While there is a major Paul Simon biography due this year from the celebrated American author Peter Ames Carlin, tomes on Simon & Garfunkel (and even just the former) are thin on the ground. It’s a shame, as S&G are up there with the rest of the sixties greats who have seen entire forests destroyed in the rush to celebrate their work. It’s an anomaly, too, that needs putting right, as Paul Simon should be considered one of the greatest songwriters modern times have seen.
Merseyside broadcaster and writer Spencer Leigh thought so way back in 1973, when he first published a book about Paul Simon. It’s out of print now, but a revisit was certainly overdue and Leigh and his publishers have decided to basically rewrite the work and this time focus on the activities of Simon & Garfunkel right up to the present day. Does it work? Yes and no. You can’t help but wish that the old book had just been forgotten about to enable the writer to start this from scratch, as all too often you get the sense that Leigh is chained to some imagined atmosphere of the original.
Facts come and go quicker than ‘Song For The Asking’ and whole years of both artists’ post-S&G careers are covered in a couple of lines. The timeline jumps around, too, with Leigh’s decision to follow facts and tangents to their chronological conclusion interrupting the flow of the book – for example, we go from 1990’s S&G induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, up to Simon’s production of his wife Edie Brickell’s album in 1994, before returning to 1992 for a reunion tour. All in four paragraphs.
Perhaps there were money or time constraints out of the hands of the author, but there are still 244 pages here, and that should have been just enough to offer more depth. As it is, we get expert opinions on the author’s favourite things – indeed, his focus on some of Simon’s more recent work offers a unique insight into why he’s still great – but just glimpses of entire decades of Art’s solo years. Sure, there’s a lot less to write about (he walks, releases the occasional record and tours at irregular intervals), but the book is dedicated to Simon AND Garfunkel. Leigh’s love of Paul Simon’s solo work shines through, though, and he certainly knows his facts and figures.
The latter half of the book often reads like a Wikipedia list of what S&G are up to in between reunions and how they’re faring commercially throughout the years, but the early chapters offer a lot more depth. Indeed, Leigh’s words illuminate the period around ‘The Paul Simon Songbook’ and ‘The Sound Of Silence’, for example,and bring Simon’s troubadour travels through a black and white England vividly to life. It’s just a shame that that same appetite doesn’t seem to have stuck around for the rest of the story.
There is still a great book to be written about Simon & Garfunkel… and, indeed, Paul Simon himself. Maybe we’re just going to have to wait for him to put the guitar down and turn his attention to his own story.
Simon & Garfunkel: Together Alone is available to buy from all good bookshops, and even some great bookshops such as News From Nowhere on Bold Street. You can also buy physical and digital versions online.
Book review: Spencer Leigh – Simon & Garfunkel: Together Alone