Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn

simonFirst off, I am a huge Paul Simon fan. During my moody adolescence I discovered Simon and Garfunkel and they seemed to soothe my tortured soul. I mean “Hello darkness, my old friend…” They got me. By the time I discovered them, they had broken up (mostly) so I had to rely on their back catalogue for material to listen to. Also, and I am dating myself here, this was well before the days of music streaming and the internet. So I had to rely on the good old record store to get my material and find out what was available. As I moved from moody teen to less moody adult (ish) I really got into Paul Simon’s solo stuff. His songs spoke to me and helped me feel less alone and that someone out there understood me. For me, the lyrics he wrote got to the heart of the human existence. The line that stands out for me is from “Slip Slidin’ Away”

She said, “A good day
Ain’t got no rain”
She said, “A bad day’s when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been”

That line got me hooked. And as I have aged it has stuck with me and gets truer and truer the older I get.

So, the book…

Having grown up in the pre-internet age, my knowledge of Paul Simon was limited to articles and what I saw on TV, and obviously got through his music. When I saw there was a book about him, I jumped at the chance to read it.

I will say, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I knew the main events of his life, but didn’t know much in depth of what he was about and how his writing process worked. Although Mr. Simon wasn’t directly involved in writing the book, the author used many hours of interviews with him, and people close to him. The author’s previous subjects: Springsteen, Johnny Cash and John Lennon lends some credibility.

I don’t think there is going to be anything in this book that shocks anyone. There are no gossipy insights into his relationships, which I appreciate. What there is, is an attempt to understand the man and what shaped him into becoming one of the most prolific American songwriters of our time. The portrait isn’t always flattering. For me, it feels honest and not as if the author ever gushes or paints over Mr. Simon’s flaws.

The section that speaks to the controversy around the Graceland album and recording with South African artists was of particular interest to me. I was a huge fan of that album and was aware of the issues facing him and the public opinion around him at that time. I was lucky enough to see one of the Graceland concerts and it was one of the coolest concert experiences I have had. (The other being Simon and Garfunkel reuniting for a benefit concert and sobbing while they sang Bridge Over Troubled Water.)

I am always hesitant to read books about artists I really like. I am afraid that it will take away somehow from my love of their art. This was not the case with this book. I feel like I have an even better insight and love for the artistry and depth of Paul Simon’s work.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!)

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