The Sound of Silence is Paul Simon’s vision of a nightmare. It describes a horror that goes far beyond that of a musician who can no longer hear. After all, Beethoven and Evelyn Glennie both overcame profound deafness to reach the pinnacle of musical achievement. No, this is a fate worse than deafness. It is a world of complete silence, a world in which people have lost the ability to communicate using sound, where they are so terrified of making a noise that they dare not speak.
The Sound of Silence is a folk song that became popular when Simon and Garfunkel‘s acoustic version was given an electric remix in 1965. Like all great songs it has been recorded by many different artists. Wikipedia lists around three dozen versions, including those by The Batchelors (predictably anodyne pop), Hugh Masekela (slow jazz trumpet instrumental), Gregorian (pop in a cathedral), Bananarama (pleasant enough but unexceptional) and Pat Metheny (sleepy guitar instrumental ). None of those are a patch on Paul Simon’s solo version or the Simon and Garfunkel folk/rock single; they all miss the dystopian chill sparked by seeing thousands of people suffocating in a blanket of silence as they worship their neon God.
“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
In the wells of silence.
Leaving aside all those versions that miss the point there are two that Crotchety Man can recommend. First, there’s a nice version by Kina Grannis (whoever she is) that echoes the subtle harmonies of the Simon and Garfunkel release. And then there’s one by the heavy metal band Disturbed. Now, I don’t like heavy metal and I nearly skipped over that entry when I came across it in one of the other music blogs I follow. But curiosity got the better of me, I hit the ‘play’ button and prepared to be assaulted by screaming guitars, crashing cymbals and snarling vocals.
What I heard astonished me. Slow broken piano chords. Lush orchestral strings. A deep, resonant voice reminiscent of Chad Kroeger. Here was a fresh take on an old favourite that truly deserved recognition. As I listened the sound slowly grew, building in volume and tension. Gone was the folk song; in its stead was an epic, theatre-filling wall of sound and a voice of inconsolable anguish. Paul Simon’s cold, dark night had been replaced by the fires of Hell.
It’s not ‘metal’ – how could it be? – but only die-hard metal fans would begrudge Disturbed this excursion into the gentle world of folk music.