What do you get when you put the president of Ohio State in the same room as a 16-time Grammy award-winning, three-time album of the year winner, and two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee? A fascinating conversation.
Music legend Paul Simon sat down with President Michael Drake Tuesday evening at Weigel Hall to discuss his journey from a 12-year-old boy singing around his neighborhood to one of the most iconic names in the industry, as well as his philanthropic pursuits.
Simon grew up with music. His father was a jazz bass player but he said he was never interested in that kind of music.
Then rock ‘n’ roll came along, and he fell in love.
“It was all I wanted to be,” Simon said.
Simon said the best musician in his neighborhood was none other than Art Garfunkel. The two started writing together at a young age, learning harmonies and eventually writing a song that he said became a neighborhood hit.
“If you can get someone else to sing your song, then it’s a hit,” Simon said.
At just 15 years old, the young duo found themselves performing live on American Bandstand with Dick Clark.
“Just taking a train to Philly from New York was already exciting,” Simon said. “Then I walked in and there was Jerry Lee Lewis combing his hair.”
Simon earned an English degree at Columbia University and attended law school the year after, but realized that was not his calling. Rock ‘n’ roll was.
He and Garfunkel went on to produce an acoustic album with Columbia Records called “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” The album initially flopped, but when producer Tom Wilson took one of the acoustic tracks and overdubbed it with electric guitar, drums and bass, it steadily made its way to the No. 1 spot on U.S. pop charts.
That song was called “Sound of Silence.”
And for Simon, “That’s when life permanently changed,” he said.
They spent “two years at the top,” Simon said, recording the soundtrack for the film “The Graduate” and releasing their album “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which won the Grammy for album of the year.
“We were bigger than The Beatles,” he said.
In the summer of 1968, Simon and Garfunkel were approached to appear in the film “Catch 22,” but Simon’s part was eventually cut out of the script. Garfunkel went on to perform his role in the film and discovered his desire to be an actor, which ultimately led to the band’s breakup.
Simon said he wasn’t terribly upset about the decision mainly because he had no idea how he was going to follow the success of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with a new album. But he tried anyway. Although the popular opinion was that Garfunkel would succeed in his solo career and Simon wouldn’t, he proved everyone wrong and did more than succeed.
Simon went on to record 13 solo albums that experimented with what he called “world music,” which included multiple styles of music in his albums such as reggae, folk and gospel. He said it was all pop music to him, no matter where it came from.
After reflecting on his more than 50 year musical career, Simon spoke about his philanthropic work with the Children’s Health Fund. He remembered walking through New York City around the time after he released his seventh album “Graceland” in 1986, and said he saw more homeless people than he ever recalled being in New York.
In response, Simon bought out a mobile unit to service hotels that put up homeless families with resources and food. He soon bought another unit attached to a hospital, and then another, and in 30 years time, had units stationed across the country.
Simon will soon embark on his “Homeward Bound” tour, which he says will be his last one –– something he’s “pretty sure” he’ll keep his word on. Simon said he has no interest in working for money anymore and prefers to donate the money generated to ecological preservation foundations.
“Our species is doing great, we’re thriving, but not the planet,” Simon said. “The planet needs attention.”
Now that’s he has passed the age of 75, he said it’s his turn to make a change.
“I’m coming around third base,” Simon joked. “It’s time to be giving back.”
After taking questions from the audience, Simon blessed the crowd with a live performance of “Questions for the Angels” and “American Tune,” and the crowd blessed him right back with a performance of “Carmen Ohio.”
Simon didn’t exit the building to the sound of silence, he left to the sound of a standing ovation, wearing his brand new Ohio State hat.