Paul Simon. The Life. By Robert Hilburn
It took twice as long to finish the latest book I checked out of the library because I felt compelled to listen to hours and hours of music written (and often performed) by the titular subject of Robert Hilburn’s new biography, Paul Simon. The Life. Those frequent YouTube stops might as well have been the soundtrack of my adolescence and early adulthood. The lyrics of many of Simon’s songs are written in the text of this book, highlighting the secret of the ageless appeal of his music; uber-harmonic sounds paired with pure poetry. For six decades he’s written music that have addressed both heady themes spanning historically significant events (Vietnam to Apartheid to Climate Change) as well as the relatable ennui of young love, liberal optimism, the joys and sorrows of finding your place in the world. Known in the industry as a perfectionist, he could be arrogant and prickly at times but his unmatched artistic curiosity spanned the spectrum of music genres; Blues, Jazz, Zydeco, Tribal, Latin, etc. His early collaboration with Art Garfunkle (who serendipitously grew up across the street from Simon in Kew Gardens, Queens in the 1940s) yielded (amongst many others) The Sound of Silence, The Boxer, and Bridge Over Troubled Water; his solo work in the '70s produced, Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard and Still Crazy After All These Years; and his collaborations in the 80s and 90s, Graceland, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Feet and Kodachrome. Any of these individual periods would place him on the list of the greatest American songwriters - the cumulative archive of his work arguably places him at the top. Appearing multiple times on Saturday Night Live (in part due to a long friendship with Lorne Michaels), a diehard Yankee fan (Mrs. Robinson), a failed but admirable attempt at producing a musical on Broadway (The Capeman), Simon’s ironclad connection to New York is best epitomized for me by his performance with then mayor Guilliani and the ash-covered FDNY firemen in the wake of 9/11. Despite the well-documented half-century of tumult, at the 1989 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, a gracious Art Garfunkle had only praise for his partner by saying; “(Simon was) the person who most enriched my life by putting those songs through me.” Amen to that.