Of course, you will have almost certainly recognized that the title of today’s ‘Thought’, comes from the 1963 Simon and Garfunkel hit, ‘The Sound of Silence’. The song has a Kafkaesque quality, the lyrics take us into it, yet those same lyrics stand us back from it, (“In restless dreams I walk alone”). We are familiar participants yet invited observers, drawn in by the enigmatic opening line, ‘Hello, darkness my old friend...’
Penned over 55 years ago it is already engaging with a world of noise, of busyness, of the emerging post-modern individualism. The angst filled lyrics of a disenfranchised generation have biblical and 1960’s cultural allusions. In the context of the song, silence is focused as a negative. A sense that everyone is talking but no one is really saying anything. That we are hearing but not really listening:
‘People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never shared. No one dared disturb the sound of silence’.
The silence is depicted as an outcome of affluence, ‘and the people bowed and prayed, to the neon gods they made...’
The original song is set in a year of escalating war with Vietnam and a western world shortly to be stunned with the assassination of President John F Kennedy. It is backdropped by the American civil rights struggle and a challenge to the many, who whilst not actively racist, were content to remain silent, passively assenting to injustice. This passive compliance being profoundly summed up in a speech by Martin Luther King,
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Inevitably I refreshed my knowledge of the song by listening to it again on YouTube (as the last copy I had of it was on a cassette). If the lyrics were radical for 1963 how much more do they silently shout into our 21st century society? I did find myself reflecting that perhaps, with the passage of time, the melodious composition coupled with the perfect harmonization of two male voices, detracts us from the original angst.
In contrast a more recent cover version by Todd Hoffman, dispels any doubt of the songs 21st century relevance. You can listen to it below to enjoy the restrained and then the released raw energy, of what I think is one of the best covers of these iconic lyrics.
Meanwhile, we have a silence thrust upon us by present Coronavirus circumstances. Quiet roads, closed shops, silent school playgrounds. Perhaps it is an opportunity to listen. To listen not to the clamour of the world around, nor to the flawed Cartesian wisdom of our own inner voice, but to listen to God’s guiding. As we listen to God we may also hear the needs of those around us.