WE HAVE A GENERATION GAP. The first time I reckoned with that cultural reality, I was 15ish and wanted long hair. My parents, the Jenks Schools Board of Education, and most other “adults” in my sphere said, “No! And tuck in your shirttail.”
Today the Gap still exists, but I’m on the other side of it.
A few years ago, my youngest son, Kyle said, “Hey Dad. There’s a heavy metal band called, ‘Disturbed’. They’ve done a cover of one of your favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”.
Isn’t it interesting that the generation gap often shows up in musical tastes. No doubt, adults back in the day found Elvis to be disturbing, as did parents of my day with The Beatles.
Now I am proud of my sons on many many levels, one of those being their breadth of musical appreciation and understanding. I’m especially grateful that they know that I hold the writing of Paul Simon and the music of Simon & Garfunkel in high regard, reverence even, so much so, that when Kyle used the words heavy, metal, cover, the, sound, of, and silence in the same sentence, I was disturbed, and he knew I would be—until I listened to it.
(I can picture right now, my old writing professor, Dr. Spears, writing “DISJOINTED” across the face of this essay in red pencil.)
(Stay with me.)
A friend recently sent me a link to a video of a person watching the video of Disturbed’s cover of the song. Believe it or not, it is a YouTube thing for people to video themselves reacting to music videos. In fact there are numerous reaction videos to the “Disturbed” cover. I have watched several of them and have drawn two conclusions:
1.) It’s scary how many young people have never heard of Simon & Garfunkel or heard their music. That pesky generation gap.
2.) People seemed to be totally flummoxed by the lyrics of the song. Or, worse yet, they don’t seem to be interested in a closer look.
I certainly don’t claim to know the “meaning” of the lyrics of the song, but I’ve had about 50 years to ponder them, and I have. If you have time, let’s see if we can peek inside Paul Simon’s mind:
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
There has been speculation that Paul Simon wrote these lyrics in reaction to the assination of John F. Kennedy. The problem with that theory is that he wrote the song before that event.
Why the “sound” of “silence”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I like to think of it as being lonely in a huge crowd. In this midst of the cacophony of life there is no discernable Word, so it might as well be 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
I listened to commentary about the song on a website. The analysis was that this could be someone overwhelmed by social media, email, and blogs like this one, etc. Then something happens that breaks through all of that. Seems reasonable—except the song was written in the 60s, before any of that.
There is a jolt, like an awakening or enlightenment. It cuts through. You have to take a moment to picture this guy, in the dim glow of a street lamp, with his collar turned up and all of a sudden: BOOM. A flash. “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me.” —Acts 22:6. That kind of flash.
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
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
Sound familiar? A mass of humanity, lots of words but no one “speaking” or “listening”. Are there sage voices today? Is there a “song” written worth sharing. I’m talking song in a metaphorical sense. For my generation that “song”-writer, that voice would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke so powerfully, so relevantly, so prophetically. How did people respond? “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
There is the word and there is the messenger, but too often there is no one willing to receive the words and they fall like “silent raindrops”.
“In the beginning was the Word… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” —from John 1, The Message
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
So many times we look in all the wrong places and listen to all the wrong people. Sometimes we think it must be in the cockiness of contemporary culture, or in the arrogant shriek of politics. Sometimes though the message is in a still, small voice, or the words of a child. Sometimes the real truth is right in front of us but not seen or heard.
Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the song, in my opinion, is styled in the voice of a 60s era poet. It is sung, as sort of a lament. Disturbed’s version to me is more the voice of a prophet. It has an urgency to it.
In the 50 years between the two versions culture has drifted and decayed to the point that both versions are relevant for their time.
Here is a link to Simon & Garfunkel doing the song live. Listen to it first because it is the version of the songwriter himself, Paul Simon. It is done with only an acoustic guitar; again, as a poetic lament.
Then listen to Disturbed’s take. It’s almost as if he is saying, “You didn’t listen to this 50 years ago, so let me be a little more emphatic.”
“Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture-makers -- and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.” ― Frederick Douglass