Christmas is a season filled with music, and this is a story about a song.
While visiting during the Thanksgiving holiday, my adult son plugged his phone into our stereo and played me a band’s cover version of “The Sound of Silence.” Play it again, I begged. And then, One more time! As much as I love Simon & Garfunkel’s song and the way they sang it, I love Disturbed’s version even more. Disturbed?
Disturbed is a very successful band, but I must tell you I’m unfamiliar with the names and music of most Heavy Metal bands. And their cover of “The Sound of Silence” is different than most of their music. Come to find out, they included the song on their album Immortalized, released in August 2015, and performed it on Conan O’Brien’s late night show (complete with a full orchestra) in March 2016. That’s where my son and many, many others first heard it. By November of that year, the video of that performance was the first Conan YouTube clip to reach 100 million views.
“I always knew that heavy metal covers of Simon & Garfunkel songs would be my legacy,” Conan tweeted, quite wittily, on November 20, 2016.
“The Sound of Silence” was a hit that almost wasn’t. It was released on Simon & Garfunkel’s first album (Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m., a vinyl LP!), produced in 1964 as Beatlemania reached American shores. The album was a big flop. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were in their early twenties, but they’d been singing together since age thirteen. Paul decided to move to England and Art went back to college. Then a funny thing happened. The man who’d produced their album noticed “The Sound of Silence” getting some airtime on East Coast radio stations. Without telling Paul and Art, he overdubbed an electric guitar track onto the song’s instrumentals. The new version climbed the charts to #1. Paul returned from England.
Paul later told NPR that the song, as he wrote it, was “about youthful alienation. . .It wasn’t something that I was experiencing at some deep, profound level–nobody’s listening to me, nobody’s listening to anyone–it was a post-adolescent angst, but it had some level of truth to it, and it resonated with millions of people.”
“Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again,” the song begins quietly and continues, dream-like, with the beautiful harmonizing that Simon & Garfunkel are known for. When David Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed, sings it, the song picks up power and crescendos all the way to the end. It doesn’t feel like a song of youthful alienation. It feels like a song for our times.
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 rain drops fell And echoed in the wells, of silence –from “The Sound of Silence” by Paul Simons
Garfunkel once explained the song’s meaning as “The inability of people to communicate with each other. . .especially emotionally.”
Today we live in a country where fifty percent of the people seem to disagree with the other fifty percent, at least politically. It’s sad because I know many of us share the same basic values. I’m reminded of a book of essays, a bestseller first published in 1986 and still in print today. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The author Robert Fulghum was raised in Waco, TX, and spent 22 years as a Unitarian parish minister, but he’s also a painter, sculptor and musician. In his essay, he says, “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned.”
Here are most of them:
*Share everything *Play fair *Don’t hit people *Don’t take things that aren’t yours *Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody *Live a balanced life *Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup–they all die. So do we.
No matter what our politics, we know the truth of these things, as well as facts like 2+2=4 (never 5)
HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!