The Sound of Silence
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence
Simon and Garfunkel were one of the best-selling acts of the 1960’s. I think it is safe to say they will go down in history as one of the most iconic duos of all time.
“The Sound of Silence”, originally known as “The Sounds of Silence” was written by Paul Simon over a period of 6 months between 1963 and 1964. It was released in October of 1964 on Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Believe it or not, that record was a commercial flop, and the duo broke up; something they would later become well known for doing. They both went their separate ways, with Simon going to England, and Garfunkel continuing to study at Columbia University.
In the spring of 1965, a late-night DJ in Boston, started to give the song air play, as he thought it would attract a college crowd. It certainly did, and then some! It quickly spread throughout Massachusetts and Florida. Word of this got back to record producer Tom Wilson, who had worked with the duo, and was well known for working with hard hitters like Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Without either artist’s knowledge, Wilson took the liberty of remixing the single, adding electric guitar, and re-releasing it in September of 1965. By January 1, 1966, the song had hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This lead to the duo reassembling and beginning work on what would be their second album, The Sounds of Silence. Not only did the song become a top ten hit worldwide, but it became an integral part of the musical score for the 1967 blockbuster coming of age movie The Graduate. Even more monumental, in 2013 the entire album was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important". Not too shabby for two young guys that broke up after one failed attempt at recording a song.
Though this song was written before I was born, I learned it at a very young age. As I mentioned in my first blog, I was lucky enough to grow up in a house filled with all kinds of diversified music. Thus, my love and obsession with it as an adult. Everyone in my family listened to and loved their own genre. Sometimes, they overlapped, but this allowed me access to almost every kind of music.
My older brother, who also played the piano, was an enormous Simon and Garfunkel fan. He would sit at the piano with the sheet music from different movies and play them from front to back. The two I remember most are The Sound of Music and The Graduate. We didn’t have much in common because of our age difference, however, the culture gap seemed nonexistent when he would play piano, and I would sing the lyrics. Of course, at that age, I had absolutely no comprehension of what most of the lyrics meant from The Graduate. I just knew I liked the music, seemed to be able to learn the lyrics after one glance, and enjoyed spending that brief but exclusive time with my brother.
As I look back, I find it amusing how I took the lyric so literal. For example, I pictured a man talking to someone whose name was darkness and getting stabbed in the eyes with a neon light. I thought this must be painful. I was a bit confused, but I really didn’t focus on that. I simply sang the song, and clearly remember it made me feel sad and alone.
As an adult, I find the song incredibly haunting, profound, and wise. Paul Simon was only 21 years old when he wrote this song, but sadly it is all too relevant in today’s climate. He was quoted at the time he penned the song, "We have people unable to touch other people, unable to love other people. "The Sound of Silence" is about the inability to communicate."
That is undeniably accurate in today’s landscape. I don’t like to get too political, as I feel music is a “universal” language. However, in one aspect, in our current political mayhem, the third verse seems to be shouting how the government has become almost like a dictatorship. False words are constantly being spewed at the American public. “People talking without speaking”. I think much of the country has grown so weary and disappointed at all the lies and scandals, that part of us are “hearing without listening”.
Obviously, that is just one interpretation. This is one of those songs that everyone who hears it can have a different idea about its meaning. Being that the song was written around the time of Vietnam, Paul Simon could have very well had that war in mind when he wrote this gem.
I think the bottom line is that sometimes there are so many obstacles in achieving what I believe everyone needs….to connect. Whether it be the government, technology, or a person’s own inability to be able to reach out because of their own insecurities.
But optimistically, I’d like to imagine that those words written by the prophets on the subway walls and tenement halls, were left there by wise others that came before us that were able to crack the code, if just a fraction, to keep us aspiring to communicate.
Give this outstanding song a listen and try to make a connection of your own!
Filed under: Music