Book Reviews

Peter Ames Carlin — Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon

(Henry Holt & Co.)

51rdpfluoilI don’t recall being all that enthralled or excited by Peter Ames Carlin’s two previous big name bios, namely Bruce and Paul McCartney: A Life. I haven’t read Catch A Wave, his bio on Brian Wilson. So taking all that prologue into account, I’ll just say from the get-go that Homeward Bound is Carlin’s finest bio and most easily readable given its oft-times uncomfortable observations of the frustrations, depressions and doubts behind such lasting accomplishments as “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “The Boxer,” “The Obvious Child,” “American Tune” and “Take Me To The Mardi Gras.”

Simon’s a complicated dude. A control freak who would yell out “Hey I wrote it that way!” to keep his collaborators (ever the finest in the game, from Artie to Phil Ramone to Ray Phiri, Joseph Shabalala and Bakithi Kumalo) on point. But my guess is that you might have to be to capture the zeitgeist that he did, not just in the turbulent ’60s, but again in the songwriter ’70s, and yet again in the pan-cultural ’80s.

They say some people never get out of high school. That the boogey men and monsters that hid under the bed or the closet then, still do. That seems to be the case with Simon, who as Jerry Landis, half of the swinging one-hitters Tom and Jerry (Artie) that gave us the far less than memorable “Hey Schoolgirl” always had doubts of his abilities, his voice, his height, his hair, etc, leading to dark clouds, writer’s block and rejection.

Sure the control freak’s movie One Trick Pony and his rocky, almost arrogant attempt to reshape Broadway in his image with The Capeman met with failure. But I’m grateful to Carlin for spending much page time with the intricacies and mis-steps of that production and seeing, as I have held for years, that many of the songs from the play are some of Simon’s best. His informed  investigation into the back room politics and diplomacy that resulted in the globe conquering of Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints opens eyes too.

But I can’t help wondering why, after such a deep dive into the Simon psychology and micro-management way of doing things, Carlin squashes Simon’s life from 1988 to the present in less than fifty pages. (Including the detailed, above mentioned study of The Capeman.) There’s Edie Brickell, the Hall of Fame, the S & G reboots, triumphant concerts, and, as is Simon’s restless creative genius, resurgences (So Beautiful or So What and “Father and Daughter.”) But that’s it really, my only complaint.

– Mike Jurkovic

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