Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas

The Sound Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel

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On November 22nd, 1963, one of the greatest tragedies to ever befall the United States of America occurred in Dallas, Texas. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy marked the end of the innocence of the 1950s and ushered in the most turbulent decade of the 20th century. In the same way everyone in this generation will remember where they were and what they were doing when the two buildings of the World Trade Center fell, the children of the '60s will never forget the sorrow that followed the assassination.

A black cloud covered the nation - and the world - for months after, and many people didn't understand how to cope with their grief. Paul Simon felt intense loss and turned to locking himself into his bathroom with his guitar, finger-picking random notes without so much as turning on a single light. Hello darkness, my old friend… Those random notes became one of the greatest hits of his career, so much so, that it has earned a permanent place in the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.

Originally titled "The Sounds of Silence," the song appeared on the duo's first studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., as an acoustic piece. However, the record company's producer decided to overdub additional guitars, drums, and bass to release the tune as a standalone single - without Simon and Garfunkel's permission. That single reached #1 and as included on their 1966 album, Sounds of Silence (the title was altered into the singular "sound" on this and all subsequent releases).

Upon hearing of the shooting and death of the President, a shocked nation mourned as they never done previously. Citizens openly wept in public and gathered in department stores, glued to the news coverage. Students were dismissed early from schools across the country following full classroom prayers. Traffic stood still as word spread from car to car to car. The streets fell silent. Silence like a cancer grows...

Photo: MadMarlin, via Flickr, CC 2.0

In the 10 months that followed, the Warren Commission investigation concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in the murder of JFK. However, in 1998, 35 years after the shooting, 76% of Americans (according to a CBS News poll) believed his death was the result of a conspiracy and cover-up. Fifteen years after the assassination, the United States House Select Committee on Assassination (HSCA - to avoid the mouthful) determined that the President most probably wasn't killed by one man, acting alone. Regardless of which side of the conspiracy argument you fall, everyone can agree the death of the President was one of the darkest moments in the nation's history.

Camelot came to an abrupt and bitter end on that November day in 1963. Nobody could've predicted what was to come. The 1960s became a time of violent social upheaval and radical change across the world, but specifically in America. JFK's was but the first of a handful of assassinations, including civil rights activists Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King Jr. (1968), and Senator Robert Kennedy (John's younger brother, also in 1968). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation outlawing all major forms of discrimination. And in 1969, NASA helped to fulfill JFK's promise that mankind would walk on the moon before the end of the decade.

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy

It is either an extreme bit of luck and coincidence - or the divine intervention of the cosmos - that on a cold night in February 1964, four young lads from across the pond appeared on national television to pick the nation up and give them something to get excited about once again… something to hope for. I seriously doubt the Beatles understood what they were getting themselves into before they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. I can tell you that I am certainly glad they did.

As the country healed, and artists like the Beatles and Rolling Stones invaded with the new era of love and tolerance, Simon and Garfunkel continued writing and performing. By the end of 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, the duo's third studio album, included more uplifting cuts than those appearing on Sounds of Silence. With the help of musical artists, everyone in the mid-to-late 1960s started feelin' groovy… ba da, ba da, da da da… feelin' groovy...

Justin Novelli
June 12, 2016
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