I am just a poor boy,
Though my story’s seldom told,
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles,
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest. (The Boxer)
Paul Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey on October 13, 1941 and his family soon moved to Queens in New York – where he attended the same school as his soon-to-be musical partner Art Garfunkel. By 1955, the duo – now called “Tom and Jerry” had started writing songs together. Their first hit, “Hey Schoolgirl” came in 1957 when they were only 16 years old. They split briefly after graduation when Garfunkel went to college and Simon pursued a career as a professional songwriter. Most of his work was performed by other artists at this stage but he did release some tracks under the pseudonym Jerry Landis, “Anna Belle”, “Just a Boy” and “The Lone Teen Ranger”, and also with Tico and the Triumphs – “Motorcycle”.
There was a brief reunion of Simon and Garfunkel in 1964 for the relatively unsuccessful acoustic album “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M” but Garfunkel returned to school and Simon travelled to England. Whilst here, he experimented with his musical style, creating dark and emotional lyrics. He toured around England, was recorded for the BBC and released "The Paul Simon Songbook". Back in the USA, an edited version of "The Sound of Silence" taken from "Wednesday Morning 3 A.M." had reached number one in the charts – this success prompted Simon’s return to New York where he went on to record a new album with Garfunkel – also entitled “Sounds of Silence” which in 1966 saw the pair established as a popular folk-rock duo. Two equally successful albums followed "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme" (1966) and "Bookends" (1968). During this time, the success of Simon’s masterly songwriting ability prompted the director Mike Nichols, to request that he write the soundtrack to “The Graduate”.
My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day. (Kathy's Song)
The following year, only one single was released – "The Boxer" – which is said to have personified Paul himself – but under the façade of happy success lurked a problem between the two. Garfunkel had continued to pursue an acting career during their time together – something that had interested him since school - and this troubled Paul a great deal. The lack of dedication was not what he wanted from a musical partner. In 1971, the album “Bridge over Troubled Water” was released - the title track having been written by Paul for his friend. However, Art was offered a film role during recording for the album and chose this over the music. Paul had to record the majority of the album alone, with Garfunkel adding vocals when he returned from shooting the movie. The album itself was a huge success, and won six Grammy awards, but the tension between the pair was undeniable.
A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window from the street below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island (I am a Rock)
So, in 1972, Simon was engaged in pursuing a solo career. He released the self-titled album "Paul Simon" and it sold quite well, incorporating elements of Latin, reggae and jazz. Hit singles from the album included "Mother And Child Reunion" and "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard".
His next solo album “There Goes Rhymin' Simon” (1973) was more commercial in scope and enjoyed huge chart success – hits from this work include "Kodachrome" and "Take Me To The Mardi Gras". At that same time, Simon embarked on a tour – the success of which would spawn the live album "Paul Simon In Concert: Live Rhymin"(1974),
In 1975, he gained two Grammy Awards for his album "Still Crazy after all these Years" and for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover", taken from the same album, provided his first US number one as a soloist.
For the next five years, Simon took a break from recording – a chance to take stock of his career so far and how it was likely to progress. During this time, he appeared in the film "Annie Hall", recorded a hit single “(What a) Wonderful World” with Garfunkel and James Taylor and released a greatest hits album. He also switched his record label from CBS to Warner Brothers.
In 1980, he released “One-Trick Pony” – a film and a soundtrack to accompany it. The film featured cameo appearances by the Lovin’ Spoonful and Tiny Tim and although critically acclaimed, was not commercially successful. This disappointment led to Simon agreeing to reunite with Garfunkel who had been busy pursuing his own solo career - they performed together in Central Park in 1981. An album of the live performance was released shortly afterwards and was very successful. Simon had begun working on new material for the pair to record together, but Garfunkel was again offered a movie role and this, plus various musical differences led to their second split. The material was used however for Simon’s next solo album "Hearts and Bones" (1983) which again failed to capture the public’s imagination. It did feature one hit single “The Late Great Johnny Ace” which was written about both the 50’s star of that name and the recently assassinated John Lennon. Despite this, Simon was convinced for a while that he was suffering from writer’s block. An introduction to the music of South African Black Townships in 1983 would change this however.
She's a rich girl
She don't try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes (Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes)
In 1983, he appeared on the USA for Africa recording of “We are the World” released to raise money for the famines in Africa, and he soon began to immerse himself in the music of that continent. The result was the album “Graceland” (1986) which, with the addition of vocals from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt and Rockin’ Dopie and the Twisters, was set to become one of the best selling albums of that decade. The tour that followed was subject to a degree of controversy however with some accusing Simon of breaking the cultural boycott against South Africa – this claim was proved incorrect by the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee. The album provided many hits, including “The Boy in the Bubble”, “You can call me Al” and the title track “Graceland”. With this album, Simon showed his brilliant ability to mix different styles – he had done this earlier in his career with Folk, Blues and Rock and he was now diversifying into World Music.
"What was distinct about Graceland was how neatly and emphatically it seemed to define some of these possibilities (the possibilities with non-Western music). There was nothing tentative and unsure about Graceland. From the first notes you knew it was already there. Paul had taken a musical idiom that was all around us, but in a somewhat slumbering form, and made a quantum leap, bringing us, with him, into a new "present"" (Philip Glass)
Simon’s musical travels continued following the immense success of "Graceland" and his next album “The Rhythm of the Saints” (1990) incorporated African and Brazilian influences. The tour of the album featured musicians from Africa, Brazil and America and ended with two performances - a free concert in Central Park that attracted an audience of circa 750000 and an appearance on MTV Unplugged. The album of the performance in Central Park was released in 1991 and 1993 saw the release of “The Paul Simon Anthology”.
I'm accustomed to a smooth ride
Or maybe I'm a dog who's lost its bite
I don't expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don't expect to sleep through the night (The Obvious Child)
After his marriage to Edie Brickell in 1994, he started work on his next project. A musical called “The Capeman” which was based on the life of Salvador Agron - a gang member from Puerto Rico who was imprisoned for the murder of two white teenagers in New York in 1959. Despite efforts to draw the best of the artistic world to help on his project, the musical was withdrawn on 28 March 1998 after 59 previews and 68 regular performances amid less than positive reviews and, more seriously, protests from the relatives of Agron’s victims. The musical, which was funded by Simon and a select few other investors is said to have lost around $11 million. In November 1997, “Songs from The Capeman” was released with 13 of the numbers from the musical.
In 2000, Simon returned to the recording studio to produce his first album in ten years “You're the One”. The album was well received and was nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy.
In March of 2001, Simon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.