October 13 – Happy Birthday, Paul Simon AND Astronomy Day

Posted on October 13, 2013

I feel like bursting into song: “These are a few of my favorite things...”

You know:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Astronomy, cosmology, Paul Simon's anthems...

Astronomy is my favorite science!

In some ways it makes no sense to say “my favorite science,” since science is mostly an attitude of looking at empirical evidence to discover truths about the world, the cosmos, and all the living and non-living things in the universe. 

Science is sort of like a really good toolbox full of devices and techniques that help us sense and measure objects and forces, come up with possible explanations for what we sense, and test competing explanations. 

How can we reasonably divide one science from another, when chemistry and physics and even biology are really all about interactions of atoms and other particles?

Still, if it DID make sense to choose my favorite science, it would be astronomy. I love the grand scales found in the solar system, galaxy, and universe; the beauty of nebulae, ringed planets, and spiral galaxies; the mystery of black holes, dark matter, and dark energy; the fundamental importance of the Big Bang and the possible multiverse....It's all so breathtaking and fascinating.

It gives me perspective on our little problems on a tiny planet that orbits an inconspicuous star in the backwaters of a perfectly average galaxy...

Twice a year, in the spring and the fall, astronomy clubs celebrate Astronomy Day by taking their telescopes to shopping malls, museums, universities, libraries, nature centers, and other public places and inviting people to take a close-up peek at the nighttime sky. Many people who have never looked through a telescope before get their first experience at an Astronomy Day event!

Learn more about Astronomy at Kids Astronomy

Paul Simon is one of my favorite musicians!

When I was a teenager, I didn't have much money, and I only bought music from two groups.

(Back then, we bought LP records if we wanted to hear particular music. There weren't many radio stations, no internet, and no such thing as digital music, CDs, or even audio tapes! It was a primitive, primitive world!)

Out of all the bands in the world, I chose to buy the music of the rock band the Doors and of the folk duo Simon and Garfunkel. I guess that means that I liked Paul Simon's music even more than the Beatles!!!

Simon, who was born on this date in 1941, grew up in Queens, New York. Even though his musical career began when he met Art Garfunkel when they were both just 11 years old, Simon did manage to graduate from college with a degree in English and even to study law for a bit – all while he was writing, performing, recording, and releasing songs. 

Most of the songs he performed solo or with someone other than his childhood partner, Garfunkel, but some of his early songs were performed by the duo's first group, Tom & Jerry. When the two got their first break with a big music label, Columbia Records, the music execs decided that they would go by the real names instead of Tom and Jerry. Apparently this was the first time that “ethnic” names were used in pop music.

(Simon and Garfunkel are both of Jewish heritage.)

The rest is history! Simon achieved fame and success both as part of Simon and Garfunkel (he wrote most of the songs as well as played guitar and sang) and also in his later solo career. He had several Number 1 hits, earned 12 Grammys, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Simon has explained to those who ask how he writes songs that, for him, the music always comes before the words. Then, [i]t’s like a puzzle to find the right words to express what the music is saying."  Simon has also explained that his work is done once he has written and performed the song; he doesn't feel that he should be called upon to explain what a song “means.” That's the job of the listener.

My favorite song by this favorite songwriter is The Sound of Silence. Since I bought ALL of the duo's records, I owned both of these recorded versions: the original, and the version that was a Number 1 hit. Can you figure out the difference between the two versions?

Here is someone else singing The Sound of Silence; the song accompanies lovely views of the rotating Earth—seen from space! It's like my two favorites, astronomy and Paul Simon, combined!

Also on this date:

English Language Day

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