October 13, 2019

The Sounds of Silence

The meanings hidden within the words...

Paul Simon wrote Sounds of Silence when he was just age 21. I was age 11 at the time and fell in love with the song. It didn't at the time occur to me just how amazing it was that one as young as Paul Simon should have such intrinsically deep understanding of interpersonal communication, yet he has shown his depth of mind in almost everything he has written.

Those first few words... “Hello darkness, my old friend...” seem to speak of an introverted and lonely human. Simon is telling his story... or perhaps the story of someone very close to him. Those few words tell the story of someone more comfortable being alone in the night than in the glare and noise of the city... an unknown and perhaps unrecognized child speaking. The lonely child who has grown into adulthood. But I've always wondered if that was really what it meant, or was he saying something else entirely.

Doesn't that song fit so perfectly with this day, when our world has become so noisy and intrusive? So damn vulgar. I can't remember a time quite like this. Not the Cold War, not Vietnam, not Kent State or even the Nixon impeachment was close to what we are experiencing now. People are not talking with each other these days. They are talking at, and often shouting at each other. In the 60s we had our differences and they were stark differences too. Nothing like this though. In the 60s the argument remained political. Today we have a president openly threatening civil war if he doesn't get what he wants.

Perhaps this wouldn't be quite so frightening if it were only the U.S. president, but it's not. Would be tyrants have gained power in nations across the globe. There have been many conversations recently where someone has raised the specter of a world permanently changed. Suggesting that we will never be able to find that equilibrium that we almost had. That democracy itself has been so badly pummeled that we will have lost it. It causes me to wonder if Paul Simon was perhaps not writing lyrics for a song about the times he was seeing and experiencing, but rather that he was predicting the future.

We humans have never really tried very hard to communicate and certainly not to listen to others, but today is somehow worse than ever before. There is no longer that imperative that we should understand others. Instead we must overpower them and hold them down. Perhaps this is what Paul Simon was trying to tell us.

He's never explained the lyrics of that anthem to our innocent youth. He's just left it for us to figure out. I wonder if we will. I wonder if we can.