Paul Simon: The Life (Paperback)
Acclaimed music writer Robert Hilburn’s “epic” and “definitive” (Rolling Stone) biography of music icon Paul Simon, written with Simon’s full participation—but without his editorial control—that “reminds us how titanic this musician is” (The Washington Post).
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 one of the most beloved artists in American pop music history. Songs like “The Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” and “Graceland” have moved beyond the sales charts and into our cultural consciousness. But Simon is a deeply private person who has said he will not write an autobiography or talk to biographers. Finally, however, he has opened up for Robert Hilburn—for more than one hundred hours of interviews—in this “brilliant and entertaining portrait of Simon that will likely be the definitive biography” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
Over the course of three years, Hilburn conducted in-depth interviews with scores of Paul Simon’s friends, family, colleagues, and others—including ex-wives Carrie Fisher and Peggy Harper, who spoke for the first time—and even penetrated the inner circle of Simon’s long-reclusive muse, Kathy Chitty. The result is a deeply human account of the challenges and sacrifices of a life in music at the highest level. In the process, Hilburn documents Simon’s search for artistry and his constant struggle to protect that artistry against distractions—fame, marriage, divorce, drugs, record company interference, rejection, and insecurity—that have derailed so many great pop figures.
“As engaging as a lively American tune” (People), Paul Simon is a “straight-shooting tour de force…that does thorough justice to this American prophet and pop star” (USA TODAY, four out of four stars). “Read it if you like Simon; read it if you want to discover how talent unfolds itself” (Stephen King).
About the Author
Robert Hilburn was the chief pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times for more than three decades. Author of the bestselling biography Johnny Cash: The Life, which Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times selected as one of her top ten books of 2013, Hilburn has reported extensively on most of pop music’s giants, including Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and U2. He lives in Los Angeles.
“Epic . . . Definitive . . . Paul Simon offers unprecedented access into the private life of the singer-songwriter.”
“Hilburn evokes the singer-songwriter here in all his melancholy and sweet-natured splendor. Stories of Simon’s hits and flops, insecurities, three marriages, perfectionist dad, and frenemy Art Garfunkel make the book as engaging as a lively American tune.”
“A straight-shooting tour de force . . . Like Simon, Hilburn’s passion is music, and he makes clear that Simon’s is very much a life in and of music—a drive for aesthetic achievement, deeply serious in the studio and onstage. . . . Hilburn does thorough justice to this American prophet and pop star.”
—USA Today (four stars out of four stars)
“Every now and then—rarely!—a book casts a little light on the creative development of a gifted artist. Paul Simon: The Life is one of those few. Read it if you like Simon; read it if you want to discover how talent unfolds itself.”
“Absorbing . . . . Hilburn’s biography flows smoothly along on the river of his liquid prose. He excels at telling stories because he pays attention to details and facts, never overwhelming readers with the mundane, but always making sure that the stories rest on a solid foundation. . . . A sprawling, sparkling narrative of a songwriter who has shaped the canon of popular music with his inventive, sometimes playful, and discerning poetry.”
“Up-to-date and scrupulously researched . . . The timing is perfect . . . . I grew more sympathetic with Paul Simon the deeper I got into this book.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Eloquent and comprehensive . . . Not only examines the personal life and professional career of the great American singer-songwriter, but also the artistic process at work.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Paul Simon is not an autobiography but it might as well be. . . . The result, happy to say, is the biography an artist like Paul Simon deserves; it takes its subject as seriously as Simon takes himself. . . . It is filled with more than enough anecdotes and factoids to please any fans.”
—The New York Journal of Books
“Thorough, balanced . . . Paul Simon reminds us how titanic this musician is.”
—The Washington Post
“Fans will relish reading the stories behind some of his most iconic tunes (he wrote "The Sound of Silence" with the lights out in his bathroom, mourning the assassination of JFK) and taking a deep dive into his remarkable career.”
“Energetic and elegant . . . Hilburn’s brilliant and entertaining portrait of Simon will likely be the definitive biography.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“With train-wreck moments and tender interludes alike, a book that delivers a sharply detailed Kodachrome of a brilliant musician.”
"Engrossing . . . Simon is revealed as sensitive yet tough, spontaneous yet controlled, as well as reflective, perceptive, and empathetic, but also judgmental, insecure, and extremely competitive. As a songwriter, he has earned a spot in the canon alongside Gershwin, Lennon-McCartney, and Dylan."
“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.”
“Master storyteller and interviewer Robert Hilburn knows how to draw the best from an artist. The intimacy of these interviews gives Paul Simon: 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.”
“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 hyperintellect. 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.”
“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 popular culture.”