This Shelf Indulgence review of Paul Simon: The Life, by Robert Hilburn is pure indulgence! Although I’ve been a fan of Paul Simon since the 1970s, I knew nothing of his personal life. Which isn’t so surprising – an intensely private man, he is also extremely protective of his family. Yet, in 2014 Simon not only agreed to talk to the former music critic for the Los Angeles Times, but also encouraged his family and friends to give in-depth interviews. For what amounted to more than a hundred hours of talk over three years, he gave the biographer unprecedented access and full editorial control.
I had anticipated a week’s pleasant reading about a charmed life. I wasn’t prepared for the years of failure and rejection before Simon achieved recognition and success with Simon & Garfunkel, nor for the controversies surrounding his solo career, including his spectacularly successful Graceland album, for which he earned equal praise and censure for working with artists in apartheid South Africa.
This extraordinarily versatile musician has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won sixteen Grammies. Yet he rejects the label of ‘poet’. ‘The people who call you a poet have never read poetry,’ he says with typical candour. He believes music is stronger than words, and indeed he moulds and melds the music to the words to in a unique and moving way which defines his genius and connects with people all around the world.
Paul Simon: The Life provides astonishing insights into a complex song-writing process spanning months or even years, as well as many instances of his integrity as a musician and as a man, chronicled by Hilburn with scrupulous journalistic objectivity.
I implore you – don’t miss it.
Buy Paul Simon: The Life, by Robert Hilburn
Order Dead Man Walking, by M.K. Murphy
More info on Dead Man Walking