His Mother’s Words that Singer Paul Simon Never Forgot

His Mother’s Words that Singer Paul Simon Never Forgot
In Malcolm Gladwell’s newly-released audio book “Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul SImon,” Simon shares a story that I’ve been thinking about ever since I heard him tell it.
When Gladwell asks Simon about his arguably most famous song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Simon explains that after he wrote that song he felt it was really special and he wanted it to be sung by somebody with a “pure” voice. So he gave it to his partner, Art Garfunkel, to perform. Soon after that, Simon and Garfunkel broke up, and, even though 50 years have passed since, Simon recalls with obvious pain, that along with his singing partner, in a sense, he’d lost maybe his greatest song “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Which would, in his mind and in the mind of his listeners, always be Garfunkel’s song.
The “story” that’s stuck in my mind was the reason why Simon decided to give up his possibly greatest song to Garfunkel.
Paul Simon first met Art Garfunkel (or “Artie” as he calls him) when they were 6th-grade classmates in Queens, NY and performed together in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. By the time Simon and Garfunkel were 13 they were already singing together, but Artie wasn’t only a gifted singer of secular music. Artie also performed as the chazan for his own bar mitzvah, masterfully leading his congregation in Hebrew song and prayer for the 4-hour long Shabbat-morning service.
But what does this have to do with giving up “Bridge Over Troubled Water”? Paul Simon, who will soon be turning 80, told Gladwell, with obvious pain, how his mother told him at one point when he was young, “Paul, you have a nice voice. But Artie has a FINE voice.” It was remarkable to me to hear the distress in Simon’s voice when he remembered his mother’s comment, so many decades later. And this was the comment that ran through Simon’s head when he decided his own voice wasn’t “fine” enough to sing his own song.
I have no doubt that Simon’s mother, who was an elementary-school teacher, did countless acts of kindness and self-sacrifice for him as he was growing up. I have no doubt that she was a wonderful woman who did her best to be the best mother she possibly could. And yet, this one little comment, one little comment that she might not have even thought would be hurtful, has been hurting her beloved son for decades.
This story makes me think of all the little things I say to my kids. The little comments. Corrections. Criticisms. This story about Paul SImon and his mother reminds me that my kids are listening. And might be taking what I say to heart. Even if they don’t show it.
But it also makes me think about the other little things I say to my kids. The little words of praise. Compliments. Encouragement. This story about Paul Simon and his mother reminds me that kids are listening. Even if they don’t show it. And I pray they are taking those little things to heart as well.


  1. and I think that the best gift you can possibly give your children is the gift of not being depended on praise or any other form of conditioning – let them know they are worthy regardless of what they have, what they can do, how they look or how smart they are! Hashem made them and that is enough!

  2. Wow!! Wow! So true. thankfully I try to only remember the good things

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