Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bloody Students!





Hello 'Spillers, Ejay'sSis is writing an essay for her English Literature class, and she's looking for an interpretation of Simon & Garfunkel's Sound Of Silence, with ideally the least amount of work required on her part. She knows it was written after JFK's death, could that have an influence on the general meaning of the song?

Ejay'sSis, or Esemdee, will use your words shamelessly, but will award retropective 'Spill points once she has handed in her paper.

13 comments:

Abahachi said...

For what it's worth - and I should probably note that I've had (i) a horrible day at work and (ii) a bottle of wine - my immediate thought is that the prominent use of words like 'neon', 'cancer', 'subway' and 'tenement' suggests that this is a song engaged in a critique of modernity, and so I'd tend to see it as a lament for the powerlessness of poetry and the phenomenon of alienation in the modern world - it seems to be a struggle against silence, non-saying, the inability to express emotion and make connections. And the words of the prophets on the subway wall are surely an echo of the 'mene mene tekel upharsin' bit in Daniel.

Somebody shoot me...

TatankaYotanka said...

oooh ..., no Abahachi; spot on, and for further reading, the Moondog biography, 'The Viking Of Sixth Avenue' by Robert Scotto

ejay said...

This is vry useful, keep it coming folks!

steenbeck said...

I can't resist!! I wasn't going to respond because Abahachi's is so smart and complete, but...


(not feeling particularly articulate at the moment...)


To me the song has always been about loneliness, and specifically about loneliness in a crowd--being alone in a big city. (maybe I'm influenced by the title of another S&G song, "The Only Living Boy in New York"). I think it's about that place you go when you've been alone for a long time, especially at night, when you don't have human company to chase away the shadows; and you start to see visions and hear voices in the darkness, and they become almost a friend to you.

And we've all experienced the feeling of being surrounded by people, and feeling lonelier than ever, because you feel no connection with any of them. Especially in a city like NY--they're all talking, to make themselves feel real or important, to try to say something clever, but they're not saying what they really feel, and they're not hearing what anybody else says. They're hearing the clamor, and looking for the next scene and the next commotion, but they don't care to hear about actual human emotions (like loneliness).

And the neon god is the lights of the city - the lights of Times Square, of nightclubs and movies and bars. Places that sell society at wholesale prices, but don't offer real human companionship. You can go to peep shows and strip clubs and porn films and be offered the most intimate of human connections, advertised in neon, but not feel any real balm for your loneliness. And all of this false promise is a warning that nobody heeds, because the idea of sparkling, sexy, glamorous society is such a lure--the idea that you could meet somebody who really loves you...but you go home...oh wait, wrong song.

BUt the reality of human emotion is in everyday life, in the tenements full of people, in the scribblings on subway walls, in the loneliness that surrounds and connects all of us -- in the feelings that we don't express, the things that we don't feel brave enough to say.

These thoughts that we don't talk about, that become a noisy silence--loneliness, need, want--would be so universally understood if we could just express them, but instead become whisperings that talk to us like friends when we're alone at night.

gordonimmel said...

To bring it down a few notches, as is my wont, I once saw (or heard?) a documentary about this song, S&G etc. Somebody said that in later years, Paul Simon, whilst writing a song, would say with a knowing smile, a nod and a wink words to the effect that 'this song needs some prophets writing on the subway wall' the intimation being that that phrase, along with most of the lyrics of the song was a collection of nice sounding poetry, which didn't ultimately mean anything.

Ofcourse that explanation could be a collection of nice sounding phrases which doesn't, ultimately, mean anything........

lambretinha said...

Dear BMW spammer:

Thank you for further illustrating Steenbeck's point. For once, your contribution, while unrequited and annoying as usual, has some relevance

Cheers
(I'll have me some collagen, thank you...!)

Shoey said...

Pretty tune, but think the lyrics lie somewhere between twaddle & bad 6th form poetry. Was pleasantly surprised by the Hall of Fame reunion - Art still has an amazing voice. Never liked Paul Simon for no rational reason.

ejaydee said...

This is good, I forgot to point out that the song will be looked at from a historical perspective, so Abahachi's comment is more what we were looking for. Steenbeck's comment was also greatly received, but is hors-sujet as we say, or not on topic.

steenbeck said...

Actually, I read part of an interview Simon did on NPR, and I think Shoegazer is closest to the truth. Simon said the song was "juvenile." He wrote it when he was very young, and it was supposed to be about "youthful alienation," and not much else. But I got the sense that he is a bit embarrassed about it now. Like Shoey said, Simon thought that it had a nice melody, and that was about it.

lambretinha said...

Proto-emo?

ejay said...

Ha! Proto-emo...
Anyway, discard my last comment about the historical perspective, misunderstood, Steenbeck you're bang on topic.

Abahachi said...

Just to say that I think Steen's analysis and mine actually go together rather than offer alternative perspectives: this is about loneliness in the city and about the city as the epitome of social life under modernity (see Raymond Williams' brilliant The Country and the City (1973) for the way that urbanism comes to stand for the whole experience of modernisation), characterised by alienation, fragmentation, impersonal social relations etc. The standard approach to social critique since the mid-19th century has been to contrast the anti-human qualities of modernity with an idealised past, Gemeinschaft rather than Gesellschaft (see Neville Morley's not-half-bad-if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing Antiquity and Modernity (2008)), and I wonder whether the juxtaposition of 'prophets' with images of neon and subways is aiming at precisely that contrast.

In literary terms, it is so 1950s beat it's not true...

steenbeck said...

I was thinking the same thing, Abahachi. And you'll have to take my word that in my head I expressed it as intelligently and eloquently as you did.