Entry to the The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles is always free on Thursdays. So why not beat the August humidity by visiting the Skirball for its West Coast presentation of Paul Simon: Words & Music, an exhibition originally curated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Developed upon exclusive interviews with the artist, the show traces Simon’s life and career and illuminates his creative process. On view will be instruments, records, sheet music, handwritten lyrics, photography, costumes, and stage maquettes, as well as listening stations and performance footage spanning Simon’s six-decade career.
Exclusively for the Los Angeles presentation, Paul Simon: Words & Music will include many additional artifacts from Simon’s private archive and a newly created music lab developed by the Skirball in cooperation with Roland Corporation U.S. The exhibition runs through September 3.
“Through his extraordinary storytelling and trailblazing exploration of sounds, Paul Simon has captured the spirit of our nation and our times, from disillusionment and fear to hope and compassion,” remarked Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “Our presentation of Paul Simon: Words & Music invites one and all to celebrate the life and legacy of this prolific artist, whose irresistible songwriting and landmark collaborations with artists around the world have built bridges of understanding and opened minds and hearts.”
Born October 13, 1941, in Newark, New Jersey, Paul Simon rose to become one of the most influential and successful musicians of the past fifty years. Simon’s fame and commercial success began as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, formed in 1964 with musical partner Art Garfunkel.
When the duo parted ways in 1970, Simon launched a successful solo career, recording three highly acclaimed albums over the next five years and solidifying his status as one of the great American composers of the twentieth century.
In the decades since, Simon has created beautifully crafted music that draws on diverse American musical genres as well as African American, Latin, South African, and West African sounds—notably on his 1986 landmark album, Graceland. Simon’s wide-ranging body of work is equally beloved for its musical vocabulary—style, rhythm, and instrumentation—and its compelling and poetic lyrics.
Simon has earned sixteen Grammys for his solo and collaborative work—three of which were for Album of the Year (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Graceland)—as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award.
He is one of a small group of two-time inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: he was inducted in 1990 with Art Garfunkel and again in 2001 as a solo artist. In 2002, Simon was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
In 2006, he was among the “TIME 100,” TIME magazine’s prestigious annual list of the “100 men and women whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming our world.” In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine named Simon one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists,” then named him one of the “100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time” in 2015. Simon was the first recipient of the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007.
Paul Simon: Words & Music at the Skirball Cultural Center will be organized chronologically, with themed sections that cover Simon’s early years and Simon & Garfunkel period, his acclaimed solo work since 1971, and his songwriting process.
In the newly developed music lab, created exclusively by Roland Corporation U.S. for the Skirball, visitors will experience Simon’s recordings firsthand through various interactives.
Music fans will be invited to keep the beat to “Cecilia” in a communal drum circle, manipulate tracks for “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Wristband” using mixing equipment, and more.
The Skirball’s presentation of Paul Simon: Words & Music expands on the original exhibition and includes many never-before-exhibited or rarely exhibited items from Simon’s own archives. Highlights include:
- Handwritten manuscript lyrics and lyric developments for “Mother and Child Reunion,” “American Tune,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “The Boxer” scrawled on an in-flight magazine, an early draft of “Mrs. Robinson” on an envelope, and the first-ever display of “Hearts and Bones.”
- Music sheets for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” incorrectly titled “Like a Pitcher of Water” by arranger Ernie Freeman.
- Original pressings of 45 RPM singles of “America” and “El Condor Pasa.”
- Fan letters written to Simon after the 1969 television special “Songs of America.”
- Never-before-displayed photographs of Simon from his personal archives.
- Hand-colored photograph by Edie Baskin of Simon in the famous Saturday Night Live turkey outfit.
- Simon’s Kennedy Center Honors medal.
- Simon’s Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, of which Simon was the very first recipient.
- “We are the World” sheet music signed by the artists.
The exhibition also includes popular items displayed in the original Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibition, including:
- Stage maquette from Simon & Garfunkel’s famed concert in Central Park.
- Yamaha acoustic guitar used during the recording of Graceland.
- Simon’s very first guitar, given to him on his thirteenth birthday by his father and used during his early musical career.
- First recording contract with Big Records signed by Simon’s parents
- Simon’s copy of the rare LP of Simon & Garfunkel’s first album (when they were known as Tom & Jerry), Hey Schoolgirl, whose title track represented their first hit.
- Simon’s Saturday Night Live “Five-Timers Club” jacket.
- Several of Simon’s Grammy Awards.
- Media stations where visitors can watch interviews with the artist conducted specially for the exhibition, concert footage, and clips from Simon’s Saturday Night Live appearances.