The first time I heard Paul Simon’s album, Graceland, I was in a coffee shop in Mount Desert Island, Maine, called Cafe Milagro, and it felt like un milagro. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes was playing, and it felt like Paul Simon had written that song for me. It combined together all of my varied tastes in music into one glorious song: a simple, folk-like melody, african drums and rhythms, voices in close harmony, acoustic guitar, and poetic lyrics. I turned to my mom, who was ordering a latte, and asked, “What is this?” She told me, and I don’t think its hyperbole to say that my whole life changed.
You see, before that day in the coffee shop I hadn’t really managed to define my taste in music. Now, armed with my parents’ copy of Graceland on tape, I was able to say clearly that I liked folk music, world music, and particularly that rare, beautiful place where the two intersected. For Christmas that year, my mom gave me a three CD collection of Paul Simon’s music. I discovered Rhythm of the Saints with its South American beat and portuguese lyrics, and my conversion became complete. It may seem like a small thing to safely say “This is the kind of music I like,” but for a shy teenager stuck in that difficult place where you’re not really sure who you are, it was a moment of fantastic self-awareness, a chance to clearly define an aspect of my own personality. “I like this type of music, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.” It was a powerful feeling for me. Thanks to Paul Simon, I tend to march to the beat of my own talking drum.
Why am I throwing this out into the world seemingly at random? Two reasons: I happened to be drinking a latte in a funky locally-owned coffee shop near my house this morning when Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes started playing, and it took me back to that day in Cafe Milagro. It also started me thinking about this past week. I just finished one of the longest, most insane weeks of my time at UT Austin: the New Works Festival. It’s a huge, week-long festival of theatre, dance, and art totally written and produced by UT faculty and students. I worked on three projects (an over-commitment, but worthwhile) and spent the week running around frantically trying to fulfill my duties to the shows I had worked on and somehow see other people’s shows at the same time. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of high-quality theatre my colleagues and I produced this past week. We march to the beat of our own drum, all of us, and I feel so privileged to be able to spend my days working with such a creative, individual group of people. We have found our Graceland.