Not a political post, but something that’s been weighing on me.
About a year ago, I picked up a little record player. Don’t know why – I didn’t own any records. But the price was good, the player was portable, and I figured that it would be a fun thing to own.
To fill my collection, I scoured the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores of the city and picked through hundreds of albums that had differing levels of popularity, but now all succumbed to identical decay. A couple of artists were over-represented (Loggins and Messina, Kenny Rogers, others), and there were a lot of classical music albums, but I was able to find some great albums by great bands (Who’s Next by The Who) as well as some albums with one or two songs that I recognized by great bands (Three Dog Night, Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Doobie Brothers). One of those albums was Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, the first album by Simon and Garfunkel.
There were two songs I recognized from this album: He Was My Brother and The Sounds of Silence. Yet this The Sounds of Silence is not the one you know. For one, the other song is called The Sound of Silence. For another, this version is only Paul and Art and a guitar. When I first heard it, I stopped. This was something new and it forced me to listen to each and every one of the lyrics. And then I got up and reset the needle and listened to it again. And again. And I picked up the album and found the below:
The Sound of Silence is a major work. We were looking for a song on a larger scale, but this was more than either of us expected. Paul had the theme and the melody set in November, but three months of frustrating attempts were necessary before the song “burst forth.” On February 19, 1964, the song practically wrote itself.
Its theme is man’s inability to communicate with man. The author sees the extent of communication as it is on only its most superficial and “commercial” level (of which the “neon sign” is representative). There is no serious understanding because there is no serious communication — “people talking without speaking — hearing without listening.” No one dares take the risk of reaching out (“take my arms that I might reach you”) to disturb the sound of silence. The poet’s attempts are equally futile (“… but my words like silent raindrops fell within the wells of silence”). The ending is an enigma. I find my own meaning in it, but like most good works, it is best interpreted by each person individually. The words tell us that when meaningful communication fails, the only sound is silence.
Back of album
I agree with Garfunkel’s thoughts. People talking past each other. Hearing the words but not listening to their meaning (as I have done so much with this song). The cancerous spread of this silence and the rejection of personal connection (my understanding of this verse really changed when I saw the lyrics were: “Fools, said I, you do not know” instead of “Fools said, Aye, you do not know”).
The words. The last verse. I see it as the gasp of humanity, the fighting back against the neon lights. What are the subways and tenement halls if not bathed in grime and darkness? They are where people can communicate, free from the influence and distractions of the world above and outside. They are where the airwaves often have trouble reaching, but where voices dominate.
Maybe I finally understood that when I started stepping back more from technology – from movies or TV after work and instead decided to step into books and quiet conversation. In fact, it was when my Dad and I were spending the whole day talking that this song came on the record player. And we both stopped talking. Just to listen. Just to then turn to each other after the record finished and begin speaking again.
The Sound of Silence as usually heard. It’s almost as if it became that neon sign: losing itself in commercialism but point to the words of the prophets (the original and other songs by Simon and Garfunkel that people listened to once they heard this one).