Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound Of Silence” is one of the best songs of all time and was inspired by Sanford “Sandy” Greenberg, Art Garfunkel roomate and best friend who lost his vision. Sanford released a moving new memoir named “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life”.
Having inspired the lyrics “Hello Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again,” he said that Garfunkel helped him to recover his will to live again after the blindness. “He lifted me out of the grave.” The 79 year-old man says that they met each other during their first week studying at the Columbia University in New York. “A young man wearing an Argyle sweater and corduroy pants and blond hair with a crew cut came over and said, ‘Hi, I’m Arthur Garfunkel’.”
“Every night Arthur and I would sing. He would play his guitar and I would be the DJ. The air was always filled with music. Still teenagers, they made a pact to always be there for each other in times of trouble. If one was in extremis, the other would come to his rescue,” he said.
Blindness and Art Garfunkel’s friendship
Some months later “I was at a baseball game and suddenly my eyes became cloudy and my vision became unhinged. Shortly after that darkness descended.” The doctors said it was conjunctivitis, assuring it would pass. However, days later Sandy went blind and they realised that glaucoma had destroyed his optic nerves.
Sandy was from a Jewish immigrants in Buffalo, New York, son of a rag-and-bone man. They had no money to help him. So he had to quit college and gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer. In addition he plunged into depression.
“I wouldn’t see anyone, I just refused to talk to anybody. And then unexpectedly Arthur flew in, saying he had to talk to me. He said, ‘You’re gonna come back, aren’t you?’ “I said,: ‘No. There’s no conceivable way.’ He was pretty insistent, and finally said, ‘Look, I don’t think you get it. I need you back there. That’s the pact we made together: we would be there for the other in times of crises. I will help you’.”
The comeback with the help of Art Garfunkel
Together with Garfunkel he returned to the university, where he became dependent on Garfunkel’s support. He would walk him to class, bandage his wounds when he fell. Also filled out his graduate school applications.
Garfunkel called himself “Darkness” in a show of empathy. The singer explained: “I was saying, ‘I want to be together where you are, in the black’. He would come in and say, ‘Darkness is going to read to you now. Then he would take me to class and back. He would take me around the city. He altered his entire life so that it would accommodate me.”
Writing “Sound Of Silence”
Art Garfunkel talked with his high-school friend Paul Simon about him, that used the story as one of the inspirations for writing the song. Art Garfunkel guide Sandy through New York one day. When they were in front of a vast forecourt of bustling Grand Central Station, Garfunkel said that he had to leave for an assignment.
Then he abandoned his friend alone in the middle of the crowd. Terrified, he stumbled and fell. “I cut my forehead. I cut my shins. My socks were bloodied. I had my hands out and bumped into a woman’s breasts. It was a horrendous feeling of shame and humiliation. I started running forward, knocking over coffee cups and briefcases, and finally I got to the local train to Columbia University. It was the worst couple of hours in my life”, said Sandy.
However, when he got back in the campus he bumped into a man that apologised:
“I knew that it was Arthur’s voice. For a moment I was enraged, and then I understood what happened: that his colossally insightful, brilliant yet wildly risky strategy had worked”. Garfunkel was with him all the time, watching his friend trying to go back to the university.
“Arthur knew it was only when I could prove to myself I could do it that I would have real independence. And it worked, because after that I felt that I could do anything. That moment was the spark that caused me to live a completely different life, without fear, without doubt. For that I am tremendously grateful to my friend.”
Sandy graduated and went on to study for a master’s degree at Harvard and Oxford. While in Britain he received a phone call from his friend – and with it the chance to keep his side of their pact. Garfunkel wanted to drop out of architecture school and record his first album with Paul Simon, but explained: “I need $400 to get started.”
Sandy, by then married to his high school girlfriend, says: “We had $404 in our current account. I said, ‘Arthur, you will have your cheque.’ “It was an instant reaction, because he had helped me restart my life. His request was the first time that I had been able to live up to my half of our solemn covenant.”
The 1964 album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, was a critical and commercial flop. However, the track “The Sound Of Silence”, which was released as a single the following year, went to No 1 across the world.
“The Sound Of Silence meant a lot, because it started out with the words ‘Hello darkness’ and this was Darkness singing. The guy who read to me after I returned to Columbia blind,” says Sandy. Simon & Garfunkel went off later with hits like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Mrs. Robinson.
Sandy carried on having extraordinary success as an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, presidential adviser and philanthropist. He is the father of three, and launched a $3million prize to find a cure for blindness. He always refused to use a white cane or guide dog. “I don’t want to be ‘the blind guy. I wanted to be Sandy Greenberg, the human being.”
Him and Garfunkel remain best friends being credit by the musician as someone who changed his life. With Sandy, “my real life emerged. I became a better guy in my own eyes, and began to see who I was – somebody who gives to a friend. I blush to find myself within his dimension. My friend is the gold standard of decency,” Art Garfunkel said.
“I am the luckiest man in the world,” Sandy stated.