On a late December afternoon, the snow fields creating an eerie light as the sun set, a Simon and Garfunkel CD seemed an attractive alternative to the inane prattle of the radio stations. Since going to a concert in their ‘Old Friends’ tour in 2004, their songs have had a fascination
Their music was part of the landscape in the 1960s and 70s. It was there, you didn’t think about it. The lyrics somehow soaked into the memory so that ‘Mrs Robinson’ and ‘Scarborough Fair’ were as familiar as nursery rhymes. The real turning point came when doing a bible study at an evangelical church in Dublin in December 2004. Picking out a selection of psalms to look at, I chanced upon Psalm 88. It is a bleak passage of Scripture that concludes with the words, “the darkness is my closest friend”.
One of the group said, “The Sound of Silence.”
“Sorry”, I said.
“The Sound of Silence”, she repeated. “Hello darkness, my old friend. The line comes from the psalm”.
I wasn’t sure she was right, but did not want to argue. Researching it later, I could find no reference to the psalm and the song being linked.
Maybe the words of the psalm had entered the consciousness of Paul Simon and came to mind as he wrote the song at 3 am on Wednesday, 19th February 1964.
Both psalm and song speak of alienation, a lack of communication, a complete sense of desolation:
O LORD, the God who saves me,
day and night I cry out before you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily upon me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, O LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.
The abandonment and aloneness felt by a man writing around a millennium BC is picked up by an American writer three millennia later.
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.
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,
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 signs said, “The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whisper’d in the sounds of silence.
Perhaps the fascination with Simon and Garfunkel is that words of the prophets are not on subway halls and tenement halls, but in the lyrics of their own songs.