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Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon


Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon

I was so enchanted with HOMEWARD BOUND that I did something I haven’t done in decades: I listened to the new Paul Simon album (Stranger to Stranger, which is actually pretty good) and dusted off (figuratively, since everything is digital now) the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue, particularly the oh-so-easily-relatable “Fakin’ It.” Who knew, a half-century after the fact, that a three-minute-plus folk-rock song would be even more relevant to at least some people than it was when it was first recorded?

Well, author Peter Ames Carlin figured it out, but Simon knew it, and a great deal of HOMEWARD BOUND demonstrates just how smart, talented and ruthless its subject matter is. The book is neither a hit piece nor a slavish adoring homage to Simon. It lands somewhere in the middle, as it properly should, taking readers (whether a fan of the man or at best familiar with him from a cursory glance at their [grand]parents’ vinyl albums) with it. It is a long work covering several decades and a somewhat slippery and contradictory personality, and is not without errors (Paul Samwell-Smith was the bass player for The Yardbirds, not The Animals; Art Garfunkel's recording of “Candy Girl” is not a cover of the Four Seasons song of the same name). It makes one wonder, however momentarily, how many other less obvious but arguably more important mistakes lurk within. But even the most casual fan of Simon’s work will fall under the spell of Carlin’s narrative, even if the ride has a bump or two.

"HOMEWARD BOUND is much more than an (unauthorized) biography. It is a cautionary tale about getting what you wish for, and how you get it. Even if you can’t hum three notes of a Paul Simon song, you will find this account fascinating, mesmerizing and very readable."

HOMEWARD BOUND begins with a bit of Simon’s genealogy (Carlin mercifully limits himself to the immediately relevant) before we meet the primary subject of the work. It is clear that from an early age he was inventing and reinventing himself on his way to becoming a recording star, moving from a doo-wop singer and rock n’ roll gunslinger to protest singer and sound painter. Oh, and let’s not forget his brief flirtation with his attempt to become a music industry mogul (despite his lack of success, he certainly had the heart for it). Garfunkel --- who, along the way, has alternated among the roles of best friend, collaborator, sounding board, foil and most distant acquaintance --- has been an important part of all of this, particularly in the late 1960s, when Simon & Garfunkel songs were all over the radio and on everyone’s turntable.

If you are of a certain age, you may know some of their songs. But if you came of age in the ’50s and ’60s, you can’t stop naming the songs and hearing them in your head --- from the Simon & Garfunkel classics “The Sounds of Silence,” “The Boxer” and “Mrs. Robinson” to “Fakin’ It” and “America,” on to Simon’s solo songs, such as “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Kodachrome” and “American Tune.” And on and on. Sure, Simon’s later work, from the late 1980s on, may not be as accessible to remember song by song, but the guy never really left; he evolved musically. What Carlin does here is much more than explain how Simon & Garfunkel got together to begin with (and how the seeds that blossomed into success for the duo ultimately choked it off as well), what Simon has been doing for the last quarter-century (if you’re unable to name any album he released after Graceland), or why he and Garfunkel keep breaking up (as in most cases, the fault is not one-sided and has its roots in the past) and reuniting.

The major thing that HOMEWARD BOUND does is explain, using the example of a popular and very visible musician/singer-songwriter/entertainer, how the music business and industry works in terms that are as comprehensible to a 14-year-old who might be thinking Hey, I’d like to hear my song on Spotify as to a business major. He then takes that explanation, relates the high drama that surrounds it and ultimately devours it, again and again and again. The basic lesson is that it starts off as fun, with no one caring who gets credit for what, unless and until the money starts rolling in. Then the fun stops. Oh, but what a wild ride you get in the meantime.

HOMEWARD BOUND is much more than an (unauthorized) biography. It is a cautionary tale about getting what you wish for, and how you get it. Even if you can’t hum three notes of a Paul Simon song, you will find this account fascinating, mesmerizing and very readable.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 14, 2016

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

  • Publication Date: October 24, 2017
  • Genres: Biography, Music, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250145694
  • ISBN-13: 9781250145697