Paul Simon was born October 13, 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. His father was a musician, so he came by his talent honestly. His mother was an elementary school teacher. Art Garfunkel was born November 5, 1941 in Forest Hills, Queens, New York City. His father was a traveling salesman and, as far as I can tell, his mother took care of the home. Paul and Art began their collaboration known as Tom and Jerry. They had an on and off relationship during the late Fifties and early Sixties.
Then, on November 22, 1963, something happened which would change everything for Paul and Art, although they didn’t know it at the time. President Kennedy was assassinated on that day in Dallas, Texas. America would never be the same. Paul would never be the same. The grief he felt was tangible. It was during this time and probably as a direct result of the assassination that Paul finished what would be his most famous song, “The Sound of Silence.”
Paul said later that the song was just a cry of post-adolescent angst, but the song spoke to the generation of the Sixties. I have heard it said that this song was the anthem of the Sixties but, of course, that didn’t happen until later. It took Paul about four months to write the song. He started with the music and had that down pretty well but couldn’t come up with the lyrics. Then one day in February of 1964, he was sitting in his bathroom, strumming the guitar (the acoustics in the bathroom were great for creation) and the words came to him.
It’s interesting to note that the song was originally “The Sounds of Silence” (the word Sounds is plural) and if you look on the first album they produced that is the way it’s spelled. But later, the “s” is dropped and it just became “The Sound of Silence.” You still will see it written with the “s.”
After the album was done, they sat down and tried to decide on a name for the group. Tom & Jerry was out. Their sound was much different than it was in the Fifties. They battered around a number of different choices and finally decided to just go with their real names, Simon & Garfunkel. Now, that may not seem like a big deal today, but it was then. Their names were blatantly Jewish, and the record company wasn’t sure the public would buy from Jewish performers. After all, Bob Dylan had changed his name from his real name of Robert Zimmerman for just that reason.
However, Paul said he wanted to be truthful with the public. They would stick with their own names and so it was decided, from then on, they would be known as Simon & Garfunkel. And, of course, the rest is history.
“The Sound(s) of Silence” debuted on the pop charts on December 4, 1965 and was the first number one of 1966. It stayed at number one for one week, then got kicked out by “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles (see next article) and then came back to number one for a second week.