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Disturbed by the Sound of Silence

I first became aware of the song  The Sounds of Silence during a discussion with a friend about songs where there was a cover that was vastly superior to the original. I think I had heard the Simon and Garfunkel version but it never registered. Their music was not really my thing. Funnily enough, I had never listened to the band Disturbed either.

I watched the recording on YouTube of them performing the song live on the Conan O’Brien show, and it blew my mind. I think that performance is one of the best live vocal performances I have seen. At the end of this blog, I have linked to 3 performances of this song. The live version, the music video by Disturbed, and the Simon and Garfunkel version.


I also find the music video by Disturbed to be excellent. It really supports the story and is extremely impact-full.


Paul Simons lyrics are always super impressive, but I feel that the interpretation by David Draiman far better expresses the lyrics, and their meaning. It is amazing that this song was written in the 1960’s. I do not know the context at that time, but what I feel is the message of this song feels so relevant today, in the world we currently live in of social media, consumerism and political correctness, that it is almost prophetic.


I have put the complete lyrics at the end of the post. I strongly recommend having a listen to the Disturbed version before reading on.


Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again


My first thoughts on hearing this opening line was that they were talking about depression. But on further reflection, I think the darkness is a more intellectual one. The “darkness” is more like a vacuum. An absence of thought or meaning in peoples lives. This is certainly depressing, but I don’t think it is depression in it’s own right.


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


I feel that the writer has a feeling that there is something more. Something that they are missing. Some additional meaning to life, or the world they live in that they know is there, but can’t quite grasp. They keep coming back to it, and challenging the darkness. It is in the background, buried at a sub conscious level, but it is like a spark that glows in the darkness.


In restless dreams I walked alone


Because of this awareness of something more, the writer is uneasy. They also feel they are the only one that feels this way in the masses.


Narrow streets of cobblestone


I like the narrow streets reference. It gives me a sense there is a narrow, predefined path that we are expected to follow. Whether is be parental pressure, our own expectations, or feeling a need to fit in, it is easy to feel that it is impossible to just wander, as it trough an open field, without having to follow a predetermined path.


‘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


This is about the burst of realisation that brings the feeling to the fore. Something enables the writer to turn away from the darkness (the cold and damp) enabling a new reality to be revealed. 


And in the naked light I saw


The naked light is interesting. Not just a bright light, but a naked light. I feel this is about actually seeing things as they are without a filter in place to distort reality. 


Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence


This is such an amazing expression of the politically correct, bland world in which we live; Where “reality” is communicated in tweets, or selfies on Facebook or Instagram. Where social media trolls are the guardians of the darkness. I wonder what the context was in the 1960’s when this was written, but it is so relevant today. The ten thousand people are the masses. They make noise, but do they actually have anything to say? Other than maybe “look at me”. The see and hear so much information. Consume so much content. But are they actually paying any attention? The saddest thing I see in this verse is that there are people who see, who have visions in the night. That understand what is reality and what isn’t, but are not prepared to speak out. And even if they do, others are too scared to repeat the message because they are too afraid up upset the status quo.

“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


For some reason, this brings to mind the words in the banner of the Washington Post “Democracy dies in darkness”. The intellectual apathy that is symptomatic of the darkness is like a cancer, in that it feeds on itself and spreads. The more people that submit, the harder it is to break free. The writer finally voices their reality, reaches out and tries to get people to understand the blandness of their existence, but there was no-one listening.

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made

I think the god they are referring to is consumerism. The god of market forces, of supply and demand that insists on everyone towing the line, being good producers and consumers to ensure the machine is fed.


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

Who graffiti’s subway walls and lives in tenements? I feel that that this is giving the impression that the lower socio-economic class still understand that there is a truth out there beyond the bullshit that is fed to the masses. That the majority are lost in the consumerist darkness, but there is a small glimmer of hope, or truth that still exists in those that are not part of the consumerist society. Whether they are prophets or not is questionable, but at least there is someone out there that is prepared to express an alternate view, even if their only means of being heard in the darkness is to graffiti walls.


As a whole, this brings to mind the utopian / dystopian contrasts in so many movies and books. There are so many stories about the Utopian society we will have in the future, where everything is bland, and prefect as long as everyone toes the line. Then there is always the subculture of “rebels” that want their freedom and try to subvert the status quo. We see this in the Matrix, in the Hunger Games, Divergent, Demolition Man, 1984, The Truman Show…etc etc.


What ever Paul Simons’ meaning was, in the context of today, this is what these lyrics me think about. In a musical sense, I love the progression in the Disturbed version from the quiet darkness at the start, to the rage at the end. It is really a powerful journey.


Complete 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

2 Comments

  1. erjilo pterin

    There is obviously a bunch to know about this. I feel you made certain good points in features also.

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