HOSE searching for the Rosebud in the life of Citizen Simon – mythmaker, huckster, poet and chronicler of the American dream – will not be surprised to find it on the lips on Art Garfunkel, his constant friend and enduring foe.

The boys from Queens, New York have spent more than 60 years harmonising gloriously and bickering fractiously and Garfunkel, the sublime mouthpiece for many of Simon’s masterpieces, has his collaborator’s number.

“You’re still the same guy,” responded Garfunkel to Simon’s protestations over a grudge held for 25 years. Simon then was 40. He is now 75. He is still the same guy.

Carlin casts his hero as a sort of Augie March, moving forwards with elbows out like Saul Bellow’s wonderful character. And there is much of the driven, preternaturally savvy, eye on-the-main-chance hustler in Simon. There is, of course, much more.

The son of a musician, Simon dedicated his life to his art. The wistful gentleness of much of his work is, though, in contrast to the unrelenting toughness of the artist in achieving his ends, whether creative or business. The road to greatness and extraordinary fame has left a trail of battered and bruised bystanders.

Simon seeks perfection – and it must be his precise brand of perfection – with a ruthlessness that brings both admiration and more than the occasional wince. In many ways, Simon can be the personification of that banality of loving the art but not the artist.

His lyrics and music are part of an idea of Americana that has survived, even prospered for more than half a century. Four of his albums – Bookends, Bridge over Troubled Water, Rhythm of the Saints, and Graceland – must be considered in any list of greatest ever. Others are merely great.

Carlin is excellent in compiling a coherent chronology, often astute in his judgment of songs, but seems overwhelmed by his subject. Faced with digging deeper into Simon’s character, he retreats into overblown and often absurd alleyways. At one point, he muses: “Death was not a stranger in Wales.” Death, bud, is not a stranger anywhere but what has this to do with the life of Simon?

There are strong passages on the debilitating neuroses of Simon but the artist generally slips away. The details of his life are admirably recorded but the interior life is never satisfactorily examined.

There is a risk in adopting the latter approach but it can produce huge dividends. Carlin has played it safe and the reader is often paid out in dullness.

Simon remains the same guy throughout the book: a genius in his field, a magpie in his approach to the work of others, a character marked by self-interest and occasional, spectacular generosity.

The trick is not to chronicle how he stayed the same but why.

Carlin cannot conjure this up. The reader must instead be consoled by the magic of Simon’s music with this biography being at best extended liner notes.

Homeward Bound: the Life of Paul Simon by Peter Ames Carlin is published by Constable, priced £20