Excerpt: 'Lyrics 1964-2008'

Paul Simon's music has helped to define nearly half a century of American life.

From his 1960s-era folk hits like "The Sound of Silence" to his more recent "You're the One," Simon's music grew and evolved with the country and reflected the beauty and complexity of it all.

"Lyrics 1964-2008" is exactly what the title implies: a book of words from an incredible musical career that has spanned more than 40 years.

Read the introduction to "Lyrics 1964-2008" by David Remnick and click here to see more from the "GMA" library.

Introduction by David Remnick

Even at the peak of his popular stardom, Paul Simon was armed purely with his talent for the American song. He played arenas and stadiums, he had platinum records and made his fortune, but he was never magnificently cool like Lennon, darkly beautiful like Elvis, implacably enigmatic like Dylan, or three-quarters crazy like a hundred others. Style, roguishness, bad behavior, self-conscious unpredictability were never his tools. Modest in manner, he did not boast a mysterious background or invent one for himself.

He came with less rock and roll packaging and tiresome self-invention than anyone in the business. And one effect of time has been to show how little the absence of theatricality mattered. Paul Simon's songs have become a part of life's fabric, an inner walking-around music. You stroll around New York and hear the echoes of his loneliness, his comedy, his passion, his ache, and his growing older.

Even now, as he writes new songs and immerses himself in yet another song form and rhythmic realm, he has secured his place in musical history. Simon stands with both the unpretentious masters of his own youth -- the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson -- and his greatest predecessors: Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, and Cole Porter. As you browse through this book, the enormous (and unfinished) catalog of Paul Simon's art, you will see just how many songs he's written that rate with "How Deep Is the Ocean" and "Stormy Weather."

You undoubtedly know the story: Simon was born in Newark in 1941. He was raised in Kew Garden Hills, a middle-class area of Queens. His mother was an English teacher. His father was a professional bassist, but for a long time Paul had a limited interest in music. At a school production of Alice in Wonderland he became friends with Art Garfunkel -- Paul was the White Rabbit, Art the Cheshire Cat -- and, together with two sisters, Angel and Ida Pelligrini, they formed an a cappella group and sang doo-wop songs.

Dispensing with the Pelligrinis, the two boys performed as Tom & Jerry and wrote an ebullient pop song called "Hey Schoolgirl," which became a hit in 1957 for Big Records. As teenagers they were famous, appearing on a bill with Jerry Lee Lewis on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. In 1964, with Dylan and The Beatles now in full flower, and with college and years of apprentice work now behind them, the two young men re formed in full ethnic name (a rarity at the time) as Simon & Garfunkel, with Paul providing the songs and melodies and Art the harmonies. Their first LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. featured "The Sound of Silence," a number one hit on the American charts.

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