Living the rock star life: Chronicling the lives of music legends

Famous musicians are not always willing to have their life written about. Biographer Peter Ames Carlin found this out when trying to write about Paul Simon. Carlin discussed the challenges and rewards of writing biographies at a recent installment of The Professional Writers Series called “Biographies that Rock.”

Peter Ames Carlin was introduced by Ryan C. Rose, a senior in the English program at Washington State University Vancouver. Rose read reviews of Carlin’s writing in which the writer was acknowledged for his in-depth and detailed style.

Carlin’s most recent book, “Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon,” was inspired by singer Paul Simon’s political background and the fact that there is very little written about the singer. Carlin started out his presentation by playing the music video for Simon’s song “Boy in the Bubble.” The animation for “Boy in the Bubble” was created by a Portland artist named Jim Bashfield. Bashfield is also known for the animation done for Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone.”

Carlin is a Portland local, and started his professional career as a copy editor for the Oregonian. Carlin said he took writing seriously and he had mentors that helped him along the way. Carlin largely attributes his success to these factors. After leaving the Oregonian, he started freelance writing. The work came without stability, but “It became an obsession,” he said. Eventually he started working for People magazine in New York. While writing for People, Carlin had the opportunity to interview Brain Wilson of the Beach Boys. This opportunity would eventually lead him to writing a biography about Wilson.

Carlin wrote two other biographies before his work on Simon. These books were about Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. The writing process for the Springsteen book was much different than the one about Simon. Springsteen was resistant at first and then eventually cooperated to make the book a success. Simon, however, actually went out of his way to stop Carlin from writing and publishing “Homeward Bound.”

When faced with the active resistance of his subject, Carlin tried harder than ever. Even though Simon’s career spans over 50 years, there is very little written about him. This led Carlin to research even harder than before and make connections in a way that challenged him as a human being. Networking and building trust with people in Simon’s circle eventually allowed Carlin to obtain the information he sought to make the book a success.

Carlin read an excerpt from his book and left time at the end of the session for questions. The event ended with applause and laughter.

The next presentation in the Professional Writers Series will be Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner presenting “Activist Poetry.” The event is March 23 from 7-9 p.m. in MMC 6. For more information about the Professional Writers Series, contact Howard Aaron at 503-816-2742.

For more information about Peter Ames Carlin, visit http://peteramescarlin.com.

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