Paul Simon has performed many great songs, but for him, writing one is an even better experience. Simon will be honored for that skill next week by the Library of Congress with its first annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
He's been singing since he was a child, and said while there are different ways to define a great song, some stand out for a very simple reason.
"I would say the simplest one is a song that other people can sing easily. And when they walk around and hum and sing it to themselves, that's the great accomplishment of the song. Gives pleasure to the greatest number of people," he told ABC News.
And for him, the pleasure is in the songwriting.
"The power of that feeling … It's like an addiction — you want to write again. You want to get it again," Simon said. "That pleasure and addiction is what keeps me writing into my 60s."
The Library of Congress is honoring the depth, range and beauty of his music and his ability to bridge musical cultures, as Simon pairs contagious melodies with the layered lines of a poet.
"I wrote 'The Sound of Silence' when I was 20 or 21 years old. And it has a very simple guitar sound that is very identifiable," he explained.
That song became Simon and Garfunkel's first hit in 1966 as it captured the feelings of a generation. The duo would split four years later.
From Grade School to the Grammys
Music ran in Simon's family. His father Louis was a bass player and encouraged his son to sing at a young age.
"I started to sing when I was in the fifth or sixth grade in a school play … and I was practicing at home and my father, who was on his way out to play some gig, stuck his head in the door and he said, 'You have a nice voice, Paul.'
"And, you know, these casual compliments you get from a parent at the right moment in time have a big effect on your life … then I tried to write," he said.
Simon has since recorded 29 albums, won 12 Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as both a solo artist and as part of a duo.
After he and Art Garfunkel split in 1970, Simon kept composing songs and would mix African, reggae, gospel and calypso harmonies into his music.
He still writes pop tunes, including the hit "You Can Call Me Al," which he said started out as a classic "joke" with the lyrics "A man walks down the street."
"It's like — two guys walk into a bar. It's that kind of a sentence," Simon said. "A man walks down the street. He says, 'Why am I soft in the middle? Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?' … That's a good joke."
When the Library of Congress presents the Gershwin Award to Simon on Wednesday, his music will be performed by some A-list performers, something he calls a "songwriter's dream comes true."
Said Simon: "I'm still looking for the rush that I feel when I say something that connects to my own emotions. Will I write again in the future? … You know, I was meant to be a songwriter. That's who I am."