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Paul Simon is looking back on his life and career.
In Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon, out Tuesday from Pushkin Industries, Simon sits down with Malcolm Gladwell and Gladwell’s friend and co-writer, New York Times journalist Bruce Headlam, to discuss a myriad of topics. The trio recorded over 30 hours of conversation in which they reflected on the musician’s life and career including childhood stories and working with collaborator Art Garfunkel.
The audiobook, recorded in Simon’s own backyard studio, also features commentary about Simon’s songwriting alongside archival audio footage and never-before-heard live studio versions and original recordings of hits including “The Boxer,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Graceland.”
“Between conversations, Gladwell deploys his signature blend of historical research and social science in an attempt to understand how a boy from 1940s Queens conjured near-perfect songs over an incredible 65-year career. Along the way, he gathers reflections on Simon’s particular genius from the likes of Sting, Herbie Hancock, Renee Fleming, Jeff Tweedy, Aaron Lindsey and Rosanne Cash,” Pushkin Industries described of Miracle and Wonder.
“I’ve idolized Paul Simon since I was a kid, so you can imagine what it was like for me and [co-author] Bruce [Headlam] to be able to ask Paul Simon, one of our greatest America songwriters if not the greatest, to talk about his career, play for us and analyze how everything from “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to “Graceland” came to be. My dream is that whenever some 12-year-old asks — who is Paul Simon? — we can give them Miracle and Wonder and say, this is who he is,” Gladwell told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement.
Below, THR shares an excerpt from the audiobook along with accompanying text.
HEADLAM Did it take you awhile after you broke up with Garfunkel to kind of find your voice, because you were so part of this unit? Didn’t your mother tell you once she liked his voice better than …
SIMON Yeah, it was my mother, one of my mother’s statements there. She said, “You have a nice voice, Paul, but Arthur has a fine voice.”
*** MUSIC PLAYS: “Scarborough Fair” by Simon & Garfunkel
So I guess you can see how long that sentence has lived in my mind.
GLADWELL Art Garfunkel had a fine voice, the finest in the neighborhood. He was singing solos at his temple when he was 5. He performed all the songs at his own bar mitzvah. As kids, when Paul and Artie got together they practiced for hours, trying to blend their voices, synchronizing their breath, watching each other’s lips align so they could hold each syllable for the same amount of time. Their great tutors were the Everly Brothers.
***MUSIC PLAYS: “I Am Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail”
SIMON Once we heard the Everly brothers, we sang with the above harmony, Artie singing the above harmony because he had the higher voice.
HEADLAM Are there other things you took specifically from their harmony, like techniques they used?
SIMON Oh, everything,
SIMON Yeah. You could play their “Bye Bye Love,” and you could play Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bye Bye Love” back to back and hear how close we came. We listened over and over again to imitate them.
*** MUSIC PLAYS: “Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bye Bye Love”
HEADLAM What does it mean to blend like that? Does it take volume control?
SIMON It’s about listening. You have to find just where their phrasing is, where they’re taking a breath, how they pronounce a word. All of these elements have an effect on the blend.
SIMON In my case with Artie, his voice sat well above my voice. If he was singing melody, I was singing harmony below him. Like’s singing the melody on “The Sound of Silence” and I’m singing beneath him.
SIMON So, if you sing, “Daaa, hello, da da dee da dum, come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping …” So, that’s the melody, right? I’m singing, “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping“. And so you have this below harmony and it’s a little bit different and it creates a certain sound.
*** MUSIC PLAYS: Track vocal harmony of first line of “Sound of Silence”
GLADWELL What Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel learned from the Everlys was to blend their voices so well that it was hard to tell who had the melody. They were two singers operating as one. But then Paul Simon wrote a song that he eventually knew wouldn’t work as a blend. It would need a lead singer.
*** MUSIC PLAYS: “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
SIMON I was in my first apartment in New York after I moved back from England, which was way up on East End Avenue that overlooked the East River. And it’s one of those instances where I have to say, I have no idea how that happened. It just happened.
Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon is available now.
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