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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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What listeners say about Miracle and Wonder

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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.

26 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”

21 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.

12 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!

8 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.

8 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.

7 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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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.

6 people found this helpful

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We want more Paul Simon please.

One of the finest American Songwriters in history. A beautiful soul, somewhat blue, deeply troubled. Beautiful nonetheless. - a deep insight into the human condition. Lyric, tone and groove I immediately recall despite not having heard some of that music for years. Indelible.
The problem with the book is there is too little Paul Simon, and too much narrator / author. FAR too much of them - and they are like faeces on a blanket. All over the place, and replete with putridity. To compound this, they constantly repeat themselves with a drug addled like dementia. Then there is the random timeline...and journalistic whimsy. Here is Paul at 80 , lucid, animated and thoughtful - while these two chumps do their level best to ruin it with repetitive baby talk.
I would haver loved to have given this a higher rating... alas.
Thanks Paul . I'll be building a playlist from my archives today. Chur .

4 people found this helpful

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Loved Everything About It!

I loved everything about this. If you’re a Paul Simon fan, if you’re interested in the creative process or how the creative mind works, this book is for you. I will listen to it more than once.

3 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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  • Gumpster
  • 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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  • 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 🙂

2 people 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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  • evanvrs
  • 01-22-22

Awesome entertaining and life affirming

This is more like a long podcast in a book but it really is the most fabulous discussion and exploration of his music. So good that I listened to it twice.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-19-22

A must for fans

If you are in any way a fan of Paul Simon, this is a joy. To get an insight into the mind and the songwriting and the influences. Think I’ll listen to this more than once!

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  • lukeclark
  • 01-17-22

Magical

Love the format, love the insights — and especially love the ability to weave in and out of idea, reflection and performance. Such a gift for any long-time or recent fan. My only brickbat (given my rating is all-fives)? By using Miracle and Wonder as a title, I’d hoped for exposition on what is lyrically my favourite song, Boy in the Bubble. But a small quibble for what is a fabulous meandering journey.

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  • Louis Raubenheimer
  • 01-10-22

Pure magic

An unbelievably colourful, insightful and entertaining piece of audio entertainment. I have powerful memories of listening to Paul Simon's music when growing up, specifically his seminal album Graceland. What Gladwell has succeeded in doing is lift the veil behind the process and genius of one of the most astounding musical visionaries of his, or any other time. From his song-writing process, the unique way that he approaches musical collaboration to his broad, beautiful view on creativity Simon continually sheds profound insight with gentle humility. I'm now on a path of deep diving his entire body of work, what a ride!

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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.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-05-22

Pure entertainment

I'm a fan of Simon & Garfunkel's music, Malcolm Gladwell's books, music reviews and podcasts, so I really enjoyed. I listened on a bike ride - music and insights were brilliant. I don't know so much of Paul Simon's later music so didn't enjoy the end as much.

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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

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  • Phill
  • 12-30-21

loved it

grew up listening to some of his CDs which belonged to my folks... was so good hearing things explained as to why and how he wrote the music. felt like it was only a couple of hours long. so good

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  • Allen Simmons
  • 12-30-21

Just Spellbinding

I remember hearing Bridge Over Troubled Waters for the first time as a 17 year old and thinking (in my youthful innocence) that this would be a great hit. It still is. This audible biography is the perfect way to learn about the songs, to understand the musical uniqueness that Paul Simon embodies and to get to know the man. My son gave me this book and I’m so pleased he did. It’s just fantastic.

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  • luke israel regan
  • 12-26-21

such insight

loved this. such a good insight into the mechanism behind Paul Simons songwriting and the origins of his ideas. Thats where I belong is my favourite Paul Simon song by the way.

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  • David Lovelock
  • 12-24-21

Thoroughly Enjoyed Listening to this

The book drew attention to details in Paul’s songs, I sort of knew where there, but hadn’t really appreciated their depth and poetry

I really enjoyed this book

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  • Rob Lamason
  • 12-21-21

Breathless. Stunning.

You will not regret investing in this most beautiful audiobook. Simply magical all the way to the end.

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  • Filipa L Marshall
  • 12-05-21

Magic

Couldn’t recommend this highly enough, a must listen to anyone who has enjoyed Paul Simon’s music…..so everyone. But I am left wondering why I’m not songwriter, I should be a songwriter

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-28-21

good insight into Paul's life from the horses mout

if you're a Simon fan, you'll love it



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