Paul Simon, who celebrates his 80th birthday on Wednesday, hasn’t written the last chapter in his epic singer-songwriter career.
The musician’s life and career are the subject of an upcoming audiobook biography, “Miracle and Wonder: Conversations With Paul Simon,” from Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times journalist Bruce Headlam. It’s set to be released on Nov. 16 by Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries.
In the five-hour audiobook, Simon reveals that he’s been working on new material, a project tentatively called “Seven Psalms,” which he described as an extremely personal work in progress.
Simon played short bits from “Seven Psalms” for the “Miracle and Wonder” audiobook, according to Gladwell, who called the pieces “gorgeous.” Aside from that, Gladwell declined to divulge additional details on Simon’s new music (i.e., you’ll have to buy the book).
In a statement about the audiobook, Simon said, “Over my career, I must have given hundreds of interviews on various projects, but speaking and collaborating with Malcolm on this was especially enjoyable.”
Gladwell and Headlam recorded more than 30 hours of interviews over nine sessions with Simon, including while the singer was vacationing in Hawaii and at Simon’s Connecticut home. In addition to a preview of “Seven Psalms,” the audiobook includes previously unreleased live studio versions and original recordings of his most popular songs, including “The Boxer,” “The Sound of Silence” and “Graceland.”
In “Miracle and Wonder,” Simon reflects on his music, his childhood in Queens, his frequent collaborators including Art Garfunkel and what he thinks about the cover versions of his songs. The audiobook explores how Simon’s work, specifically his 1987 Grammy-winning album “Graceland,” has endured for decades and influenced other major artists. (“Miracle and Wonder” is a reference to a lyric in “The Boy in the Bubble” from “Graceland.”) The biography features cameos from Sting, Herbie Hancock, Renee Fleming, Rosanne Cash, Aaron Lindsey and Jeff Tweedy listening to their favorite Simon tracks and sharing what makes the songs so personal for them.
“The puzzle is, this guy was relevant in every decade since the 1960,” Gladwell said. “I was trying to answer the question, ‘What is different about Paul Simon?'”
“Miracle and Wonder: Conversations With Paul Simon” will be available to pre-order Wednesday on audiobook stores including Audible as well as Pushkin.fm. The list price is $32; it costs $14.99 on Pushkin’s site (at this link).
Gladwell said the genesis of the project was a conversation he had with Jody Gerson, CEO of Universal Music Publishing. He explained that Pushkin, the audio production company he co-founded with Jacob Weisberg in 2018, wanted to do some kind of audio project with a musician. Without missing a beat, she said, “You should talk to Paul Simon.” Over lunch with Simon at a Manhattan restaurant, Gladwell raised the prospect of an audiobook — and Simon was game, eventually giving Gladwell and Headlam extensive interviews and access to his archives.
For “Miracle and Wonder,” Gladwell said “it only felt right to do this with Bruce [Headlam]. We idolized Paul Simon together as kids. And he knows a lot more about music than I do.” The two also co-host the “Broken Record” podcast with Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin.
Simon has an incredible memory, according to Gladwell. “He remembers a song he heard when he was 16 and how he used it 35 years later,” said Gladwell. “It’s like a great chess player remembering moves from some match years ago.”
And Gladwell found Simon much funnier than he expected. “He’s the most un-rock-star rock star. Paul is surprisingly down to earth and approachable. Even if he wasn’t the most successful musician of his generation he’d be the same person.”
Simon has received 16 Grammy Awards and has been twice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He’s a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and was presented the Library of Congress’ inaugural Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Among other honors, his song “Mrs. Robinson,” from the 1967 film “The Graduate,” was named No. 6 on the AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Songs” list.
Pictured above: Paul Simon performs at Global Citizen Live in New York’s Central Park on Sept. 25, 2021.