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Paul Simon: The Life

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,423 ratings  ·  250 reviews
A publishing event from music legend Paul Simon: an intimate, candid, and definitive biography written with Simon’s full participation—but without his editorial control—by acclaimed biographer and music writer Robert Hilburn.

For more than fifty years, Paul Simon has spoken to us in songs about alienation, doubt, resilience, and empathy in ways that have established him as
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Simon Schuster
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  1,423 ratings  ·  250 reviews

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Peter Boyle
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, non-fiction
I can clearly remember the first time I heard Paul Simon. To my six-year-old brain, the video for You Can Call Me Al was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. And the song wasn't half bad either. When I was sixteen, I found Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits among my cousin's vinyl collection and played it to death. The angelic harmonies and poetic lyrics were like nothing I had heard before. A couple of years later I bought Graceland on CD and it opened my mind to a whole new world of Africa ...more
Steve Peifer
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
It’s better than any other biography of Simon, but that is damning with the faintest of praise because they have all sucked. The access to Simon doesn’t bring any revelations or insights; it only brings the fear of lack of access.

If you watched the documentary about the making of Graceland, the overwhelming arrogance of Simon jumps off the screen. Dali Tambo repeatedly calls him on how he was out of line in his approach to recording in South Africa. Simon would have nothing of it; it’s pretty ha
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The music of Paul Simon is something that has always been in my life. To wit: my parents have said more than once that as a toddler (circa '76) there were a few songs that made me dance around with joy when they came on the FM radio; one was 'The Rubberband Man' by the Spinners, and the other was Simon's rhyming (like a Sesame Street skit) and snare drum-heavy '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.' Going into high school and college I began listening to Simon & Garfunkel's vaunted catalog (as well as th ...more
Sep 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Paul Simon gave Robert Hilburn free access to his life and associates and told him: “It’s your book”. The result is a thorough documentation of Simon’s career. The book spans 7 decades; hence, this is a big report. While there is informed critique of the music, the story of the person is like a reference book.

Simon is preceded by two (known) generations of musicians. The influence of the Everly Brothers shows in his early work with Art Garfunkel and his homage to Elvis is enshrined in a mid-care
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Oh, I love Paul Simon. But this book seemed pretty general and to only skim the surface. Also, I know the lyrics you don’t have to print entire song lyrics in the book.
Barb Fischer
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-read
First 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 fin ...more
Stewart Sternberg
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
What a sterile book! This was an extended liner note, with little to offer other than basic facts.
Jul 28, 2021 rated it liked it
When I started this book, I was a bigger Paul Simon fan than when I finished it. I got the impression from this book that even though Hilburn is obviously a good writer and knows a lot about music there something missing in this book. It feels like Hilburn obviously admires Paul Simon, but that admiration seems to temper any criticism he has of Simon. Simon has always been a deeply private man but if you want insight into Paul Simon the man, there is not much here. What I gather from reading thi ...more
Fred Forbes
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think one of the main reasons I gave this 5 stars is that it shines in comparison with the last "rock legend" biography that I read on Jimmy Buffet which was pretty terrible. This one corrects the faults of that one and is an enjoyable, well organized and entertaining read.

Another reason for me to give this a 5 is that I admire Paul's music and creativity. Granted, I would find it hard to work with someone who can be overbearing, sensitive, prickly and nit picky as he often is but taking a lis
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm listening to a live version of "My Little Town" right now because reading this reminded me how much I love that song.........and about 800 other Paul Simon songs. Anyone reading this review has probably recorded "Bridge Over Troubled Water" so you wouldn't forget that, but when did you last hear "Mother and Child Reunion" or "Kodachrome" or "One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor" or...........

anyway, enjoying someone's music doesn't mean you have to like reading an "authorized" bio of him
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
The first criteria for a great read to me is "could I put this book down?" This is one I definitely could not....plowed through in about eight hours. I wouldn't say I was a huge Simon & Garfunkel or Paul Simon fan although I do own several S&G and Simon solo works (70's & 80's only). I found that Hilburn's complete access to Simon over 100 hours of taped interviews gave great insight into Simon's songwriting & recording process over several decades which is what most interests me. He clearly is ...more
Deb Jones
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paul Simon's words and music have been a part of my listening experiences since I was a young teen. He'd always impressed me as someone with the soul of a poet; a serious and driven human being.

In this biography, I found my intuitions validated and learned so much more about the individual and his art along the way. While Hilburn wors diligently at separating fact from the fiction that often surrounds the rich and famous, he does so in a way that remains interesting to the reader.

Benjamin Siegel
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts, but not all of them should get a biography. Good on Hilburn for doing his best with a difficult subject, but Paul's guardedness means you could probably capture the dramatic arc of the book in a tweet: Queens boy writes superlative music, his record label is skeptical, he fights with Artie, he writes more superlative music. ...more
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A well-documented look at Simon's artistic life, and the first authorized book on the musician. Simon's cooperation with Hilburn somewhat ensures that many of the stories told here - feuds with Garfunkel, the Graceland/South Africa controversies, the possible slighting of Los Lobos - are shown from a viewpoint that favors Simon. (Read Peter Ames Carlin's "Homeward Bound" for a somewhat more critical take on Simon). I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in between the two biographies.

The anecdotes a
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paul Simon is creeping close to 80 years old (remember his lyric in Old Friends? "How terribly strange to be seventy") and he finally relented to an authorized biography. Hilburn does an admirable job of interviewing the often testy Simon and also does a great job of researching past interviews and articles. It's clear that Simon is one of the best songwriters of our time and is often described as a genius. As with other genius writers (see my review of the latest Joni Mitchell bio) Simon is oft ...more
Mark Copley
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Simon’s story is not spectacular. But his music is beyond spectacular, it’s legendary. Unlike so many popular artists, he never stopped growing, and never turned back. Look at what he did with Graceland and The Rhythm of The Saints albums - the risks he took were fantastically rewarded, both critically and commercially. Other risks - Capeman on Broadway - were failures, but still had musical value and integrity. His last four albums, though not as popular, maintain the freshness of a songwriter ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
An INSANE amount of details about the publishing/business/$/boring? side of Simon's life, but an AMAZING amount of insight into the creative process of one of our greatest songwriters, and one who is typically unwilling to talk to would-be biographers about what happens inside his mind & heart to make music happen. ...more
Chris Griffith
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it
An in depth look into the somewhat complex life of the one of the greatest American songwriters of all time. The first piece of Pop music I ever owned was an 8-track tape of "There Goes Rhymin' Simon." The song Kodachrome is in my bloodstream. ...more
Will G
Apr 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up in a bargain outlet bin mostly on a whim. While quite familiar with his music and aware that he was the songwriter for the Simon & Garfunkel catalog of music, this biography filled in much that I had no idea about. I saw him in concert probably 20 years ago and while the songs were good, I found him an uninspired performer. This sort of turned me off of him as an artist. But I learned in this biography that he considered himself much more of a songwriter than a "showman." And to ...more
Linda Lipko
Nov 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This is an interesting look at the life and songs of Paul Simon. I loved his music when I was in high school. Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Sound of Silence, and then later works, Still Crazy After All These Years and Graceland.

I vividly remember singing along with Paul and Art Garfunkel. Sadly, as with many musical teams, there comes a time when they split. Better alone than as a pair, perhaps. But, I also liked their individuality. I remember hearing Art Garfunkel's incredible voice, and tem
Pete daPixie
It is now over fifty years since I bought the sheet music for 'Homeward Bound' so I could learn to play the song on my guitar. (No YouTube/Internet in the mid 60's) My record/cassette/cd collection has always included 'Wednesday Morning 3am', 'Parsley, Sage', 'Bookends', Bridge over Troubled Water' and 'Graceland'. Having said that, I've never been really interested in any biography of either Simon or Garfunkel.
Robert Hilburn's 2018 publication was informative and enjoyable in providing details
The first half was good reading and brought to me a younger side of Paul that made it easy to identify with him. The second half was a drag. Too much time interrupting his lyrics. There in all those words were some that were interesting insights to his creative process. Paul, like most of my musical heroes, was one generation older than me. I love all the Simon and Garfunkle catalog. My favorite Simon solo work was Graceland. How terribly strange to be seventy.
Amanda R
I ended up not finishing this. Paul Simon is a terrific musician and a super boring person.
Jul 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A very solid bio on a rather private Paul Simon from interviews stretching over five years and 600 hours of recordings by the author Hilburn with Simon.
We learn about Simon's upbringing, love of the Yankees, eventual friendship with Art Garfunkel, their career, and Simon's solo career in great depth.
The case can be made that Simon is perhaps the most global of American songwriters given his songs using world musicians and how he has touched on social and political issues within those songs.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: music
A workmanlike job of reviewing Paul Simon's career. Though given 100 hours of access to Paul Simon, as well as most of those in his life, there aren't a lot of insights here. We get a pretty thorough review of his quarrels with Garfunkel and a close look at the composition of some of his best known songs. Enjoyable, but not revealing. ...more
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When you think about rock star, you don't think Simon. Some may dismiss it as not looking the part. If fact, he transcended labels.

Hilburn writes: "If you consider only the songs he wrote in the 60s Simon would be on the list of great american songwriters. If you considered only the songs he wrote in the 70s, he would also be on that list. If you considered the 80s or 90s, he would still be viewed as one of the greats. When you put all these periods together, Simon isn't just on the short list,
Chris DiLeo
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent exploration of Paul Simon's career with a focus on his music—and in many cases dives deeply into the songwriting itself. If you are more interested in his personal relationships and conflicts, you will be disappointed, but if you are fascinated by creatives and the way they approach their work, this is an ideal book.

In fact, I would have enjoyed the author going into even more detail about Simon's process. It is easy to assume great writers and musicians simply come up with
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Here's a book that befits the artist. Robert Hilburn had unequaled access to Paul Simon, and Simon opened up doors for other interviews. It's important to note that Paul Simon didn't have any editorial control over the book. The result is impressive. Most impressive is that the author manages the high-wire balance of public v. private life in a way that gives us interesting gossip, but only as it relates to the artistry. Personally, I couldn't care less about Paul Simon's private life, but the i ...more
Jen Bojkov
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Made me want to listen to more of his music. I finished with a feeling of melancholy because I don’t know that he will write more music or tour ever again and that makes me a little sad. Overall it was an interesting look into a complex life- I’m glad I read it.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I held off reading biographies of Paul Simon until the heralded publication of this one by Robert Hillburn, which promised to be the one that, given extensive access to Simon himself for the first time, would present a balanced view of the great singer songwriter. This is The Life after all, not a life.

I'm a huge fan -- I perform Simon's songs, have about twenty in my repertoire, telling background stories a la Pete Fornatale's and Aztec Two-Step's show, The Simon & Garfunkel Songbook. I didn't
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