Born October 13, 1941, in Newark, NJ; son of Louis (a former musician and college professor) and Belle (a schoolteacher) Simon; married Peggy Harper, 1969 (divorced, 1975); married Carrie Fisher (an actress), 1983 (divorced, 1983); married Edie Brickell (a singer-songwriter), 1992; children: (first marriage) Harper, (third marriage) Adrian. Education: B.A. in English, Queens College; attended Brooklyn Law School. Addresses: Record company--Warner Bros., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91510.
Newsweek's Jeff Giles--in a 1993 profile celebrating Paul Simon's three-disc career retrospective--referred to the veteran performer as "the only songwriter of his generation still curious, bent on change and utterly awake." Tony Scherman of Life seconded this view: "Few longtime pop-music idols have steered their careers so gracefully into the present." Simon's recipe for long-term career vitality, it would seem, contains equal parts insatiable passion for musical growth and lingering insecurity.
After turning his partnership with singer Art Garfunkel into a hit pop act, Simon went on to become one of the premier solo singer-songwriters of the 1970s. Though he experienced a slump of sorts in the ensuing decade, he came roaring back with Graceland, which garnered critical raves and multi-platinum sales. Even then, however, he was forced to fend off claims of musical imperialism for his use of South African song forms and employment of African musicians; his subsequent album relied on Brazilian music in a similar way and received the same criticism.
Yet Simon has steadfastly defended all of his work, arguing that foreign musical territory has both helped him grow and built enduring international relationships. Still, his artistic and commercial growth have not seemed to alleviate the insecurity that keeps him on edge. "He's particularly vulnerable when he's writing," noted Simon's friend Lorne Michaels, best known as producer of the TV program Saturday Night Live. "Sometimes he'll play you a song and you'll go, 'That's great!' and he seems genuinely surprised you like it. He's pretty rough on himself."
A quintessential Manhattanite in adulthood--his urbane lyrics are rivaled in sophistication only by his nuanced melodies--Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in Queens, New York. His mother was a schoolteacher; his father worked as a jazz bassist for many years before becoming a college professor. The anti-Semitic tenor of the late 1940s moved the elder Simon to disguise his Jewish surname: "He used the name Lou Sims," Simon told Life. Further reminiscing about his father, he revealed, "When I was five or six, he would bring me to Manny's [music store] on 48th Street, where he bought his bass strings and rosin. So I knew a world that was pre-rock and roll." Ultimately, however, his father became bored with the musician's life and entered academia, receiving a doctorate in semantics--the study of language. "The older I get," Simon ventured, "the more I realize that my thing is so much like my father's. I'm his kid, more and more interested in words."
What caught his fancy at first, however, was a sound--the sound of early rock and roll. During the 1950s he and his pal Arthur Garfunkel formed a duet called Tom and Jerry--camouflaging their Jewish names just as Simon's father had--and became stars while still in high school, thanks to the hit single "Hey Schoolgirl." Though Tom and Jerry saw no further chart action, Simon soon found himself working with another promising young singer-songwriter. "Carole King and I made a lot of demos--Carole Klein, from Brooklyn," he recollected in Life. "She'd play piano and drums, I could play bass and guitar, and we sang all the parts. That's where I learned how to stack [overlay] voices and do overdubs--how to make records. One moment we were making demos; the next she was making $150,000 a year writing Number One hits. It was very demoralizing to me."
Simon recorded a number of solo singles as "Jerry Landis" and saw some of them recorded by other acts. He attended Queens College while Garfunkel was at Columbia. He then tried Brooklyn Law School. Finally, the two decided to work together again and began performing in local clubs.
By the dawn of the 1960s, "ethnic"--including ethnic-sounding names--was in vogue and folk music was catching the national ear; the duo became Simon and Garfunkel. Their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., fared poorly, and Simon went to England for a time to play the folk scene there. But on its re-release in 1966-- following a retooled pop version of their single "The Sounds of Silence" that featured drums--the record became a hit. Merging the evocative, lyrically dense folk-rock popularized by Bob Dylan with their own radio-friendly pop hooks, Simon and Garfunkel would send a score of singles up the charts, including "The Sounds of Silence," "The Boxer," "Mrs. Robinson," "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," the traditional "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," and "Bridge over Troubled Waters." They won five Grammy awards in 1969 and 1970. Their vocal harmonies were peerless, but their partnership became rocky; Simon felt his musical ambition was hampered by Garfunkel's conservatism and acting aspirations. The pair split in 1971. They would reunite occasionally, however--as on Simon's "My Little Town," various Garfunkel projects, and a couple of extremely successful live engagements--and in 1990 would be inducted jointly into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Going solo was my decision," Simon pointed out in a Time magazine profile. "But I was nervous about it." He was met with profound skepticism from industry types who were loath to part with the duo's proven formula, yet he persevered. "I thought, if Simon and Garfunkel is all about the voices and not the songs, so much for my career," he remembered in Newsweek. "But if it's about the songs as well as the voices, then I was going to be fine."
He needn't have worried; he proceeded to score hits throughout the 1970s, including "Mother and Child Reunion," "Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard," "Kodachrome," "Slip Slidin' Away," "Loves Me Like a Rock," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," and many others. His 1975 disc, Still Crazy after All These Years, took a best album Grammy; in 1977 he won an Emmy award for a TV special. Noted modern composer Phillip Glass, interviewed in Life, called Simon "a great artist," adding, "Yes--why not? The only music that counts is the music we love, the records in our collections that keep coming to the top. And for a quarter century now, Paul has generated a tremendous amount of music we love."
But Simon's ambitions weren't limited to songwriting. He was a frequent host of Saturday Night Live, once lampooning his sincere image by donning a turkey suit for a Thanksgiving episode and crooning his way, deadpan, through "Still Crazy." His friend Woody Allen cast him--comically--as a slick L.A. show biz figure in the 1977 film Annie Hall, and 1980 saw the release of One-Trick Pony, a semi-autobiographical feature written by and starring Simon. Of course, he also wrote and performed the songs on the soundtrack.
As the 1980s dawned, Simon reunited with Garfunkel for a concert in New York's Central Park, the recording of which sold vigorously upon its release in 1981. His personal life was less rosy; he divorced his first wife, Peggy Harper, in 1975, then married actress-writer Carrie Fisher in 1983. That union foundered within a year. The dissolution of this marriage coincided with Simon's least commercially successful album (and his first for Warner Bros.), Hearts and Bones. Many prophesied the end of his career.
Yet in 1986, Simon--after traveling to South Africa and working with a large group of musicians there and at home--emerged with Graceland, a pop album at once epic and personal. The record filtered a panoply of styles, including South African township jive, zydeco, and rock, through Simon's distinctive lyrical perspective. It garnered rave reviews; Life's Scherman quoted a New York Times critic who called it "an album-length song cycle that far transcends the normal pop record for complexity and richness."
Among the guest artists on the record were the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, L.A. rockers Los Lobos, pop diva Linda Ronstadt, and guitar experimentalist Adrian Belew. The title song refers to the Memphis, Tennessee, home of rock idol Elvis Presley as though it were a haven for the weary faithful: "I have reason to believe," Simon sings, "we all will be received in Graceland." The album snagged a Grammy for best album; the single "You Can Call Me Al" was among the hits that took Graceland past the ten million sales mark. Simon later wrote a piece for Musician magazine about the process of writing "Al": "At its best," he concluded, "songwriting for me means peeling back layers. It's discovery, and that's the truth."
Simon's path to musical discovery, however, was also something of a mine field. Many political activists objected to his work in South Africa, since that country at the time was in thrall to a system of racial inequality known as apartheid and was thus being boycotted by artists around the world. They argued that Simon, as a rich white musician, was exploiting oppressed Third World musicians and doing nothing about their plight. Even worse, these critics maintained, he used their musical styles merely to sing about his own life. His attempts to explain himself rarely assuaged such attacks. "I suppose someone could say, 'Well, that's very nice for you, Paul Simon, and congratulations. But there's a whole suffering continent there.' Which is valid," he reflected in Life. "But my answer is, 'Was I supposed to solve things in a song?'" Furthermore, the bridges that Simon built with African musicians have had their own impact; the leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo gave him the Zulu name Vutlendela, "the man who opened the door."
Simon's work on Graceland altered his songwriting process. A new emphasis on rhythm was particularly evident, and this continued on his 1990 follow-up, The Rhythm of the Saints. Born of his work with Brazilian musicians and requiring $1 million and 2 years to complete, Rhythm was a trickier beast than Graceland; though it sold some four million copies, it was less than a smashing success when compared to its predecessor. "The world hasn't gotten it yet," he averred to Scherman some three years after the album's release. "It's taking a while for people to realize that it's more interesting than Graceland." More interesting, perhaps, but less sunny: "There are aspects of my personal life and my family's personal life that are more grave than they were four years ago," he noted in a Time interview. "And that's in there. It was on my mind, it had to be in there."
By 1993, the various strands of Simon's career began to look less like detours and more like parts of a cohesive musical vision. This was demonstrated in part by the valedictory three-disc boxed set Paul Simon, 1964/1993 and a performance on the popular acoustic showcase MTV Unplugged, but also by a series of mammoth stage shows billed as "The Concert Event of a Lifetime" and featuring Garfunkel, Ladysmith, a coterie of Brazilian musicians, and even a cameo by comedian Steve Martin. Audiences at these concerts saw Simon run through everything from "Feelin' Groovy" to revamped material from Graceland and Rhythm. The perceptive among them also saw the elements in his early work that prefigured his Third World wandering. Simon, observed composer-producer Quincy Jones to Newsweek, is "smart enough to understand the African motor, which has driven pop music for so long."
Life on the home front had stabilized a bit in the meantime. Simon married singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, and the two had a child in 1993. He built a studio in his Manhattan home and continued exploring new ground. "I'm at the peak of my career," he insisted to Scherman. "In terms of creativity, in terms of fame, in terms of drawing power, in terms of--you just name anything."
Simon next undertook a collaboration with acclaimed poet Derek Walcott on a musical, The CapeMan. Due in 1996 and based on a true story of a teenager who murdered two 16 year-olds while wearing a nurse's cape, it was clear from various interviews that this new project tapped some old insecurities. Nonetheless, venturing into uncharted territory has been a key source of Simon's continued vitality as an artist. "The thing that happens to musicians in middle age," he mused to David Gates of Newsweek, "especially if you've had a lot of success, a lot of attention, is that there comes a point where you either rediscover why you love music or it just becomes slick." For over 30 years, Simon has transformed his discoveries into musical treasures.
by Simon Glickman
Paul Simon's Career
With Art Garfunkel, performed as Tom and Jerry, 1957-59, recording "Hey Schoolgirl," Big, 1958; recorded as "Jerry Landis" and "Tico & the Triumphs," among other names, for labels including MGM and Warwick, and recorded demos for music publishers, 1959-63; reunited with Garfunkel and, as Simon and Garfunkel, signed with Columbia and released debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., 1964; released solo album The Paul Simon Songbook, 1965; with Garfunkel, provided songs for soundtrack to film The Graduate, 1968; split from Garfunkel and released solo album Paul Simon, 1972; appeared in film Annie Hall, 1977; performed at Inaugural Eve Gala for President Jimmy Carter, 1977; wrote, starred in, and provided songs for soundtrack of film One-Trick Pony, 1980; signed with Warner Bros. and released Hearts and Bones, 1983; appeared on MTV Unplugged, 1992; collaborated with poet Derek Walcott on musical Capeman, 1990s.
Paul Simon's Awards
With Garfunkel, Grammy awards for best album and best performance by a pop vocal group, 1969, for The Graduate; Grammy awards for best album, for Bridge over Troubled Water, and for best single and best performance by a pop vocal group, for "Bridge over Troubled Water," all 1970; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1990. As solo artist, Grammy awards for best album, 1975, for Still Crazy after All These Years, and 1987, for Graceland. Emmy Award, 1977, for television special Paul Simon.
- Selective Works
- Simon and Garfunkel; on Columbia, except where noted (As Tom and Jerry) "Hey Schoolgirl," Big, 1958.
- (As Tom and Jerry) "Don't Say Goodbye," Big, 1958.
- (As Tom and Jerry) "Our Song," Big, 1958.
- Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (includes "The Sounds of Silence"), 1964, reissued, 1966.
- The Sounds of Silence (includes "The Sounds of Silence" and "I Am a Rock"), 1966.
- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (includes "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" and "59th Street Bridge Song [Feelin' Groovy]"), 1966.
- The Graduate (soundtrack; includes "Mrs. Robinson"), 1968.
- Bookends, 1968.
- Bridge over Troubled Waters (includes "Bridge over Troubled Waters" and "The Boxer"), 1970.
- Concert in Central Park, Warner Bros., 1981.
- Solo releases (As Jerry Landis) "Anna Belle," MGM, 1959.
- (As Jerry Landis) "I Want to Be the Lipstick on Your Collar," Warwick, 1961.
- (As Jerry Landis) "Play Me a Sad Song," Warwick, 1961.
- (As Tico & the Triumphs), "Motorcycle," Amy, 1962.
- (As Jerry Landis) "The Lone Teen Ranger," Amy, 1963.
- The Paul Simon Songbook, Columbia, 1965.
- Paul Simon (includes "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard"), Columbia, 1972, reissued, Warner Bros., 1988.
- There Goes Rhymin' Simon (includes "Kodachrome"), Columbia, 1973, reissued, Warner Bros., 1988.
- Live Rhymin': Paul Simon in Concert, Columbia, 1974, reissued, Warner Bros., 1988.
- Still Crazy after All These Years (includes "Still Crazy after All These Years," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Slip Slidin' Away," and "My Little Town"), Columbia, 1975.
- Greatest Hits, Etc., Columbia, 1978.
- One-Trick Pony (soundtrack), WEA, 1980.
- Hearts and Bones, Warner Bros., 1983.
- Graceland (includes "Graceland" and "You Can Call Me Al"), Warner Bros., 1986.
- Negotiations and Love Songs, 1971-1986, Warner Bros., 1988.
- The Rhythm of the Saints, Warner Bros., 1990.
- Paul Simon, 1964/1993, Warner Bros., 1993.
September 9, 2003: Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited for a concert tour. Source: Yahoo! News, story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=795&ncid=799&e=2&u=/eo/20030909/en_music_eo/12466, September 9, 2003.
July 27, 2004: Simon's albums You're the One, Songs from the Capeman, Rhythm of the Saints, and Graceland, were re-released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, August 5, 2004.
April 2005: BMI announced Paul Simon would receive the Icon Award at the 53rd Annual Pop Awards. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, April 20, 2005.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.
- Periodicals Life, November 1993.
- Musician, January 1994.
- Newsweek, January 14, 1991; October 11, 1993.
- Time, November 12, 1990; June 12, 1995.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Warner Bros. publicity materials, 1993.