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Fakin’ It

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Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon by Peter Ames Carlin (Henry Holt, $32.00, 415 pages)

An ambitious attempt that fails because in the end we don’t know who Paul Simon is.

Paul Simon singing at the Jacquard Club in Norwich in the 1960s. EDP staff photograph. Ref: M1298-33A

Paul Simon singing at the Jacquard Club in Norwich in the 1960s.
EDP staff photograph. Ref: M1298-33A

I apply a key test to biographies of public figures. Does the book help the reader to understand who the subject is… What he thinks, what he values, what he seeks to accomplish through his work or art? Does the bio make you feel as if you’ve spent time with the subject? In this sense, Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon fails. Writer Peter Ames Carlin presents two quite different – often contradictory, portraits of Simon.

One Paul Simon is brilliantly creative, generous (he pays studio musicians two or three times their usual fees), open to helping others, and quite proud of his craft. The other Paul Simon must borrow from the music of others – what some might term stealing, is spiteful and/or vindictive, is a loner know-it-all, and is the son who failed to meet the role assigned to him by his father. (Louis Simon wanted his son to be a teacher rather than a musician.)

Unfortunately, Carlin does not take the initiative to tell us which Simon is the most real to him. Instead, he relies on a “fair and balanced” approach that tells us almost everything about the musician in 415 pages while revealing virtually nothing. It’s akin to reading a murder-mystery in which the author concludes the work without solving the crime. Thus, this is a frustrating work.

Carlin was hampered by the fact that Simon would not cooperate with this book, which is an unauthorized biography. Near its conclusion, Carlin presents a scene in which Simon – on stage to give a lecture, glares at him. Yes, Simon knows who Carlin is and clearly dislikes what he’s attempting to do.

This being said, the biographer of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and Brian Wilson offers some fine insights. We learn about the influence that Simon’s working musician father had on him, and there are parallels with the relationship between Paul McCartney and his father. It’s through Louis Simon that Paul was exposed to the Latin rhythms that he has often used in his music:

Paul could hear the echoes of the Latin dance bands he’d seen sharing the stage with (his father’s orchestra) at the Roseland Ballroom and the Latin rhythms and voices coming from the fringes of his radio dial, the sound of his youth, the essence of the New York that had created him and then, like his youth, slipped away.

As with his prior bios, Carlin examines in detail various recording sessions, songs and the inspiration for particular albums. But there are flaws. Carlin refers to Simon and Garfunkel’s performance in New York City’s Central Park as “a long day of rock ‘n roll communion.” Rock and roll? Paul Simon has produced a great amount of memorable music, but it’s a stretch to call it rock.

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There’s far too much included about the decades-long feuds and arguments between Art Garfunkel and Simon; so much so that it’s overblown and intensely boring. (Simon himself seems to wonder why on earth people care at this point.) And the case for Simon’s theft of music is pretty much non-existent. Let’s see, he borrowed a cassette tape with African music on it from a young woman who wanted Simon to assist her in recording similar music. She sought to borrow from – or embellish – the sounds of African musicians and was incensed when Simon did so himself. That’s not much of a scandal.

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A number of readers will undoubtedly find interesting the details that Carlin provides on Simon’s relationship with the late Carrie Fisher:

The divorce from Carrie hadn’t taken. They spent a few months apart, then started talking again, then seeing each other. Then they were back living together… There had always been something perfect about them when they were getting along: the way they huddled together, the way he grounded her, the way she could make him laugh so easily. And he loved her, with a desperation that sometimes frightened him… Carrie had taken herself to rehab to shed her drug habits, but drugs were only symptomatic of the manic-depression she’d suffered her entire adult life… Her depths were unimaginably deep, and Paul’s were nothing to sneeze at, either, so they clung to each other with a passion that could both soothe and abrade.

Beautiful words, but without Simon’s cooperation in telling his story, we have no way to judge their accuracy. One certainly has to wonder how this biography would have turned out if it had been authorized, and written with Simon’s assistance. Sadly, we will never know.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Homeward Bound was released on October 11, 2016.

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A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Finding solace in a record album.

Like most individuals, I was extremely troubled by the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon. I found myself searching for something that would make me feel better, something that would be soothing. Nothing seemed to help until I listened to the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Though released in 1970, it seems to provide relevant messages for these times. All of the lyrics, with the exception of the cover of an Everly Brothers song, were written by Paul Simon. Here is a track-by-track look at the album, starting with lyrical excerpts.

When you’re down and out. When you’re on the street. When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you. I’ll take your part. Oh, when darkness comes. And pain is all around…

Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” This is a song about human beings facing crisis. In times of crisis, we need the better humans among us, or guardian angels, to rise and protect us. We saw both the best and worst of humanity in Boston. The song reminds us that a better day is on the way.

I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet. Yes I would.

“El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” Paul Simon added lyrics to a Peruvian/Andean song. In its way, it celebrates multiculturalism, like the national flags that lined the end of the Boston Marathon course near the finish line. We will find strength in diversity.

Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart. You’re shaking my confidence daily.

“Cecilia” The protagonist of the song comes face-to-face with life’s imperfections. He loves a girl who is unfaithful to him, she shakes his confidence daily. While our own sense of confidence was shaken and bruised by recent events, the music’s energy reminds us of the simple joy of life and living. The sun rises tomorrow over Boston.

Home is where I want to be.

“Keep the Customer Satisfied” The traveling performer want to return home. Boston has served as a second home to many college graduates, for whom the bombings — as President Obama expressed — felt quite personal. The senselessness of events made us feel exhausted like the traveling troubadour.

I can’t believe your song is gone so soon.

“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” This is a song that feels both like a dream and its conclusion. It signals the end of something, perhaps the end of the days that we take safety at sporting events for granted.

He carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down…

“The Boxer” The people of Boston may get knocked down, but they get back up.

I wonder how your engines feel?

“Baby Driver” This is Simon’s song about his family in which he pays tribute to sports, in the form of auto racing. Life and athletic competition will go on.

Half of the time we’re gone and we don’t know where.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” The song is about isolation. No doubt some Bostonians, in virtual lock-down for days, felt like the only living man or woman in the city.

Something is wrong and I need to be there.

“Why Don’t You Write Me” We all feel apprehension over events we cannot control.

Hello loneliness, I think I’m going to cry… Hello emptiness.

“Bye Bye, Love” Tears and hollow feelings ruled the day. The loss expressed in this song was echoed in the pain felt by those mourning the three persons killed in the bombings.

Ask me and I will play all the love that I hold inside.

“Song for the Asking” The nation displayed its love for the city and people of Boston during this fateful week.

Sail on by. Your time has come to shine. Your dreams are on their way. (Title track)

Sail on, Boston.

Joseph Arellano

Bridge_Over_Troubled_Water_single

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Music site:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/bridge-over-troubled-water-finding-solace/

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