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Music

The producer that criticised Paul Simon and his treatment of Karen Carpenter

Paul Simon is a gifted songwriter, and there can be no doubting this. Musically, he has a knack for a tune like no other, and lyrically, he cherrypicks from across the spectrum of popular culture to lift his music and bring his often complex ideas to life. 

Be it symbolism, parodies of other musicians (Bob Dylan) or the all-encompassing feeling of being lovesick, Simon has touched on every topic under the sun across his long career as a musician, giving his fans some of the most memorable and poetic moments in music history.

Although we could spend hours discussing the brilliance of Paul Simon as a musician, there is one fact we cannot overlook. He, like his old songwriting partner Art Garfunkel, is a polarising figure, and one that has drawn equal amounts of love as he has ire. For a long time, it’s been either ‘Team Simon’ or ‘Team Garfunkel’. However, these days, it’s becoming clearer that both could be equally as testing in their own ways. 

When Simon announced his retirement from music in 2016, the world of music spent quite some time coming to terms with the news that one of its heavyweights was bowing out. It wasn’t all lamentable though, and some were happy to see the back of ‘The Boxer’ mastermind. One of the most damning accounts came courtesy of a New York psychotherapist called Glenn Berger.

Berger was an engineer and producer at the illustrious A&R Studios in New York and, throughout his career, worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, James Brown and Mick Jagger. In 1973, at the age of 18, he started working as the ‘Schlepper’ or apprentice to the iconic recording engineer Phil Ramone at A&R.

Berger also worked with Paul Simon, and in his book Never Say No to a Rock Star, he didn’t paint the diminutive songwriter in the best of lights, at one point going as far as calling him “a prick”. Expanding on this point, Berger wrote: “Paul just didn’t seem to care much about other human beings”. 

The Karen Carpenter Story and the sorry side of pop culture’s body ideals

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In the book, Berger claims that he has a tape wherein Simon is heard saying that he wanted the song he was recording to be bigger than Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 magnum opus, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Painting Simon as somewhat power-mad, or driven by revenge, Berger explains: “He [Simon] pauses for a giggle, then adds, ‘I used to have a partner named Art Garfunkel, and this would mean so much to me if I could just show… that it was, it was all me!’”.

That isn’t the worst of it though. Berger also recounts a heartbreaking story involving Simon’s late ex-girlfriend, Karen Carpenter. Grappling with her inner demons and anorexia, at the time she was recording a disco album, her first solo record, the first without her controlling brother and Carpenters partner, Richard. 

Berger asserts that after listening to some of the tracks, Simon allegedly said: “in a voice that combined derision, snobbishness, concern, and alarm… ‘Karen, what are you doing? This stuff is awful!’”. The former recording engineer clarifies that Simon was right, but “his insensitivity was stunning”.

“Karen never released that album during her lifetime,” he says. “Within a few short years, she was dead.” A truly devastating account when you note how Karen Carpenter died in 1983, it makes you wonder if those around her could have done more, particularly her partners, although, in fairness, not much was known about anorexia during this period.

As for Paul Simon, these are the kind of behaviours we’ve seen crop up time and time again in discourse. Maybe he’s misunderstood, or maybe some of the stories about him should be believed, as to get to that level of fame, a heavily weighted ego comes as a prerequisite.

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