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Paul Simon biography due from author-critic Robert Hilburn

Paul Simon biography due from author-critic Robert Hilburn
Paul Simon, shown in performance with South African singer Joseph Shabalala and his Ladysmith Black Mambazo vocal group, is the subject of a forthcoming biography to be written by former Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn. (SCOTT SUCHMAN / PBS)

Paul Simon's life and music will be the subject of a new book from former Los Angeles Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn, author of the acclaimed 2013 biography "Johnny Cash: A Life."

"When one of the greatest songwriters alive agrees to talk to one of the most respected music writers at work, that's an irresistible combination," Simon & Schuster President and Publisher Jonathan Karp said in a statement. A publication date has not been set.

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Simon, the 12-time Grammy award-winning signer and songwriter, said in the same statement that he had considered writing an autobiography but instead chose to cooperate with Hilburn because "I'd rather devote my time to making music, which continues to hold my full attention.

"I'm confident Robert Hilburn will write an insightful book," Simon added. "I enjoyed and admired his biography of Johnny Cash and I think he'll tell my story well."

Hilburn, The Times' pop music critic from 1970 to 2005, said he honed in on Simon as the next musician to write about in large part because of his respect for Simon's songwriting acumen.

Hilburn first interviewed Simon in the early 1970s and he was the only reporter to accompany Simon to Zimbabwe for his historic Graceland concerts.

"While working on the Johnny Cash book," Hilburn tells Pop & Hiss, "my game plan -- as well as my natural instinct -- was to follow Cash's artistry; that was always the road map because artistry, ultimately, that's why we care about musicians.

"Also, with the best artists, their artistry and personal life are interlocked," he noted. "The music, to a large degree, grows out of their experience. So when I finished 'Johnny Cash: A Life,' the one thing I knew was that I wanted to keep focusing on artistry. Specifically, I wanted to write about someone who had a great body of work and who has continued to do great work over a long period of time."

Simon, Hilburn said, "is the closest link in the rock era with the Great American Songbook. He could have competed -- better than any other major seller of the rock era -- with the best of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen. The remarkable thing is that he has combined the discipline and craft of that Songbook tradition with the more individualistic sensibility and cultural commentary that is the foundation for the most distinguished music of the second half of the 20th century. 'Still Crazy After All These Years' is classic Songbook. 'Homeward Bound' is pure rock. 'Mrs. Robinson' blends both traditions."

He said he also wanted the subject of his next book to be someone who would be forthright about the light and dark aspects of his craft and his life.

Simon is "probably the most articulate artist I ever interviewed and he talks about his music and life with the same imagery, wit and insight that he puts into his lyrics."

By way of example, he shared an anecdote about talking to Simon about one of his musical heroes, Elvis Presley.

"He loved the way Elvis sounded on 'Heartbreak Hotel,' the way he looked on television and his exotic Southern background," Hilburn said. "But Paul didn't kid himself. 'I was this short kid from Queens with no charisma or mystery, so I knew I could never be Elvis. But I saw songwriting as something I could do. If you got a song on the radio, it didn't matter what you looked like. The song would speak for itself.'

"Thirteen years later, Elvis Presley heard a song on the radio and he loved it so much that he made it the centerpiece of his live show," Hilburn added. "Thrilled, Simon flew to Las Vegas to hear his hero sing 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.'

"In the end," Hilburn said, "I want the book to chronicle for us what it's like to be an artist at the highest level in America."

Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter for pop music coverage.

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