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Interview: Malcolm Gladwell Elicits Anecdotes, Songs, and Creative Wisdom In 'Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon'

'There's something about a drone that seems to be a worldwide language. So many cultures love it.'
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  • Miracle and Wonder
  • 'There's something about a drone that seems to be a worldwide language. So many cultures love it.'

Publisher's Summary

What happens when Paul Simon, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in music history, and Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author, sit down together, with a tape recorder and a guitar? 

Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon is part memoir, part investigation, and unlike any creative portrait you’ve ever heard before. Recorded over a series of 30 hours of conversation between Simon, Gladwell, and Gladwell’s oldest friend and co-writer, journalist and Broken Record podcast co-host Bruce Headlam, the conversation flows from Simon’s music, to his childhood in Queens, NY, to his frequent collaborators including Art Garfunkel and the nature of creativity itself. Gladwell and Headlam traveled from the mountains of Hawaii to Simon’s own backyard studio to record an artist they’ve idolized since childhood. 

Woven throughout the audiobook is distinctive commentary about Simon’s songwriting alongside archival audio footage and never-before-heard live studio versions and original recordings of beloved 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 Roseanne Cash.

The result is an intimate audio biography of one of America’s most popular songwriters. Brimming with music and conversation, Miracle and Wonder is a window into Simon’s legendary career, what it means to be alive as an artist, and how to create work that endures.

©2021 Pushkin Industries and Paul Simon (P)2021 Pushkin Industries and Paul Simon

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A lifelong companion who will never know my name

I was first introduced to Simon and Garfunkel just before I left for Vietnam. It basically slapped me up side the heart, and began the long process of looking beyond myself better known as growing up.
Throughout my life Paul has always been able to touch me, and he still does.
This piece is the best presentation of a very private life I have encountered in a long time. Malcolm and Bruce did wonderful job of opening up for us the inner processes of an endlessly creative musical giant. One of the greatest of my lifetime. I can’t tell how much I appreciate this.
Now excuse me while I embark on a journey through Paul’s music beginning to now. I won’t say end any more than Malcom and Bruce would. Thanks again for reminding me of how much I love Paul Simon’s genius.

36 people found this helpful

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American Miracle

I could listen to Paul for another 20 hours. Brilliant man and student of music. I always preferred his earlier works but can’t deny the creativity of Graceland et al My favorite PS lyric wasn’t mentioned. It was the omitted piece from The Boxer
“Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking evenly
I am older than I once was , younger than I’ll be
But that’s not unusual
Yes it’s true
After changes upon changes we are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same”

27 people found this helpful

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Good Title

If we could personify music, Paul Simon's music is the love of my life. As a young teen girl growing up in Nashville, I was hooked the first time I heard The Sound of Silence and yes, I can remember the moment. His music has accompanied me through good and bad times all my life, through love and divorce, celebrations and solitude. I took my two daughters when they were young to his Rhythm of the Saints concert years ago and it was thrilling. We all pretty much memorized lyrics to all his songs.

I was shocked to realize, as he explains toward the end of the book, that he doesn't really sing "love songs." How did I missed that? His lyrics and music speak broadly to the human experience, but in a deeply personal and gentle way.

So about this book----at first I was annoyed by the amount of time the narrators take to explain and analyze Paul Simon's music (where does it come from, what are his influences, etc.). It bothered me when Gladwell (or Headlam, not sure) repeated the lyrics Simon was singing (maybe not everyone knows every word of every song, okay, fair enough). But after a while, I just let that go and appreciated what I'd been given in the gift of this audio book. What a wonderful idea to make it in the first place (thank you Malcolm Gladwell and Bruce Headlam). And I would say that the last third of the book they do offer deep insights into individual songs and albums.

Still, I would love to have heard all five hours and six minutes just listening to Paul Simon sing, talk, tell his stories, but especially sing! From his own perspective, his history and his plans. I cannot wait for Seven Psalms. Thank you, Paul Simon.

15 people found this helpful

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If there is any reason to get an audible book….

…Here it is! Already a big fan of Malcolm’s books & Audible ones to be exact. He has a great interview style that’s his own and is able to bring you back to the point while getting lost and engrossed in telling of a story. This is definitely a keeper and I’m looking forward to a re-read after I’m done. So grateful Malcolm got the opportunity to do this long overdue interview!

As for Paul Simon, I was never a true fan until one day back in 2019, one of his songs came on the radio and it was sung with such a simple and soft tone that it reached into my heart and touched me so now I’m a new fan @56 years of age. I love watching all the old Dick Cavett interviews on YouTube.

10 people found this helpful

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Finally, a Paul Simon interview worthy of its subject

Beautifully conceived, conveyed and produced. So glad to hear something so layered and thoughtful on one of the greatest (and yet, somehow, I’d say still underappreciated) musicians and songwriters.

10 people found this helpful

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Honesty veiled in Tenderness

Insatiable curiosity describes both Gladwell and Simon. This beautifully edited gift is another blessing to add to the many both of these men have conferred on the world. Only, and truly awesome.

9 people found this helpful

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I have never heard better!

This may have been the best audiobook I have ever heard. Gladwell gives his trademark obsessively brilliant treatment to the genius of Paul Simon and his lifelong creative legacy. It's not just about Simon's amazing catalogue or his life story; it's a deep dive into the creative process. Gladwell highlights Simon's ability to blend different styles of music into something new and wonderful. The book is a testament to this element of creativity; Gladwell blends his own melodic approach to the material with Simon's take, and in so doing, creates a undeniably groundbreaking, powerhouse work of audio non-fiction. If, as Gladwell contends, the purpose of art is find joy and truth, Miracle and Wonder is bursting at the seams with both. If there were fifty stars to give, you'd have them all. Thank you Malcolm and Paul!

9 people found this helpful

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Amazing

So wonderful. We're very lucky to have Paul Simon, he's pure magic and Malcolm Gladwell is up there with him. I'm off to listen again.

7 people found this helpful

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Beauty and Pain

What we have here is some of the most profound songwriting of the modern era, detailed in moving and often hilarious fashion by its author—constantly interrupted with puerile analysis from Gladwell the interviewer/narrator. I doubt there’s a bigger fan of Paul Simon out there, but even I was worn down in annoyance having Paul’s music and observations cut short over and over again. If I could only edit these five hours down to the hour and a half, two hours of Paul, I would enjoy this immensely. As it is, it’s painfully frustrating. And I got this thing for free! So…buyer beware.

6 people found this helpful

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Way too much Malcom and too little Paul

Dean, in his review below, writing in pain at what could have been, gets it just right. Malcom says early on that Paul wore the authors out talking and playing unstoppably for hours. That's what I was looking forward to. And what we get in snippets of the amazing Paul Simon and too much of Malcom Gladwell beating pedantic points beaten to death.

Release the unedited tapes! That's where the gold is.

6 people found this helpful

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  • papapownall
  • 11-18-21

More than a pocket full of mumbles

Paul Simon's life and career is already well chronicled though Marc Elliot's exhaustive biography (A Life, 2010) and Robert Hilburn's dry and factual biography (The Life, 2018) so you could well question whether the world needs another.
Malcolm Gladwell is know for his best selling pop social science books which are both engaging and entertaining. Gladwell states at the beginning of this remarkable extended podcast that he is not interested in re-telling the story of the Jewish boy from Queens who made good but was more interested in getting to know Paul Simon and understanding his creative process. He did this through a series of meetings (9 in all around, 5 hours each) which he recorded and what we have here is an edited version of the discussions during which Paul Simon discusses his life and career as if he talking to a friend.
We learn how Simon's cultural identity influences but does not define his work and, most interesting of all, how he approaches the creative process. Simon's enthusiasm is infectious, as is his dedication to pushing boundaries exploring different musical traditions. He is highly self critical and strives for perfection (The Boxer took over 100 hours of studio time to record) and Simon comes over as someone who has an exacting ear and a discerning taste. We hear snippets of songs throughout this podcast style recording and this will be fascinating for anyone interested in music.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Booklover
  • 11-16-21

A chat with a Genius I'll be listening to it again

The ONLY thing wrong with this is that it's far too short. Another few years longer would be just right.
Brilliant stuff 🙂

4 people found this helpful

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  • xan blacq
  • 12-18-21

Not a Paul Simon fan beforehand. I am one now.

I didn't know much about Paul Simon prior to this. I knew some of his songs and they are great but I was paying attention to other artists. After hearing this audiobook, which I devoured in a 3 days, I am now a huge fan of the man and his music. What a wonderful artistic and human journey. So inspiring as I am a Composer, Producer and Musician myself.

Malcolm Gladwell and Bruce Headlam deserve a lot of praise for the way that they interacted with, interviewed and drew answers from Paul Simon. Malcolm Gladwell in particular. I've already started evangelising about this book and will recommend it far and wide. Bravo!

2 people found this helpful

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  • G G
  • 11-18-21

Beautiful

I have seen Paul in concert many times and would give anything to sit and talk to him and tell him how much his work means to me. Malcolm Gladwell has done the next best thing and produced a beautiful celebration of Paul’s work.
This is a must for Paul Simon fans and fans of the human spirit. I would still love to meet the great man and tell him how much his work means to me but in that unlikely event I’ll take Mr Gladwell’s conversations. Thank you. .

2 people found this helpful

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  • SHEKHAR DESHPANDE
  • 01-06-22

Goosebumps and tears - an emotional journey like no other

Is this the best audio book ever? For me, a diehard fan of Paul Simon, it certainly was.
A fascinating musical journey through his inner workings, his style, his genius mind, and the origination of songs and albums that are part of every music lover’s repertoire. Words can’t possibly do justice. I will listen to it dozens of times, that’s for sure.
Kudos also to Malcolm and Bruce for extracting this from Paul Simon, and for adding a mature, thoughtful and insightful perspective of their own.
If you only ever listen to one audio book, this should be it.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Lesley M. Saunders
  • 11-19-21

Wonderful insight

I really enjoyed the discussions about songs I have grown to love, and the creative processes that created them .

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Derek O'neill
  • 06-10-22

Genius

superb insight into a musical genius and his process. one slight criticism was the lack of in depth queries about beaching the SA boycott.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • John
  • 06-06-22

What more could you want?

Paul Simon with a guitar on his lap, looking back at his career. I felt a little sad that this guys life could be summarised in 5 hours, so be warned it's not a detailed warts and all autobiography.... Maybe that's on the way - Maybe that doesn't matter - this is a great intimate series of discussions with Paul which feel really special.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ben Alldis
  • 05-07-22

Not a biography but an excellent analysis

A really good insight into Paul Simon's creative process straight from the man himself. Excellent!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Dr. Hilary D. Lines
  • 04-04-22

Wonderful tribute to a brilliant musician

I loved this set of conversations with Paul Simon - wonderful insight into what underpins his creativity and resourcefulness , shining light into who he is - as well as how he works. Thank you

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-23-21

Loved It!

Loved this - I was disappointed when it ended. Could easily have listened to another 5 hours, highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in music. ❤️

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-23-22

Awesome.

An inspiring delight. Always loved his music and now I feel it and understand much more.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-03-22

Tender, moving, fascinating

As a lifelong lover of Paul Simon's music, this musical biography was a gift. Gladwell narrates and interviews with his typical grace, heart and intellect. We hear clips from Simon's tunes and influences, old interviews, sketches of songs and live recordings. I was moved to tears and goosebumps my times, hearing this incredible artist share about his work, his musical partnerships, and incredible creative drive. Highly recommend.

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  • AprilMay
  • 06-04-22

Hmmm Bad DO NOT READ

I listen, I dislike, I ... the way it was presented., Don't read .

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-18-22

A wonder indeed

I was entranced listening to this. Already a huge Paul Simon fan, this just drove home what an incredible artist he truly was and continues to be this day. Well worth a listen and some beautiful raw music in there too.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-19-22

Will take you on a journey (to Graceland perhaps?)

The format of this audiobook is truly inspired. Brilliantly formulated to bring you along the journey: not chronological but rather through unravelling and recreating - putting pieces together of a mystery I didn’t even know existed. Newfound respect and admiration for Paul Simon. This is exactly what I would expect as a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s storytelling.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Daro
  • 04-18-22

Great use of audio format.

A pleasure to hear about the creative process of a great musician and in doing so discover the man. Very highly recommended.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Nomadicmeltalks
  • 04-18-22

Realises the potential of the audiobook

Most audiobooks are just a reading of a regular book. A utilitarian solution for the time poor, often faintly irritating as the reader's interpretation diverges from the listener's. This audiobook is something else, realising the potential of audio to evoke emotions and tell story. It's the perfect topic executed by a master storyteller.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Katherine Avery
  • 04-09-22

A must for Paul Simon fans

Really enjoyed this recording. I have loved his works as an artist because he kept exploring new sounds. Each album has a different flavour, and he goes into how these different sounds evolved.

His memory appears to be remarkable when it comes for identifying where or what was going on for him when he was creating the songs

I love his honesty, it appears to be a warts and all account.

I will definitely listen to this again. He is an amazing man.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-16-22

Informative / entertaining

Pretty easy review this one. If you're a Paul Simon fan you'll enjoy this.
Easy listen, good narration, a mix of some of the classics and even a few ad-hoc performances thrown in.
Downside is its only 5 hours I'd have happily listened to twice that.

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