, calling them Al and Betty. In fact when they left he party the host wished " Betty and Al" well.
    Other stanzas refer to the mid-life crisis Paul Simon was experiencing and what he did to break through it-went to a foreign land (South Africa) where he didn't speak the language and held no currency (music of South Africa). The currency he began to use there - the African music of Lady Smith Black Mambazo, guitar play of Ray Fieri and other musicians help Paul Simon experience a rebirth. Upon his trip back to NYC he sees the same buildings but now he sees angels in the architecture and feels the power of his rebirth!
    dennis1367on May 29, 2014   Link
  • +2
    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
  • +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
  • +2
    Song MeaningI did a little research into this, and there are three possible meanings I've found.

    For those of you that don't know, Paul Simon has used patron saints in his work before, and I wondered if this was possibly another case of that.

    I found Some possible Saint Al meanings:

    St. Alban: Converts
    St. Alphonsus: Those Falsely Accused
    St. Alphonsus Liguori: Confessors

    And some possible Saint Betty meanings:

    St. Elizabeth: Expectant Mothers
    St. Elizabeth of Hungary: Those Falsely Accused
    St. Elizabeth of Portugal: Difficult Marriages
    St. Elizabeth of Portugal: Infidelity

    So let me give you an example of a possible meaning of this song:

    A man loses his faith and his wife is pregnant (the latter possibly causing the former). He doesn't think he's ready to be a father, financially, emotionally, or psychologically. He's trying to learn about pregnancy and being a father, but none of it makes any sense to him. He goes on a walk to think, and in his meanderings comes across a church. In that moment, his faith comes back to him and he realizes that the child that's coming is a gift and that things will be OK. In this case, "Betty" is Saint Elizabeth, patron saint of expectant mothers and "Al" is Saint Alban, patron saint of converts.

    His faith will help him teach and raise his child, being his bodyguard. And he will return to the faith that he lost, making him its long lost pal.

    Another example:

    The man's marriage is difficult and he's accused of cheating on his wife through some misunderstandings and the fact that he certainly acts like he's cheating on her (he loves getting attention from women and giving them attention). However, he has remained faithful. He may have even accused his wife of the same. In this case, "Betty" is Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (or possibly of Portugal), patron saint of those falsely accused (or difficult marriages) and "Al" is Saint Alphonsus, patron saint of those falsely accused.

    His wife is his bodyguard, and he is her long lost pal. Her wanting him to be a better husband is his protection from it, and he'll return to the way he once was when he first started courting her.

    And this is a third example:

    There's an unfaithful man whose wife is finally fed up with him and kicks him out. He was unfaithful, but he realized that he loves his wife and she was the best thing in his life. He could just never be true to his wife because he just doesn't think of her when other women are around. The worst part about it all was that he spent their entire marriage hurting her. All that unfaithfulness just wasn't worth it, and he's resolved to stop that crap if only his wife will take him back. In this case, "Betty" is Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, patron saint of infidelity and "Al" is Saint Alphonsus Liguori, patron saint of confessors.

    His faith and thoughts of his wife are his bodyguard, protecting him from his life of infidelity. He is her long lost pal, being as he was before he started cheating on her.

    What do I think it means? He says "a man." He doesn't say "the man." I don't think he's talking about the same man in the three verses. I think each man is different.
    CocoaNuton November 17, 2011   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

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain