He says there's no doubt about it
Paul Simon with Los Lobos - 'All Around The World or The Myth of Fingerprints' (Graceland - 1986)
The mid-1980s had not been kind to Paul Simon. His relationship with Art Garfunkel had fractured again, he wasn't on best terms with ex-wife Carrie Fisher, and his most recent album, Hearts and Bones, had not performed well commercially.
"I had a personal blow, a career setback, and the combination of the two put me into a tailspin”
Being at a low ebb allowed Simon to change direction somewhat. Following the recommendations of Heidi Berg, he delved into recordings of Soweto's street music, mbaqanga, via a recording that would lead him to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Despite the apparent challenge of recording in South Africa during the cultural boycott of the country that resulted from apartheid (and the criticism that followed), Simon recorded Graceland. This album showcases a mixture of Western pop and rock with a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, mbaqanga and Ladysmith Black Mambazo themselves.
Of all the tracks on Graceland, 'All Around The World or The Myth of Fingerprints' is furthest from the record's core. It is probably the album's most generic 80s sounding song with big, fat, whooshing drums. It also features Los Lobos, the Mexican/American band who would go on to criticise their lack of writing credit for the song in forceful terms;
[Simon] quite literally—and in no way do I exaggerate when I say—he stole the song from us ... We go into the studio, and he had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, "Well, let's just jam."... Paul goes, "Hey, what's that?" We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record
'All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints', as well as inspiring the title of the 1997 film The Myth of Fingerprints starring Julianne Moore and Roy Schneider, is a literate and reflective song that explores the idea that the one thing that we all have in common is that we are all different. When it comes to fingerprints, Simon tells us he's seen them, and they are all the same.
With the rest of the album's themes on anti-racism and nods to the bloody legacy of colonialism, we can dwell on the fact that it is through the narcissism of minor differences that we end up with armies and wars as we fight over differences rather than work together where we agree. Hard to disagree.
There are also references to black pit towns. Until writing this, I assumed that was all about former coal mining areas. With the references to watermelons as well it may be hinting racial prejudice in the United States. I'm also intrigued by the talk show host that features, someone used to interviewing the most extraordinary people and highlighting their uniqueness to us mere mortals or highlighting they are just like us really.
The controversy of the credits may be why Simon, as far as I can see, didn't play the song on his Graceland tour or the anniversary shows. If you watch the Classic Albums documentary on the album - it isn't mentioned.
Compared to the record's heart and soul in tracks like the title track, 'Helpless', 'The Boy In The Bubble'. the opening of 'Diamonds On The Soles Of My Shoes' and The Chevy Chasetastic 'You Can Call Me Al' this a remarkably lightweight ending for a album that impacted the music industry so much.