How fully I recommend this book: 9/10
Lesson 1: Art as comfort.
As a creative person, it’s easy to get distracted with the superficial and forget just how comforting and healing our art can be!
Here’s Paul Simon: “I remember times when I was really sad, and I’d sit and play an E chord for a half hour. I wasn’t writing a song. I was just comforting myself with the instrument I loved.”
Lesson 2: Sensitivity is innate, but artistry is earned.
Paul Simon was not a child prodigy. He describes his early work as “crap” and his biographer writes this about it: “There was no twinkle of greatness in any of it.”
Simon was, however, extremely sensitive and easily moved by music and language.
So, he was born sensitive, but he earned his artistry: through learning from his musical father, guitar lessons, singing with his neighbor Art Garfunkel, being in musicals, imitating his favorite songs, and more, over many years.
Lesson 3: Attention as a natural consequence of doing something that warrants it.
Paul Simon on getting attention: “I wanted it to come naturally, by doing something that warranted it, rather than me manipulating people to look at me.”
I love this approach!
Lesson 4: Immerse yourself in the context of what you want to learn.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel learned to sing harmony by literally sitting nose to nose, copying each other’s diction, recording themselves, and listening back to keep polishing their vocal blend.
Simon learned songwriting by trying to copy his favorite records.
He learned music production by recording demos and spending hours in recording studios many afternoons as soon as his college classes would end.
Lesson 5: Audiences are different and make a difference.
It’s never a good idea to blame the audience when a performance goes poorly, but it’s good to recognize that the audience is always a factor at play, in any performance with any result.
In folk clubs in the US, Paul Simon found that the audience would often be drinking and making a lot of noise, whereas in Europe and particularly in England, the audience was “actually listening to your songs.”
Hence why so much of his early artistic growth happened in Europe!
Lesson 6: It’s as hard to protect artistry as it is to achieve it.
Beyond earning his artistry, Paul Simon has had to work to protect it: from drugs, fame (which he describes as “bogus”), and all distractions.
“You want people to care about your music, but you don’t want them to interrupt your life.”
He mentions Elvis as someone who started off as a hero and then “turned into a role model you didn’t want to follow,” due to the distracting power of fame and what it did to him.
Lesson 7: Protect the music.
Paul Simon: “I’m not going to let anything bad happen to a piece of work. It’s like your child.”
It’s our job to protect the quality of our work, creative or otherwise.
Lesson 8: A true artist keeps learning!
Paul Simon had already studied his craft for years, written classic songs, and made millions… when he decided to study classical guitar, jazz composition, and vocal technique for better breathing and projection.
Wow! Inspiring, and it explains his extraordinary and multidimensional artistry and body of work.
Lesson 9: Much artistic growth comes from experience and from learning what works.
Paul Simon on developing as a singer: “The real growth comes from experience and learning what kind of songs suit your voice.”
In other words: Go earn experience, and always play to what works best for you. There is no prize for trying to do things you’re not ready or equipped to do!
Lesson 10: External opinions are distractions. It’s your art, so you choose.
Paul Simon mentions how he doesn’t read comments or reviews on his work. “Whether someone is saying you’re a genius or whether they’re saying you’re not, it’s just somebody’s opinion.”
He adds: “When you are writing a song or making a record, you’re the only judge that matters. You can listen to people you trust for their thoughts, but it’s still your decision. The less clutter you allow into the process, the better off you are.”
Lesson 11: Nurture friendships in different areas of interest.
Paul Simon established friendships with people from all of the arts: books, painting, theater, and movies. This has enriched his artistic career and, more importantly, his life!
Lesson 12: Absorb beauty from different cultures.
Paul Simon’s body of work reflects his love for American rock and roll, African harmonies, Brazilian rhythms, Latin American compositions, world literature, and more.
We can all enrich our lives and contributions by absorbing beauty from anywhere, especially if it’s from somewhere unfamiliar.
Lesson 13: “If your awareness of the world is based on pop music, you’re probably not very aware.”
I love this Paul Simon quote so much!
We live in strange times where real issues and pop culture share pixels on the same screens, but it’s important to remember just how disparate they are.
Lesson 14: Love at first sight can happen more than once.
I can also attest to this! But it was cool to read about Paul Simon’s account with it.
People really commit to the whole idea of “the one,” but it’s more like “the few.”
Though I can see why it’s less romantic and therefore less catchy.
“The few” sounds like the title of a horror film.
But I digress…
Lesson 15: Value the friends who stay with you when you fail.
Paul Simon on recovering from a project that failed in the public’s view: “When you have a flop, everybody leaves except your closest friends.”
Lesson 16: Demean the negative voices in your head to weaken them.
At a time when Paul Simon was being worryingly negative to the point of self-destruction, a former psychiatrist advised him to “imagine the negative voice speaking in the comic voice of Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck and imagine the voice coming from under the sole of his shoe.”
Lesson 17: Seek to be an intellectual omnivore.
A friend of Paul Simon describes him as an intellectual omnivore: “He is interested in or is capable of being interested in almost anything.”
I love this phrase, and I think an intellectual omnivore is an endlessly interesting thing to aspire to be!
Lesson 18: Humanity needs artists.
Paul Simon: “Scientists are only beginning to understand the whole wondrous bundle of unanswered, and possibly unanswerable, questions that mankind has been pondering for the millennia. These thoughts are as enticing as a mountain stream, and science has an unquenchable thirst, but to understand the mind and the soul, if such a thing exists, we will need the help of Auden’s ‘shabby curate’: the artist.