PAUL SIMON by Robert Hilburn


The Life
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Searching biography of the renowned songwriter, well known for his melancholic songs and competitive, perfectionist nature.

The former longtime critic for the Los Angeles Times, Hilburn (Johnny Cash: The Life, 2013, etc.) ranks high in the firmament of writers on popular music, a fitting match for a subject who himself is very nearly—but perhaps not quite—the equal of Lennon, McCartney, and Dylan, on all of whom Paul Simon (b. 1941) modeled himself. “They wouldn’t settle for just good,” said Simon of the famous competitiveness between Lennon and McCartney. “That was me, too.” In public high school in New York, he teamed, fatefully, with the pure-voiced Art Garfunkel, who would be both his sounding board and his bête noire for decades to come, the subject of constant tension and the agent of transcendent musical moments. When, after several years of constant hit-making, Garfunkel took an interest in acting, the duo began to drift apart. However, writes the author, the story is a touch more complicated, for Mike Nichols offered Simon a part in Catch-22 as well only for it to wind up being cut before the film was shot. Former spouse Carrie Fisher recalls the difficulties that ensued when her own star rose as a result of the Star Wars films, when leaving him to go off and film led Simon to think of the job as “being more important to me than he was.” The gossipy stuff is all nicely juicy, especially as concerns Garfunkel, with whom, it would appear, Simon will never really make peace. But what are more important are the music and Simon’s contributions to popular culture through his songs; it’s telling, in that regard, that Simon took Elvis Presley’s death to be a warning about “the danger of not making music your top priority.” Throughout a career that stretches back seven decades, Simon has clearly never forgotten where his priorities lie.

With train-wreck moments and tender interludes alike, a book that delivers a sharply detailed Kodachrome of a brilliant musician.

Pub Date: May 8th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5011-1212-6
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2018


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