A revelatory account of the life of beloved American music icon, Paul Simon, by the bestselling rock biographer Peter Ames Carlin
To have been alive during the last sixty years is to have lived with the music of Paul Simon. The boy from Queens scored his first hit record in 1957, just months after Elvis Presley ignited the rock era. As the songwriting half of Simon & Garfunkel, his work helped define the youth movement of the '60s. On his own in the '70s, Simon made radio-dominating hits. He kicked off the '80s by reuniting with Garfunkel to perform for half a million New Yorkers in Central Park. Five years later, Simon’s album “Graceland” sold millions and spurred an international political controversy. And it doesn’t stop there.
The grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Hungary, the nearly 75-year-old singer-songwriter has not only sold more than 100 million records, won 15 Grammy awards and been installed into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice, but has also animated the meaningand flexibilityof personal and cultural identity in a rapidly shrinking world.
Simon has also lived one of the most vibrant lives of modern times; a story replete with tales of Carrie Fisher, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Shelley Duvall, Nelson Mandela, drugs, depression, marriage, divorce, and more. A life story with the scope and power of an epic novel, Carlin’s Homeward Bound is the first major biography of one of the most influential popular artists in American history.
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About the Author
Peter Ames Carlin is a writer and the author of several books, including Bruce, a biography of Bruce Springsteen published in October, 2012. Carlin has also been a free-lance journalist, a senior writer at People in New York City, and a television columnist and feature writer at The Oregonian in Portland. A regular speaker on music, art and popular culture, Carlin lives in Portland, Ore., with his wife and three children.
Read an Excerpt
The Life of Paul Simon
By Peter Ames Carlin
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2016 Peter Ames Carlin
All rights reserved.
REAL AND ASSUMED
On February 16, 1967, Paul Simon sat at a conference table in his lawyers' offices and tried to explain who he was, who he used to be, and who he had become. This would take some doing.
For while he was clearly Paul Frederic Simon, born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 13, 1941, the elder of the two sons whom Louis and Belle Simon raised in the Kew Gardens Hills section of Queens, New York, he had answered to several other names in his twenty-five years. All in the pursuit of a professional music career that took off a few weeks into his senior year of high school, when the short, dark-eyed Simon, along with his tall, blue-eyed best friend, Arthur "Artie" Garfunkel, recorded "Hey, Schoolgirl," a sprightly pop tune of their own composition. The owner of a small New York record company heard cash register bells in the boys' chiming harmonies, and within days he had their signatures on a recording contract.
The boys waxed another song for the single's B-side and then set to inventing a catchy stage name for their act. Anything to differentiate themselves from the hundreds, even thousands, of artists lobbing songs at the Billboard charts that week. There were other reasons, particularly their obviously ethnic names, so when record company owner Sid Prosen came up with Tom and Jerry, which played off the popular cartoon characters of the day, Artie and Paul added surnames (Graph and Landis, respectively) and crossed their fingers. Mirabile dictu, and by Thanksgiving "Hey, Schoolgirl" was hopscotching up the sales charts. By the end of Christmas vacation Paul and Artie's shiny-cheeked alter egos were famous. TEEN SONGWRITERS HIT, shouted the New York World-Telegram and Sun, WHIZ KIDS ROCK 'N' ROLL! cried the Long Island Star-Journal.
The glory didn't last. Tom and Jerry recorded and released eight or so other songs in the next few months, but none of them followed the astral trajectory of "Schoolgirl." With college on the horizon and a bitter disagreement already in progress, the duo retired from the Tom and Jerry business and stepped back onto the middle-class overachievers' path to college, graduate school, and the 7:04 from Scarsdale to Grand Central. That didn't last, either, and when the pair re-reformed as folksingers in 1963, it took just over two years for them to become extremely, wildly, imprinted-upon-a-generation famous as Simon and Garfunkel. One year and a chain of folk-rock hits later, the pop tunes by 1950s teen idols Tom and Jerry reappeared in a package decorated with the grown-up Simon and Garfunkel's poet-rocker frowns — and this was a big problem.
Tom and Jerry had been light-footed teen idols whose central, nay, sole concerns involved girls, school, the joys of the former, the hassles of the latter, and the travails of both. They were the boys every mother wanted her daughter to bring home. But a decade later Simon and Garfunkel were stylish folksingers whose melancholic songs surveyed the internal geographies of postadolescent malaise, social disconnection, and the euphoria that grabs you when the sun shines and you're rapping with lampposts and feeling groovy. So how could Prosen have compiled those ridiculous high school songs, slapped a recent photo on the cover, and called it Simon and Garfunkel's latest album? Outraged by the potential damage the bogus album could cause their reputations and fortunes, Paul and Artie had summoned their attorneys and gone on the attack.
The argument boiled down to this: While the original contract the adolescent Paul and Artie and their parents had signed with Prosen in 1957 did grant the executive the right to use their master recordings in any fashion he chose, nothing in the deal gave him the right to advertise the work as the product of Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel. Back when they signed, Paul and Artie were unknown high schoolers who were thrilled to get any attention whatsoever. If "Tom and Jerry" was a more marketable handle than "Artie and Paul," then so be it; pop stars always changed their names. Yet when their debut record made a splash, virtually every feature written about the teen duo, in newspapers ranging from the Forest Hills High School Beacon to the New York World-Telegram and Sun to the Long Island Star-Journal, revealed some combination of the boys' real names, the names of their parents, and the exact name and location of their high school. And they were thrilled. They wanted everyone to know who they were and that they were now pop stars. It was the greatest thing that had ever happened to them!
Or so it seemed until late 1965, when the older and more sophisticated pair hit the top of Billboard's Hot 100 with "The Sound of Silence." In the era of Dylan and dissent, when musicians who mattered were expected to be not just artists but also activists, generational spokesmen, and something like sages, a song like "Hey, Schoolgirl" could be a career ender. In their complaint to the New York State Supreme Court, their statements are a pastiche of rage, legalese, and Blanche DuBois. The belated appearance of the Tom and Jerry album was a moral, ethical, and economic travesty: Unfair competition. Unlawful trade. A violation of privacy. An unlawful appropriation of the plaintiffs' duly established trade name, "Simon and Garfunkel." As Prosen had learned in 1958 and as future defendants and/or aspiring plaintiffs would later discover, Paul Simon wouldn't stand for anything that struck him as a violation of his personal, professional, or economic property. He drew lines and constructed barricades around himself, particularly when it came to defining who he was. So Paul wanted everyone to get this straight. Even if Paul and Artie had been Tom and Jerry, Tom and Jerry had never really been Paul and Artie. And there were others, too — True Taylor, Paul Kane. The existence and the limitations of Paul's alter egos would be courtroom fodder for many years.
This time, the court would rule quickly in Simon and Garfunkel's favor. Most every copy of Prosen's wayward LP would spend eternity at the bottom of a landfill in New Jersey or Ohio. Still, if the courtroom victory ensured Simon and Garfunkel a clear path to their future, it did little to ease the ache in Paul's muscled chest — the vivid glare of his failings, the dismay of matching eyes with the stumpy, prematurely balding creature in the mirror.
And yet millions of people adored Paul. At twenty-five, he was already phenomenally successful: a hit songwriter and performer whose popularity — Simon and Garfunkel's most recent album had sold three million copies, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard charts — was rivaled only by the critical acclaim that greeted his work. Critics evaluated his songs in terms of poetry and musical innovation. Editorialists interpreted his thoughts as social commentary, statements from the heart of the surging, seething New Generation. Four years out of Queens College, three years after dropping out of Brooklyn Law School, Paul Simon had made himself into one of the most influential voices in Western popular culture. Yet his father, a former professional musician who had remade himself into an educator, couldn't stop telling his famous son that he was wasting his life.
Paul was accustomed to not measuring up — not physically, given his tiny build and humble facial features; not musically, given his relatively thin singing voice; and not in heritage, due to being the scion of Jewish immigrants growing up in the midst of a largely anti-Semitic culture. And yet no criticism could rival his own unsparing judgment of himself: the standards he could rarely meet, the shame that would plague him after he had taken pleasure in achieving something that made him feel proud. He felt like a phony, and accused others of being the same: Dylan, with his fictional past and bogus name; Artie, Paul's tall, blond, golden-voiced brother in music, for being called a sex symbol. How, Paul asked, could there be a sex symbol named Garfunkel? Even while dressing himself in velvet and adding a cape, wraparound sunglasses, and elegant high-heeled boots, he swore he was finished with music and stardom. He'd stick it out another few months, maybe a year, he said, and then abandon the whole enterprise. No more shows, no more records, no more songs. He'd always wanted to be a novelist anyway. "I enjoy singing and rock and roll, but the main thing I want to do is write. That's what I'm living for in between performances. I'm always writing, trying to develop characters so that I can do the Great American Novel." Even in the spring of 1966, in the middle of his first great rush of success, the impulse to be something else, not to settle for whatever or whoever he was at that moment.
Then Paul got writer's block, a months-long spell of creative paralysis that finally ended when he sensed a few chords gathering around him and teased out a thread of melody that led to a vision of a watery fellow sitting alone in the gloom of his manse — a man out of place not just in his home but also in his own skin. His girlfriend lives by her own inscrutable whims. He can barely leave the house, thanks both to the grabby vines in his garden and his skim milk constitution. Even he knows how sad a vision he truly is. "I know I'm fakin' it," he says. "Not really makin' it." Then something happens. He has a vision of himself in an earlier life: not as a washed-out member of the landed gentry, but as a shopkeeper; a man of cotton, silk, wool, and bone; a skilled creator of necessary goods, the garments that keep you warm, dry, and healthy even in the worst of conditions. "A tailor!" — a valued, even beloved, member of his community. And it's a revelation: "I have the tailor's face and hands!" he cries. "I have the tailor's face and hands!"
Recorded in June 1967, "Fakin' It" was released as a single in early July 1968 and became a moderate hit, peaking at No. 23 on Billboard's Hot 100. Paul said later that he was astonished to learn that he was in fact the descendant of a tailor, a tailor who was also named Paul Simon. Simon the elder learned his trade back in the Old World, and brought it with him to the new one at the dawn of the twentieth century, working first in New York City and then crossing the Hudson River to start his own business in Newark, New Jersey. There he made a home and raised his family to be real Americans — smart, ambitious, and hardworking, their eyes locked so securely on the future that it took only two generations for his descendants to forget, or at least pretend not to remember, that he ever existed.CHAPTER 2
Paul Simon the tailor was born in Galicia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in 1888. He grew up in the tight embrace of Jewish family and tradition, supported by his faith, his people, his handed-down trade. The Jews had thrived in eastern Europe for centuries, but more than five hundred years since they brought their families and their faith to the region, the nativist tribes there were again focusing their hatred on the synagogues and shtetls. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, the occasional attacks had grown into pogroms. The ancient black cloaks, the long beards, and the furred hats that had signified their belief for so long now marked them for torment and death. The traditions that had sustained them, the tribal identity that had knit their communities into extended families, had become ruinous. Individuals, then families, and then entire communities abandoned their homes and fled.
So Paul Simon had gone. It was the spring of 1903, the year of his fifteenth birthday. Already schooled in the ways of the thread, the cloth, the pins, and the numbered ribbon, he packed his things and climbed aboard the train that would take him to the seat of his future. The journey seemed unfathomable: first to Le Havre, home port for the fleet of steamships owned by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. There he'd board the steerage deck of La Gascogne for the long journey away from the past and to the threshold of the New World — to the United States, and to the modern city at the foot of that great welcoming torch. A whisper of its name was enough to ignite the weariest of Old World eyes. New York City, the global capital of freedom, democracy, culture, and industry; home to peace, brotherhood, and a million Jews already, all of them free to practice their faith and pursue their ambitions. La Gascogne carried the young tailor past Liberty's fire and to the immigrants' clearinghouse on Ellis Island. Here some subterfuge occurred: the immigration records describe the Austrian boy as a married forty-year-old farmer who would be met by a Jacob Aushorn, whose only known address was a post office box. That was good enough for the immigration agent on duty, and soon Paul Simon was standing at the foot of Manhattan, which was surprisingly grimy for a promised land, and noisy. But the streets were lit up at night, and the gas-powered cars were already shoving the horse and buggy to the curb — and there he was, an ambitious young man set free in the electrified modern world.
Paul Simon moved quickly. He found a place to live, and then got tailoring work. Soon he married Trieda, a spirited if stubborn Austrian immigrant who preferred to be known as Frieda. The couple moved across the Hudson River to Newark, New Jersey, and by the time the U.S. Federal Census caught up with them in 1920, Paul was thirty-two years old and living in a rented apartment on Somerset Street in Newark's heavily Jewish Ward 3. Their first child, a son named Louis, was four and a half years old, and little Rosie was just a few months short of her third birthday. The census taker noted that the primary language in the home was still "Jewish," meaning Yiddish, but Paul had already submitted his application for citizenship. The application was a formality, given that the enterprising Austrian émigré had built himself a foothold in the American economy, owning a small tailor shop that specialized in European-style wool cloaks. It had taken just ten years for Paul Simon to get from the immigration desk at Ellis Island to owning a business and, as the census noted approvingly, employing other Americans.
Paul and Frieda were happy to stay close to the pickle barrels and black-cloaked merchants of Newark's Third Ward, who had essentially re-created their old lives in a new locale. Most of their neighbors spoke enough English to get by outside the neighborhood, but the old language prevailed, as did the dedication to the synagogue and the wisdom of the ages. Then came the kids: good, obedient children, but American-born and quickly steeped in the lights and the music, the crowds, the five-cent matinees and the American pastime, the sport of baseball.
The school-age Louis became a fan of the sport, then a fiercely partisan fan of the New York Yankees. In the New York of the 1920s the sport was inescapable: the dirt-and-grass fields next to the schools, the boys playing catch in the streets and sawing off broom handles to whack balls in every direction. Baseball was on the front page of the newspaper, on the radio, on everyone's minds. It was a heavily symbolic American bonding ritual that happened to strike immediate and overwhelming terror into the hearts of old-school Jewish parents. They were thinkers, intellectuals, tea drinkers. Baseball was lawless and wild: grown men waving bats and hurling hard balls at one another's heads.
Like other kids, Louis also fell under the spell of the radio and the stomping, sloppy popular music of the day. He couldn't resist the lights and sound calling from the city on the other side of the Hudson. Not that Louis had to cross the river to hear the music. By the mid-1920s it was nearly everywhere: the scratchy signal from the radio speaker, the variety show at the neighborhood theater, the jitterbug rattle shaking the windows of the street corner dance hall. Take the Old World waltz of klezmer and add lights, streamers, and fireworks. To the adults, nothing sounded crazier. To the kids, nothing could be so heady, so alive with the heartbeat of the moment. To be the first true American in your family, to have emerged from a murky and painful past and feel the current in your vertebrae — it changed you.
And Louis could play. He had a feeling for rhythm and for melody, and when they handed out instruments in the classroom, his fingers reached for the right notes and hit them at the right time. Eventually settling on the stand-up bass, the teenager studied and practiced with the diligence of the top student he already was, and earned his first paying gigs when he was still a high school student, filling in for dance bands and orchestras that needed a last-minute player, and then getting enough regular work to become a dues-paying member of the American Federation of Musicians, Northern New Jersey Local 16-248. If Paul and Frieda Simon objected to the sound of hot jazz their boy had taken up, they couldn't complain about how he'd turned his hobby into a profitable venture.
Excerpted from Homeward Bound by Peter Ames Carlin. Copyright © 2016 Peter Ames Carlin. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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Table of Contents
1. Real and Assumed 1
2. The Tailor 6
3. Our Song 17
4. Nowhere to Go but Up! 35
5. Two Teenagers 49
6. The Freedom Criers 62
7. What Are You Searching for, Carlos Dominguez 74
8. The Voice of the Now 88
9. He Was My Brother 102
10. It Means Nothing to Us 120
11. Some Dream of What I Might Be 140
12. Bookends 155
13. So Long Already, Artie 169
14. I'd Rather Be 188
15. That's It, That's That Groove 205
16. Through No Fault of My Own 223
17. Swallowed by a Song 241
18. What Did You Expect? 252
19. These Are the Roots of Rhythm 271
20. I've Got Nothing to Apologize For 291
21. The Whole World Whispering 311
22. Phantom Figures in the Dust 327
23. The Teacher 350
24. See What's Become of Me 368
Illustration Credits 399