In Paul Simon's album Graceland there is a song All Around the World.

This song has a repeating theme in the verses:

This is always some variation of:

There was no doubt about it,

It was the myth of fingerprints

The three instances are:

He says there's no doubt about it,

It was the myth of fingerprints


And there's no doubt about it

It was the myth of fingerprints


He said there's no doubt about it

It was the myth of fingerprints

(Full lyrics here)

Does anyone know what the myth of fingerprints is?

  • I'll have to read the full lyrics and/or listen to the song, but what do you think about this? Might that be it? – Shokhet Jul 20 '17 at 17:04
  • It could be, but I don't think it really fits with the lyrics. – Mirte Jul 21 '17 at 11:14

The "myth of fingerprints" is that by focusing on trivial aspects of ourselves, we appear to be very different when in fact we have much more in common with one another. It's also a literal myth: fingerprints are highly differential but they are not unique.

As user @PeterShor very helpfully observed in the comments, our commonality is emphasised by this line, where "they" is fingerprints:

I have seen them all, and man, they're all the same

While our differences are stressed by the final verse:

Lives a former talk-show host
And far and wide his name was known
He said, “There’s no doubt about it
It was the myth of fingerprints
That’s why we must learn to live alone”

The myth of fingerprints condemns us to live alone - as atomised, quarrelsome individuals - when we could instead enjoy the fruits of living in harmony. It's interesting that the subject of the song is a talk show host, someone who makes a living interviewing the rich and famous and thus focussing on what makes them "different" from everyday people.

The previous verse becomes interesting in this context:

Out in the Indian Ocean somewhere
There’s a former army post
Abandoned now just like the war
And there’s no doubt about it
It was the myth of fingerprints
That’s what that old army post was for

Armies are required because we fight over our differences: it's what "the old army post was for". There is, however, hope that we might learn. The army post is abandoned. There is also only one US army base in the Indian Ocean - Diego Garcia. Its inhabitants were forcibly removed by the US navy prior to building the base.

It's worth remembering that this is the closing track on an album which features critiques of racism as a major theme. Racism is founded on differences - the myth of fingerprints. This is all over other repeated structures in the song. "Watermelon" is a common racist motif in the US. "Black pit town," could be a mining town, or also a mining town populated by people of colour.

The lyrics about the sun rising and falling ("bloody" - another conflict motif) and "all around the world" suggest this has been going on essentially forever. We notice it - "somebody says what's a better thing to do" - but do nothing.

So this is a song about how conflict and oppression are built on emphasizing small differences between people. It opines that this is human nature and that we must, to some extent, learn to live with it. But that it shouldn't stop us asking questions and doing what we can to improve matters, even if we must, eventually, "learn to live alone".

  • 1
    Great answer. But haven't you left out the line that points towards your answer most convincingly? "I've seen them all, and man, they're all the same," (they being fingerprints). – Peter Shor May 3 '19 at 0:44
  • @PeterShor An excellent observation and one that did indeed escape me! – Matt Thrower May 3 '19 at 7:25

I think he's referring to fake evidence and false flags. Fingerprints are used to make a watertight case but its easy to create a false trail with bogus fingerprints. For example if you want to take fire arms from the population its not that difficult to get someone to shoot up Vegas using hypnosis and create a few other incidents so the gullible are quick to cry for the removal of arms.

  • You seem to contradict yourself here: first you say fingerprints, as evidence, make a watertight case, but then you say it's easy to fabricate evidence with them. But, more importantly, is there evidence in the song in question that this is the meaning the author put into those words? – Gallifreyan May 2 '19 at 15:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for?Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.