One of Paul Simon's most prized possessions is his first acoustic guitar, a store-bought Stadium model his father gave him when he was a 13-year-old Elvis Presley fan. The instrument was lost to him for decades until a cousin came across it in his own home.
"He was just thrilled that it still existed," says Karen Herman, vice president of collections and curatorial affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "He never restrung it. So when you see it in the case, there are no strings."
The guitar, along with about 80 other personal items, are currently on display in Paul Simon: Words and Music , a Rock Hall exhibit chronicling the 73-year-old's five-decade career, spanning Simon and Garfunkel to his later solo work. The museum's first exhibit to be accompanied by first-person artist narration includes four exclusive mini documentaries playing on screens while guests explore the space.
After visiting the Rock Hall in August 2013 and witnessing how it told the stories of musical heroes such as the Everly Brothers, Simon agreed to open his personal archives for this exhibit, Herman says.
"He's appealed to so many generations over time," she says. "To see his work in that context, from first song to what he's doing today, really appealed to him."
Simon openly offered advice on what should be included in the display. For example, Herman points to a promotional poster for Tom and Jerry, as Simon and Garfunkel were first known. Simon had plucked that poster for "Hey Schoolgirl" off the wall of his New York City office during a meeting with Rock Hall curators.
Among the standouts of Simon's collection are pads of paper on which he penned words for songs including his 1999 single "Darling Lorraine." Simon would write a draft of a verse, flip the page and modify it, then flip that page and repeat the process.
"A couple of times, we've taken a lyric sheet that he's written and paired it with actual recorded work — or with typed-out lyrics — so you can see what changes were made," Herman says.
But the documentaries are the greatest evidence of his collaboration. One of the most poignant moments captured on camera is Simon's memory of touring Presley's estate, Graceland, while he was working on the 1986 hit of the same name. According to Herman, he never intended to keep the title or keep repeating it in the lyrics — it was a just meant as a placeholder.
But that changed as he stood in front of the King's grave in the home's Meditation Garden.
"He said, 'I looked at that, and I started to cry. I lost it. And then I knew that the song had to be "Graceland," ' " she says.