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Daily Journal
     May 21, 2021      #96-141 KDJ

Hello darkness, my old friend 

By Dennis Marek

As I have a bit more time after retiring, I find that my interests in new subjects are sometimes challenged by old ones rising up for equal time. Such is the case at hand. For those of my readers over 60, the following may bring up some memories, but the content is probably totally unknown to most.

Can we remember when we first heard the Simon and Garfunkel chart-topper “The Sound of Silence”? While it was written in parts as early as 1963, the classic song was finally finished and recorded in late 1965. By January 1966, it was atop all charts for pop music.

The song was such an attention-grabber that the soundtrack was featured in the movie classic “The Graduate.” Along with the notorious “Mrs. Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair,” the country was singing all the tunes from this perfect duet. Paul Simon was the principal writer and guitarist, while Art Garfunkel’s strong voice dominated the vocal aspects of most of the songs. Simon and Garfunkel first met in the late 1950s. Both grew up in the counterculture movement, and many of their songs reflect those times.

The words of songs often are interpreted differently from what the author intended. Some are never quite figured out in spite of multiple attempts such as with American Pie, by Don McLean, driving his Chevy to the levee. How many knew that the levee was a bar in McLean’s hometown?

While music historians have tried to determine the origin and basis of “The Sound of Silence,” it has remained a bit unclear as well. Some believe that it was a song commenting on the assassination of John F. Kennedy as it was originally composed only three months after the killing. But Paul claims the roots of the song came when he was but 21 and several years before the assassination.

There is some talk that it was written in Paul’s bathroom with the lights off so he could concentrate as he loved the reverberation of his guitar off the tiles in the dark. But there is another hint of the meaning of the words and how they interplayed with Art Garfunkel. For example, the refrain “Hello darkness, my old friend,” and where it might have come from gives a second possible basis even more interesting and human.

Uncovered quite recently is a story from a Sanford Greenberg. Sandy, as he is called, was a roommate of Art’s at Columbia University. As these roommates became closer, their love of music filled their lives. Then tragedy struck Art’s roommate. A missed diagnosis in Sandy of glaucoma resulted in his complete blindness in 1961 as a college junior.

Sandy came from little money and dropped out of college and into depression. But Art Garfunkel was not done. As the duo soon to be known as Simon and Garfunkel, struggled to gain fame, Art also assumed the role of bringing Sandy back to life. Art called himself “Darkness” in a show of empathy.

He convinced Sandy to rejoin him back in college in 1965. Sandy would later graduate as Columbia’s class president with Phi Beta Kappa honors for his scholarship. But Art was not done with merely getting Sandy back in school. He read the required study material to Sandy, walked him to classes, filled out his graduate school applications for him, and took him for walks through Manhattan’s principal parts. One day outside of Grand Central Station, Garfunkel decided to abandon Sandy, leaving him alone to stumble and even fall as he tried to get back to campus.

Once back, he was enraged by the abandonment until Art’s voice came from behind him and said, “You made it!” He had been behind Sandy the entire way. Sandy then realized what he had accomplished and now knew he could do anything with determination and courage. “Darkness” had made him try, and except for a few bruises where he had collided with things, the mission was a total success. His independence was reborn.

Here was a young man so devoted to his friend that he took this large gamble to bring him forward while certainly risking the hatred of Sandy for this “abandonment.’” Sandy has admitted that this act caused him to live a life without fear and without doubt as to whether he could accomplish his goals. More than that in 2020, Greenberg published his own book with substantial reference to Art.

As most know, Simon and Garfunkel went on to great success, but as with many successful music groups, competition, jealousy, and perhaps just tiredness of the same routine leads to a parting of the ways. The same happened to them, and they drifted apart with only by occasional reunions for special events. The title of Greenburg’s memoirs is “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend” and has substantial devotion to his savior, Arthur Garfunkel. The memoirs also has the added endorsement of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

While most of the history seems to point toward Simon creating the song, Garfunkel’s history with Sandy and being referred to as “Darkness” makes one wonder if there was a bit more to the story. Hello darkness my old friend sure sounds like something that was said by Sandy to the man who saved his life and future with his love and attention at an age when often the younger generation just moves on from someone else’s tragedy. Art Garfunkel is the godfather of all three of Sandy’s children. Listen to that song again sometimes with the rest of the story in mind. Makes you respect Art Garfunkel even more than as a performer.

Dennis Marek can be contacted through the Daily Journal at editors@daily-journal.com or through his personal email at dmarek@ambltd.com.

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