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Sidekicks: Five Music Memoirs from the Margins

“The Only Living Boy in New York,” the eighth track of Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album, Bridge over Troubled Waters, was written by Paul Simon in 1969 while Art Garfunkel was on location in Mexico. Garfunkel was filming scenes for Mike Nichol’s adaption of Catch 22 at a time when, Simon felt, they should have been working on the new album together. The song is a poignant meditation on the fragile nature of friendship, tinged with no little hint of bitterness and Simon’s feelings of betrayal. As a result, “The Only Living Boy in New York” is often regarded as the point of rupture for Simon & Garfunkel’s partnership. Sure, the pair periodically reconvenes for live shows, but just as quickly, they return to their previous positions of sniping at one another.

Garfunkel has launched the latest salvo in the feud with his new book, What Is It All But Luminous: Notes From an Underground Man. In it, he claims that the initial betrayal occurred in 1958 when Simon signed a solo contract, thus abandoning their first incarnation as a duo: Tom & Jerry, formed when they were in high school together.

While you await Simon’s response (extending hostilities into a seventh decade), here’s a glimpse into Garfunkel’s book along with some memoirs from other notable musical sidekicks. Less known than their celebrated bandmates or collaborators, their view from the margins makes their reminiscences no less valuable or entertaining. Whether you enjoy the nitty-gritty lowdown on a thunderous feud, or the escapades of rock stars afforded more freedom for bad behaviour by their place just outside the limelight, there’s something for you here.

What Is It All but Luminous

Solely for his work with Paul Simon over six years and five studio albums, Art Garfunkel’s legacy and place in the pop music Pantheon is assured. However, after parting ways with his old school chum in 1970, Garfunkel has enjoyed a very successful solo singing and acting career. Author can now be added to his enviable list of accomplishments.

What Is It All But Luminous is compiled from handwritten journals—in fact the font used is a digitized version of Garfunkel’s handwritten script—composed by Garfunkel during a journey across the United States on foot ( a journey undertaken in 40 installments over 14 years). Rather than a straight-up prose memoir, Garfunkel has served up a collection which includes his musings, poetry and—ahem—reading lists, while liberally peppering the whole affair with comments directed towards his erstwhile partner: ““Paul won the writer’s royalties. I got the girls . . .”

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Set the Boy Free

Moving from New York to Manchester for more tales of intra-band strife...

Along with his Smiths bandmate—celebrity vegetarian Steven Patrick Morrissey—Johnny Marr is responsible for an unimpeachable batch of classic tracks. Set the Boy Free reveals the story of the Smiths, and Marr’s career beyond the band. Only 23 when the Smiths broke up, Marr has enjoyed a successful and varied career both as a hired gunslinger (The Pretenders, Modest Mouse, etc.) and as a solo artist. Although often eclipsed in the popular imagination by his former writing partner, Marr for the most part speaks warmly of his relationship with Morrissey in the book: bile and recriminations are reserved for the band’s litigious drummer, Mike Joyce.

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This Wheel's on Fire

Speaking of drummers…

The dramatis personae in this tale of musical folk memory, rock star excess, and internecine feuding are perhaps best described in the author’s own words as "pill-poppin', whore-visitin', gas-siphonin', girl-friend stealin' reprobate musicians." The Band (aside from aiding and abetting Dylan’s electric treachery) are best known as purveyors of un-distilled Americana. In This Wheel’s on Fire, Levon Helm—singer, drummer and sole American member (the others were all Canadian)—colourfully recounts the history of The Band from his childhood on an Arkansas cotton farm through the late 60’s heights of Woodstock and the release of their first albums, through to the acrimonious split with Robbie Robertson and the ensuing decades of bitterness and feuding.

Bit Of A Blur

For a less acrimonious take on life with one toe in the spotlight...

Before going straight and writing for the Observer Food Monthly or tending to the goats on his farm, Alex James was at the vanguard of 1990’s excess and debauchery during music’s “cool Britannia” moment. As bassist for era-defining beat combo, Blur, James had ample opportunity and means (£1 million is his estimated champagne and cocaine expenditure for the period) to live the rock-and-roll dream. In Bit of a Blur James, with charming self-deprecation, recalls the hedonism and high life of late-millennium London before unfortunately (for the reader) settling into his agrarian domestic happiness.

(If you have been affected by the issues raised in this blurb—i.e. you have aged beyond rock and roll, and agrarian domestic happiness by way of artisanal cheesemaking is now your thing—I’d regretfully refer you to James’ follow-up memoir, All Cheeses Great and Small.)

Le Freak

Of course, compared to the final author, Alex James’ antics are strictly amateur…

Without question, Nile Rodgers is the most accomplished ‘sidekick’ on this list, and perhaps in the entire history of popular music. His portfolio of collaboration is a dizzying list of seminal tracks by pop royalty: Diana Ross, Bowie, Prince, Madonna, Jagger and beyond. Le Freak brings the reader on a hair-raising ride through Rodgers’ adventures from the Studio 54 scene to his late career rejuvenation via encounters with the likes of Hendrix and Warhol. All told with humility, and in a voice distinctive as his guitar style.

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Dublin-based dad and Bohemians FC supporter. Currently introducing a toddler to all the important music he missed in the past 40 years. Are you a busker? Allow me to offer you some constructive ... Show More

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