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Thursday 2 October 2014

Troubled waters: The complicated life of Paul Simon

A week after visiting Dublin to honour his friend Seamus Heaney, Paul Simon had to endure the embarrassment of being arrested back home. Edel Coffey on the singleminded perfectionist behind a litany of great songs

Edel Coffey

Published 04/05/2014 | 02:30

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Paul Simon and Edie Brickell in court
Paul Simon

It was a very different Paul Simon who showed up at court in Connecticut on Monday morning to the demure figure we have come to know over the years. Simon is one of the most respected American songwriters of the last five decades and is responsible for some of the best known and loved American songs, including The Sound Of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs Robinson, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Call Me Al, Graceland and the list goes on.

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The incident came only a week after Simon's visit to Dublin to pay tribute to his friend Seamus Heaney at a concert in the National Concert Hall. On Monday morning, Simon was in court with his wife, the singer Edie Brickell, to face charges of disorderly conduct. The pair were arrested at their home the previous Saturday night after someone dialled 911, following what seems to have been an embarrassing domestic argument. Somebody pushed someone else – it's not clear whether it was Simon or Brickell doing the pushing.

The incident probably says more about American law and order than it does about Simon and Edie Brickell. Connecticut police can't not take action when someone calls them, but it must be mortifying for both parties, particularly for Simon who has always maintained a private life.

Despite his unassuming persona, there is a hint of stardust about Simon's life in his reputation for perfectionism, single-mindedness, not to mention his three marriages.

Simon and Brickell have been married 22 years and have three children, but before marrying Brickell in 1992, in 1969 he married Peggy Harper, with whom he has a son, Harper Simon. He was also married to actress Carrie Fisher from 1983 to 1984.

Simon came to fame as one half of Simon & Garfunkel, the folk duo that defined the 1960s with classic songs. Now 72, Simon is still making music at a pace and a quality not usually witnessed. Peers such as Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones have both tapered off somewhat, but Simon's output, as witnessed on his most recent album So Beautiful or So What, is youthful and innovative as ever.

It's only when you take a trip back over Simon's discography that you realise just how relevant he has been as a musician throughout almost every decade since the 60s.

His friendship and musical relationship with Art Garfunkel was tumultuous – they had their first hit together as Tom and Gerry when Simon was 15 – and eventually led to them splitting up because of irresolvable artistic differences. The pair called it a day in 1970, just before their most successful album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, was released in 1971.

Neither Simon nor Garfunkel could agree on the tracklisting for that album, so they left the album one track short. It gives an insight into Simon's strength of will and artistic single-mindedness, not to mention his reputation for perfectionism. At this stage, they have reunited many times.

Simon told Rolling Stone magazine this month, "Truth is, I really do enjoy singing with Artie. There was something very emotional we were getting from the audience [on our last reunion tour]. The relationship was repaired during that tour. That tour had a big effect on people. People knew we were close friends who'd had a hurtful rift. We said, 'Life's too short'."

Simon was the brains behind the duo, writing most of Simon & Garfunkel's hits and he went on to have a highly successful solo career. By the late 70s, however he had hit a creative wall.

But inspired by a tape of African music, he went to South Africa and recorded Graceland. When Simon released it in 1986, it became his best-selling solo album, and spawned hits like the title track, and Call Me Al.

He is estimated to be worth $45m and has won all of the accolades a songwriter could hope to win from Grammys to Lifetime Achievement Awards, and admittance to both the Rock 'n' Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame.

With a bit of luck, those endowments will continue to outnumber Simon and Brickell's nominations for disorderly conduct and they can get on with doing what they do best – making music.

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