Sep 12, 2011

hidden meanings

Perhaps I'm over analyzing this but I kind of think Paul Simon's rendition of The Sound of Silence at the 9/11 memorial yesterday was one of the more subversive things I've seen in a while. And I can't find anyone that agrees with me.

Backstory: Paul Simon was supposed to play Bridge Over Troubled Waters at the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero and ended up playing The Sound of Silence. Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a clearly "uplifting when your down" kind of song. And it seems most people think Sound of Silence is the same.

Reports of the event were glowing with writers using words like "heartbreaking", "emotionally wrenching". "...his words seemed so moving". Gawker cryptically mentioned that "the lyrics are better , and arguably more appropriate, at least in the ways that their meanings have changed.

But I've always thought of Sound of Silence as a cry against false leaders and the unquestioning masses. The "silence" in the song is a lack of revolt and rebellion.  The sound of conformism, of accepting the wisdom of our leaders.  A perspective you could imagine a young Paul Simon having in 1964 after Kennedy was assassinated.

Here's the lyrics:
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
Still remains
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

Some of the key lines are "People hearing without listening". You can imagine a visual of people listening to a leader who is spouting gibberish or lies but they aren't really listening. Just accepting what they are told. "Fools" he says. This silence is a cancer and will grow. But everyone ignores him and keep praying unquestioningly to their leaders.

The first time around Simon did play Bridge at the site just after the attacks. But I think he's become soured by our response to it, the wars, the removal of civil rights, etc. And I think he changed the song for this very reason. Not as an uplifting moment but rather to say your leaders and media are exploiting this event for their own political and social goals. Wake up.

Or maybe I'm overanalyzing this.

1 comment:

cosi said...

I agree with your posts. The solemn tone of the song distracts the casual listener into thinking this song is about loss and remembrance. But it is clearly written as a frustrated Bohemian notion of not taking action against the unjust neon gods of the establishment. Ironic to play this performance for a 9/11 ceremony. Can't help but think 1984.