Celebrating 50 years of Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic ‘The Sound of Silence’.
I was not even ‘The Graduate’, when I first heard ‘Mrs Robinson’. I learnt that “Heaven holds a place for those who pray”. And I also learnt that “an affair is a secret you’ve got to hide from the kids!”
I was ‘Homeward Bound’ during my maiden attendance in an inter-college fest. There was magic in the open air theatre, with numbers of my all-time favourite folk-rock duo, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, being played by wannabe singers, guitarists and drummers. It was no New York’s Central Park, where the original duo had attracted five lakh people in 1981. Nevertheless, that was the closest I came to attending a live concert of Simon and Garfunkel songs. Disaster awaited at home as I had flouted my curfew hours. I reluctantly turned around and took my first step out of the hot and happening field, littered with cigarette butts and Thums Up bottles. And, out came a timely teaser: “Hello darkness, my old friend”. I stopped in my tracks. I wanted to forget the curfew. I decided to think about the “Bridge” when I crossed the “Troubled Water” at home. And I stayed on to listen to ‘The Sound of Silence’.
There is a disclaimer: The words in quotes above are not mine. I sincerely apologise for having used them rather flippantly. My intention was to use them to convey the impact the rich metaphoric verses, cloaked in soulful musicality, had on me. And, this magic could have been woven only by two master craftsmen — Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel — whose appeal continues to have resonance with a generation that grew up during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.
The duo embellished Simon’s well-meaning lyrics with harmony and melody. Their songs were a blend of idealism and stark pragmatism. There were no structured limits to their music, moving seamlessly from classic folk-rock to Latino beats.
Simon and Garfunkel became synonymous with their ‘The Sound of Silence’, recorded on March 10, 1964. It went on to become a youth anthem, despite the initial trepidation of getting swept away by Beatlemania.
In 1966, the loaded dark poetry, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, captured the nuances of America’s socio-political turbulence. The Vietnam war and the failing family system resonated in this poignant poetry: “Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather (War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions); Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (Generals order their soldiers to kill); And gather it all in a bunch of heather (And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten); Then she’ll be a true love of mine.”
The duo’s angst of the alienated generation in the post-war nation-building phase reverberated most in the 1967 film, the Dustin Hoffman-starrer The Graduate. The use of ‘Mrs Robinson’ as a tale spinner, without restricting it to a sound-track, was a conscious attempt to reflect the generational emptiness in relationships. Their verses revealed the scars and hinted at ways to heal them, without getting pedagogical.
Their ‘America’ was the ultimate ode to the land of opportunities and missed opportunities. The land where fortunes are made and then collapse; where people all the time go “looking for America”. But do they find it? It is a love-hate romance with the country of hope and despair.
Simon and Garfunkel welcomed the 1970s with the ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, lacing their crashing idealism with succour and support. They harmonised poetic idealism with music, making us relive the troubled times, but reminding us of the anger and despair all the time.
It is March 2014, and 50 years later, ‘The Sound of Silence’ continues to ring in for art aficionados.
I am tempted to add a postscript: Simon and Garfunkel song titles continue to be a ready template for journalists to make that headline splash.