Song of the Day #633: ‘The Vampires’ – Paul Simon

The Rhythm of the Saints marked the end of Paul Simon’s incredible comeback. After his first few solo albums were lavished with praise and hit singles, he hit a slump that several years, only to reinvent himself with his two finest albums. So then what?

A seven year wait, that’s what. I used to whine on a regular basis during that time about how long it had been since Simon had released his last album. Where was the next Saints or Graceland? What was the man doing with his time? Marrying Edie Brickell and having three kids, as it turns out, which must not have left much time for music.

When Simon finally released his next album, 1997’s Songs From The Capeman, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. The Capeman was a Broadway musical, written and composed by Simon, starring a then little-known Marc Anthony as a street punk who was locked up for murder and rehabilitated in prison. It was based on the true story of a redeemed New York gangster.

The show was a colossal failure, closing after just 68 performances, at a cost to Simon of more than $11 million. The album didn’t fare much better.

It’s actually a pretty great record, though, blending doo-wop, Latin music and a little bit of country to tell the tale from several different perspectives. Simon sings on several tracks and Anthony, Ruben Blades and other cast members show up throughout. It’s not a cast recording of the Broadway show, but a Paul Simon album with guest appearances.

Because the songs were written for a musical, it never quite holds up as a standalone album, but some of these songs are among the more interesting compositions Simon has tackled. My personal favorite is ‘The Vampires,’ which Simon sings alone though in the voice of several different characters. It recounts the recruitment of Salvador Agron into the Vampires gang.

My brother-in-law and I have derived countless hours of enjoyment from singing one line in particular from this song. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one.

HERNANDEZ
Well, did you bring me my money,
My cab fare
My new shoes?
I got expenses, you know
Where’s my weekly dues?

SAL
I ain’t giving you my fucking money.

HERNANDEZ
Oye, mother fucker, where’s this jibaro from?
You go when I say.

I call, you come.
You know it takes a strong man to survive.
It ain’t no accident that you’re still alive.

HERNANDEZ & THE VAMPIRES
We stand for the neighborhood

HERNANDEZ
He still lives with his mami, but he sneaks down,
A coolie in the shadow of the playground
You want to fight for your people, don’t you, Sal?

SAL
Well, yeah, if I got to.

HERNANDEZ
Oh, you got to. Come here, I want to show you something.

This is the cave of The Vampires,
Count Dracula’s castle,
The very sight could turn a white man grey.
Made in the shade, use my umbrella
Black like the night we fly in.
That blade is all you need to keep the dogs away.

So, you want to be a vampire, man! That’s good.
We always looking for young blood in the neighborhood now
Carlos Apache collects the dues
So you bring us something that we can use

HERNANDEZ & THE VAMPIRES
If you got the balls, then come on, mette mano,
If you got the balls, then come on, mette mano,

HERNANDEZ
Frenchy Cordero goes down to Hell’s Kitchen
To sell the Irish some weed
So this Paddy Boy’s mother on the stoop starts bitchin’
‘Bout spics is a mongrel breed
Now here comes her son
He looks like a ton of corned beef
Floating in beer

He says
‘Fucking Puerto Rican dope-dealing punk
Get your shit-brown ass out of here.’

HERNANDEZ & THE VAMPIRES
‘Fucking Puerto Rican dope-dealing punk
Get your shit-brown ass out of here.’

We stand for the neighborhood.

HERNANDEZ
So the shanty-town Irish they kicked his ass good.
Fractured his collar bone
Cono, all I was thinking is, ‘What home of the brave?
This a fucking war zone’

THE VAMPIRES
If you got the balls, then come on, mette mano,
We stand for the neighborhood.
If you got cojones, come on, mette mano
We stand for the neighborhood
If you got the balls, then come on, mette mano,
We stand for the neighborhood.
If you got cojones, come on, mette mano

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #633: ‘The Vampires’ – Paul Simon

  1. Dana says:

    There is probably something seriously wrong about the fact that Clay and I gravitated to possibly the most politically incorrect and offensive lyric in the history of pop music:)

    I very much wanted to see this musical when it came out, but that enthusiasm waned as the bad reviews streamed in. The album, though, does have some highlights, including the 50’s style tempo changing “Bernadette,” A number of other songs have great melodies, but lyrics that work far better in the context of a musical than they do within the confines of a song on a record (I’m thinking of “Can I Forgive Him?” “Time is an Ocean”: and “Trailway Bus” in particular).

    It is sad that, as I assume the rest of your theme week will show, Simon never returned to the greatness he achieved on Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. Capeman may be the most provocative and interesting of his post=Rhythm work, as his output since then has been largely nondescript.

  2. pegclifton says:

    So, which one is it?

  3. darylbecker says:

    Nice post. I enjoyed “The Capeman”, but his first solo album proper since “Saints” would have been “You’re the One”, which was also a great disc.

  4. Amy says:

    What’s truly sad is that all I know of this album is the line you and Dana sing far more often than fathers of young children within earshot ought 🙂 I must have heard the album once or twice when it first came out, but I have no memory of it.

    Meanwhile, I had no idea Marc Antony was the star of the show; that’s a great bit of trivia.

  5. facts says:

    Great album. Good to see more Paul Simon fans out there.

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