Simon’s star-studded debut memoir doubles as a history of some of the 20th century’s most popular musical acts.
Over the span of his lengthy career as a music producer, the author worked with some legendary artists, including Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, and The Band. In this remembrance, he details his lifelong engagement with music, which follows the trajectory of American popular music as a whole, from jazz to Broadway musicals to rock ’n’ roll. Simon moves quickly through his early musical experiences to his time as an undergraduate at Princeton University, where he wrote for a musical-theater group called the Triangle Club and took classes with composer Milton Babbitt. After college, he landed a job at Columbia Records in 1963 in its special-projects division, where he helped produce Broadway recordings (“I was the new guy, fresh meat, to do all the grunt work on those projects”). Later, Simon was assigned to produce the duo of Paul Simon (no relation) and Art Garfunkel. Of his work with the famed folk musicians, he writes, “They were smart, hip, a little neurotic...I was familiar with that combination.” Throughout, he populates this memoir with humorous details and matter-of-fact commentary. Along the way, he offers windows into the economics of the music business and the recording process; in an account of his recordings with Cohen, for instance, Simon explains that “instead of using horns or strings for the musical lines that accompanied his vocals, I used wordless female voices, mostly sung by Nancy Priddy, my girlfriend at the time, who was uncredited—until now.” Simply by virtue of his producing resume, Simon’s memoir is incredibly readable, with plenty of quote-worthy anecdotes. That said, some aspects of the book feel underexplained, such as how he got that initial job at Columbia that launched his career.
An intriguing memoir about an unusual career involving some celebrated musical figures.