Paul Simon‘s Newark and Queens upbringing doesn’t always seem as intrinsic to his musical identity as it is for other New York City-affiliated musicians, but the songwriter’s background came to the forefront yesterday at the site where the World Trade Center stood, as he played the 1964 Simon & Garfunkel single “The Sound of Silence” for the gathered crowd. His performance was reportedly one of the most powerful moments of the September 11 memorial service, and after watching the footage above, we believe it. Simon has performed in a similar capacity before, most notably his performance of “The Boxer” as part of the tribute that opened the September 29, 2001 episode of Saturday Night Live.
Interestingly, the official program for the tenth anniversary ceremony indicated that Simon would be performing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the 1970 single that was originally sung by Art Garfunkel, and which would also have been appropriate. Nevertheless Simon’s decision to sing “The Sound of Silence” instead made the performance all the more moving and memorable.
It’s easy to think about the months following September 11, 2001 as a rude awakening from an imagined bliss (doubly fictitious, in that the peace only ever appeared to exist, and that it wasn’t that blissful to begin with). Nevertheless, the events of that day had a dramatic?and traumatic?effect on Americans, not least through our consumption of popular culture. But before the slew of original compositions responding directly to the event (of which Sound of the City has compiled what, in their estimation, were the nine worst), many listeners were already looking to music for comfort, guidance, or other emotional needs, while rejecting other music that flew in the face of those needs. Here’s what people especially did?and did not?want to hear.
In the second full chart week after 9/11, Houston’s 1991 rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” re-entered the Hot 100 at #50, and Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” debuted at #16 (in 1984, the song had hit the country charts but never crossed over). In a pattern that would be reversed once digital sales became common, the songs had two chart peaks?the first when radio’s support was strongest, and the second when physical singles were re-released. Sales of “God Bless the USA” were strong enough to keep it on the chart, but not to match its debut. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” on the other hand, hit #6 on the strength of sales (and continuing radio support). Read more…