Bob's new biography Paul Simon: The Life
in stores May 8, 2018
Preorder at your favorite book store
Music critic Hilburn (Johnny Cash: The Life) delivers an energetic and elegant biography of American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. Drawing on interviews with Simon and his family and friends—including ex-wives Carrie Fisher and Peggy Harper—Hilburn exhaustively narrates Simon’s life, from his discovery of pop music in the 1950s via disc jockey Alan Freed to Simon and Art Garfunkel’s success and contentious relationship (“Artie knew Paul wrote the songs and thus controlled the future of the pair,” according to manager Mort Lewis) and Simon’s successful solo career. Hilburn describes Simon’s artistry: his “songwriting would begin with the music... then he’d try to figure out how to express what he was feeling in words.” Though Simon often came across as controlling in the studio, according to Hilburn, he was very respectful of other musicians and their time and work, and was generous toward other musicians (he wrote a check to Claude Jeter in gratitude for Jeter’s gospel singing, which inspired “Bridge over Troubled Water”). Hilburn’s brilliant and entertaining portrait of Simon will likely be the definitive biography. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (May) - Publishers Weekly
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. - Kirkus Review
There are two great storytellers colliding here. There’s no tougher a mind, no more tender a voice than Paul Simon, and there’s no better man than Robert Hilburn to decipher the hardwiring of this hyper-intellect. From the prologue I was sucked in, suckered into a sense that I too might discover the genetic code of some of the greatest songs of any century. By the epilogue, you realize the great songs can never be fully explained, but the great man on his way to find those songs surely can.
When it comes to writing songs, no one does it better than Paul Simon. Robert Hilburn's is a wise and winning account of our most nimble, nuanced, and numinous poet-musician.
- Paul Muldoon, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry winner
A tantalizing look into the mind and writing process of the man who is arguably the finest craftsman of the American Popular Song since the Gershwin brothers, this book will delight any Paul Simon fan or student of American Popular Culture.
- Linda Ronstadt
In this detailed recounting of the life of Paul Simon, veteran biographer Robert Hilburn delivers a lively, eye-opening tale of the evolution of a doo-wop kid from Queens into an international musical phenomenon. Best of all, Hilburn’s telling runs at just the right pace as it brings us inside Simon’s personal life, as well as inside his music—often song by song—while illuminating Simon’s ingenious adaptations of music from all over the world.
- Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States.
Master-storyteller and interviewer Robert Hilburn knows how to draw the best from an artist. The intimacy of these interviews gives The Life the feel of Paul Simon’s best work, generous and witty and so rich in detail. It’ll send you back to the music with all these soul-stirring stories still in your heart.
- Cameron Crowe