Thursday, June 11, 2015

Simon and Garfunkel -Beyond Music and Rhythm

Facts can be turned into art if one is artful enough.- Paul Simon

 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are a folk singing duo who made songs with unique harmonies that filled with meaningful lyrics. They made most memorable music of all time. Although Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were influenced by the Everly Brothers and Bob Dylan within a short period they made an exclusive identity of their own, hence creating a new identity.

They were the pioneers of the 60s folk movement that influenced people hugely. Their music carried synchronization of voices melodies and massages. The sixties were socially, politically and culturally turbulent period. During this period complex of inter-related cultural and political trends developed in the world. The music of Simon and Garfunkel predominantly represent the socio-cultural and political changes of the 1960s.

Sound of Silence

The counterculture that surfaced in 1960 s opposed to dominant culture and became critical of the Vietnam War, institutionalized racism and consumerism. Simon and Garfunkel impacted the counterculture moment launching a silent revolution. In 1965, they released their memorable song the Sound of Silence that recounts the ignorance of the people who blindly follow the rulers without realizing their real egoistic intentions. 

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

Simon and Garfunkel vocalized the silence as a blind submission of the people who give in to their leaders without realizing the consequences and it can become a mass hysteria. Silence can grow like a cancer and more and more people are willfully give up the freedom and blindly follow their leaders. People believe each end every word uttered by their leaders and not logically analyzing it but hearing without listening. 

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had been outspoken opponents of the Vietnam War that was one of the big deceptions presented to the American People. Young Americans were sent 12,000 miles away from their homes to fight Communism, which was showed as an impending threat.

The assassination of John F Kennedy drastically affected both singers. JFK was murdered following a conspiracy and the FBI and the CIA concealed a number of files that could give clues to the true motive of JFK killing. President Kennedy prepared a special plan to end the War in Vietnam. Before the plan was implemented, he was assassinated in Dallas Texas. The American public was forced to believe the magic bullet theory and Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of JFK. After JFK s death, the Vietnam War changed in to another direction under the newly appointed President Lyndon B Johnson.

President Lyndon B Johnson reversed the JFK plans on war and lied about the Gulf of Tonkin to send Americans off to fight in Vietnam. This action escalated the military conflict in Vietnam. People were so naive to believe the words of their leaders and agreed to go for the war against Vietnam.

US Military dropped more than three times the total tonnage of bombs dropped by both sides in World War II and spent over $170 billion for the War. The United States armed forces used Napalm and Agent Orange in the Vietnam War that caused tens of thousands of deaths among the Vietnamese. American forces sprayed 3,500,000 acres with chemical weapons, the effects of which will last over 100 years However; the US public was unaware of these facts for long years. The War was conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

According to the Vietnam War statistics, 76% of the men sent to Vietnam were from lower middle working class backgrounds and 75% had family incomes above the poverty level. Total deaths recorded as 58,156 and 75,000 soldiers became severely disabled. Civilian casualties of the Vietnam War were 2,000,000 in the North, and 2,000,000 in the South. Military casualties were 1.1 million killed and 600,000 became wounded.

People who opposed the Vietnam War and those who supported the Civil Rights Movement to end racial discrimination in America were targeted by the FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover. Most of the activists were labeled as Communists and sometimes their social images were tarnished by false accusations. Hoover used systematic harassment of political dissenters and activists including Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and Eldridge Cleaver etc. People used to believe the stories fabricated by the FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover who could be considered as the worst public servant of the USA.

In the song, Sound of Silence Simon and Garfunkel point out a continuous truth about the darkness and blindness. For instance, think how President George W Bush misled people about the weapons of mass destruction and designed a path to invaded Iraq. 

Based on the facts presented by the investigative journalists Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith, President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses. In this context, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were correct-people hearing without listening. 


In 1972, Simon and Garfunkel released one of their best songs- America that could be illustrated as metaphor for life. America is extremely poetic and musically ingenious that describes metaphorical journey of two companions in search of the American dream.

The term American dream was first used by James Truslow Adams. He gives a dramatic definition by stating, "The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. Although Americans have sought to realize the American dream of success, fame and wealth through thrift and hard work subsequent, effects of industrialization began to change the dream with making money as much as possible and becoming rich quickly.

The soul mates decided to discover America ad start their journey

Let us be lovers we'll marry our fortunes together
I've got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner's pies
And we walked off to look for America

While traveling, they give diminutive glimpses into random episodes of people's lives.

Cathy I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I've gone to look for America
Laughing on the bus playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said be careful his bowtie is really a camera

During their long journey, they become bored and tired. This is a metaphor used to express the boredom in American traditional life and the genesis of sub culture of hippies. The hippies differentiated them from the larger culture to which they belong and challenged the values of the dominant culture. The pair were looking for a Woodstock type liberated ground that brought social changes in human freedom and expression.

Toss me a cigarette I think there's one in the raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

At the end of the journey, they become disappointed with the illusive American dream. Feelings of emptiness heartache make them gloomy.

Cathy I'm lost I said though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America
All come to look for America

Simon & Garfunkel sing about the unfulfilled passions of the dream and materialistic version of American dream ruled by the greedy and exploitative operators. This factor was vastly highlighted in their song a Heart in New York" in which they sing as follows.

New York, you got money on your mind
And my words won't make a dime's worth a difference, so here's to you New York

In a commercial world words have less significance than currency. In a capitalistic system, the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market. Disproportionate distribution of wealth makes a large portion of the society live in poverty. Unemployment, lack of opportunity, hopelessness create a tremendous social tension. Simon & Garfunkel capture these undeserved features of the society in their songs.

Their lyrics reverberate in Moore’s movie Capitalism: A Love Story that explores disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans. In his film, Michael Moore questions what is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism? Due to the present day economic recession companies shutting down plants, scaling back wages and laying off workers and American dream is looking more like a nightmare.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel made an elegant combination of music and poetry that brought a range of emotional expressions. Their 1970 song - Bridge over Troubled Water flawlessly lined with metaphors.

When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I'm on your side

When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

The song, Bridge over troubled water filled with numerous metaphors. Troubled water represents the turbulent shockwaves of life. The bridge is symbolic for a supportive relationship and also a metaphor for safety and that makes easiest way to cross over rough water building connections.

Bridge over Troubled Water brings comfort and soothing and offers an affectionate friendship that cherished with inner spiritual attunement. It endorses joy and evokes thoughts, touches heart, with a wonderful harmonic melody that filled with resonance. The song is rich, vibrant, and full of life. Bridge over Troubled Water epitomizes friendship and togetherness. It symbolizes the beautiful portrait of real Love. This makes Bridge over Troubled Water as one of the best love songs ever written. This classic will survive generations. 

The Impact made by Simon and Garfunkel

The folk singing duo did not make music and rhythm alone. They made a long journey since 60 s and fulfilled a revolution without bloodshed. They spoke to the hearts and minds of the people via their music, which carried emotional, spiritual and political themes. The music of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a social phenomenon. Their lyrics had an impact on the consciousness. The vocal harmony and philosophical lines captured the hearts of the millions of people around the globe.
By Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 


  1. Great Stuff Ruwan !!
    Hope u'd write a piece on the 'Grateful Dead' as well

  2. Superb !!! This is a one of the best article i have ever read about this folk legends.


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