Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” Lyrics Meaning
First off it should be noted that “the sound of silence” is not a good thing. Rather it is indicative of people being unable to effectively communicate with each other, particularly on an emotional level. Yet the implication as presented is that these people are not cognizant that such an effect even exists. Or rather the reason “the sound of silence” is so strong is because people deem it to be more important than its aftereffect.
Song warns against dangers of Social Isolationism
And in that regard it has been theorized that Simon & Garfunkel are issuing a warning against the threat of mas mid-20th century social isolationism. In other words, a form of media which may have been deemed as propagating introversive behavior back in those days was the television. And as such, it is feasible that the “neon light” referred to in this song is in fact an allusion to a television set or something of the sort.
This is perhaps made most evident in the final verse, in which the narrator states that “people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made”. As evident in this statement the lyrics of this song are in fact metaphorical, for there is nothing like a common idea of people worshiping a “neon god”.
As such, the ‘bowing and praying’ referenced is not meant to be taken literally but are rather intended to point to another idea. And that idea could very much be based on individuals being enraptured by a television set. And as we all know, behaving in a such a manner tends to minimize interpersonal communication.
Does “The Sound of Silence” criticize introversive Behavior?
Ultimately as touched upon earlier, this song is not a critique of introversive behavior in and of itself. Rather what it is ultimately dealing with is how the people prefer this manner of living. Or stated differently, they don’t want anyone ‘disturbing the sound of silence’. So even though their ability to effectively communicate with each other is being negatively affected by it, it is obvious that “the sound of silence” is still something which they enjoy.
As such Simon & Garfunkel view themselves as “prophets”, if you will, who are tasked with enlightening the masses as to what is actually going on. But once again “the sound of silence” is what they prefer. And as such, the vocalists and likeminded people are basically regulated to keeping their prophecies on the downlow.
The above is just one way of attempting to explain a song literally which relies almost entirely on metaphors. For at the end of the day, the ultimate idea this track is intended to lead us to is that a ton of people are challenged with expressing themselves emotionally to their fellow human beings.
Facts about “The Sound of Silence”
This is the song which helped Simon & Garfunkel get signed to Columbia Records in the early 1960s.
“The Sound of Silence” was produced by Tom Wilson. He played a very important role in the track blowing up as it was a remix he initiated in 1965, without the knowledge of Simon & Garfunkel, which proved to be more successful than the original.
And blow up it did, topping both the Billboard Hot 100 and US Cash Box Top 100, as well as music charts in Japan and South Africa. An interesting fact to note is that it actually topped the Billboard Hot 100 on 1 January (i.e. New Year’s Day), 1966. And worldwide, it charted in almost 15 nations, including being certified Gold in the following countries:
- United States
- United Kingdom
In fact it is considered one of the greatest American songs ever. As such, it made it onto Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Furthermore, it has also had been preserved in the National Recording Registry by the US Library of Congress.
“The Sound of Silence” was written by Paul Simon, one half of Simon & Garfunkel. He is said to have completed the writing over a six-month time span.
This song has been featured in a few movies, perhaps most notably 1967’s “The Graduate”. The soundtrack of that album, which contained quite a bunch of tracks from Simon & Garfunkel (including “Mrs. Robinson“), is credited with helping the duo reach a larger audience.
It has also been featured on television shows such as “The Simpsons” (1994) and “Arrested Development” (2013).
During the Grammy Awards in 2003, Simon & Garfunkel were giving the Lifetime Achievement Award. And it was this song, after a decade of separation, which they performed in celebration.
When was “The Sound of Silence” released?
“The Sound of Silence” originally came out, via Columbia Records, on 1 October 1964. And shortly thereafter Simon & Garfunkel named their second album after the song, where it was featured also.
Being one of the greatest songs the music world has ever seen, this classic has been sampled, covered and interpolated numerous times. One of the most notable songs to have sampled “The Sound of Silence” is Eminem’s 2020 track “Darkness“.
And of course there is the iconic 2015 cover by Disturbed. The cover was so good that Paul Simon couldn’t help but praise and endorse it.
Fans of this song must watch the metal band ‘Disturbed’ do this song. The lead singer David was classically trained in opera as I understand it, and he was made to sing this song. Deeply moving and his voice is incredible doing this song. Please check it out. The official video is really moving, but the band performing on Conan with an orchestra is really amazing in the song itself, but the atmosphere on stage that they have created.
AGREED!!) Even Paul Simon loved Disturbed rendition of it. It totally captivated me. Incredibly done!
David was trained as a Jewish Cantor.
Just as rigorous, but a different training.
I loved Disturbed’s rendering of this song!!!!!!
The first stanza Simon refers to darkness as being his “old friend” that he came to talk with because he was awoken in the middle of the night, of a nightmare that still lingers in his head, that gives his a considerable amount of distress. So bad that the awful visions were still flashing before his eyes as he is awake.
Second stanza begins setting the scene in which the dream took place: at night, him walking along the cobblestone road where he stops below the light of a streetlight. The cold chill runs up his back, so he lifts his collar to the “cold and damp.” Just then, a blight neon sign lit up, showing that he, in fact, was not alone. But there were “ten thousand maybe more” all gathered in the cold night. The people who are talking, not speaking, are politicians, who are using false words to sway the population to vote for them, never revealing true intentions. The people therefore are hearing are not listening.
They are taking these words that are spoken to them in plain value, not examining or putting into depth anything that is said. Because of this, as referred to later, these politicians have formed a government that the people in fact voted for and supported until it began to act as a dictatorship. This seems that Simon is making an inditement to a large government that has taken away the freedoms of its people. A future for America it seemed with the rise of government in world affairs as in entered Vietnam. This “future America” has given Americans everything, and has the power the take it all away, hence the people “bow and pray to the neon god they made.”
The Silence that is referred to is the silence of the people, afraid to say anything against the government for fear of death or worse. Simon, or whoever has had this dream, tries to bring people to speak out. Saying “Fools, you do not know, Silence like a cancer grows” that as more are afraid to speak, the more control the government takes and the less anyone will stand up to the new government.
As all hope is about to be given up, someone steps up and says to the crowd that the future they will hold has been written on the walls of subways and tenement halls. This is because this form of protest can be done anonymously, therefore no one can get in trouble for it. This begins the whispering in the silence of the people, and starts the beginning of a revolt.
I am the generation of those times…. It’s big brother controlling us…and the neon lights are those who have or desire for riches… Drunk on the power and control …Government not allowing us to speak….as it is occurring through big tech..this is why we protested back then…
Beautifully stated and so sadly true.
It makes me think of child abuse and who knows and how its covered up. The silence in the song are the victims being silenced.
The recent school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde had me listening to numerous covers of this song after Simon and Garfunkel’s. Watching the Governor’s press conference, “people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening” and no one dared disturb the sound of silence…
The second amendment written by the prophets and gun violence in the subways and tenement halls. The kids in the classroom whispering in the sounds of silence…
Except the song isn’t about that, as explained above. And the government isn’t stopping you from speaking. You just feel that way because you want to say hateful and hurtful things. Re-examine your life.
I never realized !
I enjoy Disturb’s version of the sound very much. I can truly appreciate the sound that David has lent to the song. However, when I searched for the lyrics I expected S&G to top the list of what I would view. Not so. The duo made the song the hit it is today. Paul Simon’s lyrics are a masterpiece which are even more relevant today during the cell phone and computer age. So I am critical of the search engine and not the aforementioned artists. The song is certainly ahead of it’s time.
I would counter that the song was not before it’s time, but rather it is timeless. What we absorb ourselves in changes over time, but I suspect there was never really a time when we didn’t allow ourselves to be drawn into activities that drew us into isolation.
I have seen some people say that the original song was a commentary on wealth and pursuit of it, which I believe is entirely possible or even probable. But great lyrics like this can mean different things to different people and even different things to the same people at different stages of life.
The lyrics are simply brilliant. Poetic and beautiful, meaningful on so many level.
Very well put. Timeless is the perfect description.
I absolutely cherish the original version, with it’s harmony and lyrics.Simon and Garfunkel are touching every part of my senses.Making a sad song so beautiful.
I was born in 1960. This song made me think of all the terrible things done to children, the way it was hidden back then. people knew it was happening, just never exposed the behavior and those infected by this behavior, wouldn’t dare talk about it due to shame and guilt. Like the Harvey Weinstein story and Jeffery Epstein story. So many people knew and condoned it. Kept silent to have and keep status. And the media covering it up till they couldn’t anymore. great song.
I believe that to be true thank you
The lyrics predict the evolution towards Communism/Socialism. In that we are being silenced and afraid to share ideas and thoughts. “Neon Gods” are the gods of Media, be it TV, cell phones, all devices that are distracting us from reality and silently watching our unalienable rights evaporate. Cancel culture, re-writing history, dumbing down our brains so that we become powerless, fearful and able to be totally controlled. We should do all we can NOT to be silenced!!!
Well said ?
Probably not the march to communism, considering the neon gods at the moment seem to be the extreme right pundits on the media. Perhaps it is more about the march to nihilism, and becoming unthinking followers of whatever, be it political or just materialistic.
It was too written to early to think that they were also predicting social influencers, but that line in the song effectively does that too.
I’ve always considered this song to be social commentary on the human condition. People talking without speaking- you just get to work, you can tell the boss is in a bad mood by the expression on your coworkers faces, your “hearing” what they are saying, even though nobody has said a word. Non verbal conversation. What leans me to think this is mainly about the poor was the line about the subway walls, and the tenament halls (the projects), people so dejected from society they have no energy to talk, but they don’t need to, you can tell nonverbally,
I have known this song for many years. Today I heard a new release of by Pentatonix. Because of the clear and concise voices, I caught a couple of new words that lead me to this page. Great insight and replies to all.
Also email and texting on a cellphone doesn’t allow for the emotions behind the written words.
Emotion is lost in texting which is what the new generation prefers as a way of communicating..
Also, people are becoming more and more materialistic . Being show offs,tryingg to flash their luxurious lifestyles, the expensive cars, houses, clothes..so they talk without speaking…
I guess that I’m pretty shallow, I really just enjoyed the song. But that’s all right, because I’m not neurotic, just a well adjusted soul.
Would that we all be so disposed…
Disturbed gives chills with their rendition. the original, meh
Yeah you cut me off , exactly what the song is talking about unbelievable
I don’t believe this song has much if anything to do with that. I believe this song is a journey of a near death experience. A literal one. I think this song is about the disconnect with God or a higher power, in which the words are all around us but the fell like silent raindrops. “Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you”, is literally word of God and his attempt to save or assist . I believe neon god they made is a metaphor for idol-ship and funny enough, the very world we live in today in which a celebrities are worshipped in a sense.
I DK just my two cents
I awoke from sleep with these lyrics in my.mind.. I feel too the lyrics are about our disconnect from God… .. and death.. where I believe we can speak without speaking & hear without listening, there’s no need In heaven/ the afterlife…, We just know everything…God is always reaching out to us…but our neon gods keep us distracted
It’s amazing that as soon as I tried to google the lyrics that these came up immediately ..
Love love love Distrubeds
I’ve been listening to The Sound of Silence all my life but this rendition by Disturbed is simply amazing!
I think it is speaking to the divisiveness I’m today society. People talking without speaking ( guns, violence, hate of different ways and people ) listening without hearing ( mo cordial communication between anyone who doesn’t believe like you) . The neon god is trump and his mags followers who pray to him but cannot see any of his faults’ I totally believe it is a song that can speak to so many issues others spoke about and is a song for the ages!
this song captured my attention when I was watching” Blacklist ” whereby the song is in middle of an occasion which was too emotional. I really think and feel that this song sound a warning to us-talk when you are even not even able to talk “make the sound of silence
I have loved this song for many years, but recently re-discovered it done by Mike Geier as “Puddles Pity Party.” He was on AGT in 2017, was eliminated in the next round. I believe he would have won if he had done his rendition. Check it out on YouTube. You can see that he “feels” this song on an insane level. Genius and at 6 ft 8 inches, his booming voice has now mesmerized me. I still love Disturbed’s version and of course, the original version by Simon and Garfunkel, but am entranced by how Puddles signs it.