My Favourite Songs: Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence (1966)

from the album “Sounds of Silence”.

 

And the prize for the best harmonizing ever goes to.. well, I have multiple favourites for this particular musical category. The Beatles. The Byrds. The Beach Boys. The Supremes. And obviously, Simon & Garfunkel. And their harmonizing never shone so well together as it did in this song. I also think few songs capture a certain atmosphere as well as this song does.

This was originally released a few years earlier as an acoustic song, but the song’s producer decided to overdub it with electric guitars and use the same backing musicians as Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, and did this without the knowledge of the duo. However, this proved to be the right decision and did the song a major favour in doing so.

This is a song, as quoted by the singer Art Garfunkel, about alienation, and about the inability to communicate to fellow human beings and to fellow friends, lovers and family in relationships, and the inability to discuss your emotions out in the open. Also, to me, it’s about how the world itself often chooses to turn a blind eye to what’s really going on in society.
This other interpretation of the song’s meaning turned out to be pretty eerie, as the song was released just a couple of months after the John F. Kennedy assassination.

 

“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”

 

Is Paul Simon talking about the way we hear things the way we want to hear them? How we’re all hearing, but not really listening, and seeing, but really not looking for the things we should be looking for? Things could be bright and clear in front of us, but for various reasons, our minds are clouded by judgments, preconceptions and expectations of how things should be, rather than what they are.
And the people who do see, and that do listen, and write “songs” about it, those are songs and voices that are seldom heard, simply, as Simon, puts it, because most people don’t dare to disturb the “silence” of the community. You don’t want to shake things up, you don’t want to make things worse. And you don’t want to be wrong. You don’t want to be judged.

 

“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”

 

The situation seems hopeless, even as the song’s protagonist tries to reach out to the public, or to his audience, or to that someone he feels is unreachable, but how do you reach somebody that maybe doesn’t even want to be reached? Like silent raindrops, his words fell.

“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”

 

This is actually my favourite part of the song. I always interpreted this as the tendency in our society to idolize people in the wrong way, to misconstrue what some people are actually saying. Take the idea of the hippie movement for example; it was supposed to be a manifestation for peace activism, but nowadays we mostly just picture a bunch of lazy non-working pot smokers. Take the idea of punk, which was to follow your own path and go against everything that is mainstream as far as opinions and style go, and instead we have another flow of dead fishes who look and talk exactly the same.
We really don’t see what the sign is flashing out, do we?
Another way of seeing this, is of course also they way religion is misconstrued, and how blindly following “the words of the prophets” can also make you blind to what’s actually going on.

Oddly enough, it’s also the way this song is used in Mike Nichol’s The Graduate that haunts me the most, after seeing the full movie for the first time last year. For some reason, it fits perfectly, especially in the ending scene, after all the chaos and drama, when the now just married young people finally get a moment of peace and silence to themselves, that their faces literally drop and they’re slowly realising they made a mistake. Or rather, “was this it? Was it worth it?”
At least that’s how I interpreted it.

And you see, that’s the great thing about a great song like this, there’s just so many subtexts to it, so many layers, it can be used in so many situations and it can be related to so much. That’s why it’s a classic, and that’s why it’s one of my favourites. Also because it’s simply beautiful.

 

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musicjen

I love music.

Now, I could be writing one cliché after another.. like how I can’t live without music and how I love to discover new kinds of music and toy around with my music library.. and… well, those clichés are all true, so I might as well write them here.

My taste is eclectic and varies from day to day and swings with my mood.. but my main focus is always on the classics of 60’s and 70’s. Now, I was born in ’86 but the music I grew up listening to was the music of decades before.. I think “brainwashed” would be the appropriate term to describe how this came about, as my parents has always made sure that I knew about their influences and what they like.

I don’t just love listening to music. I love reading about music, I love finding out about music, and what goes on behind the scenes. I love a really great use of a song in a film. I love making playlists and I love rummaging through other people’s record collections and playlists as well.

I might as well come out and say it: I AM A MUSIC NERD, in every way.

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