Originally I was going to muse in a distressingly solipsistic fashion about writing and reality. I might do so yet, but Internetland has informed me that it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s tune “The Sound of Silence,” so. Priorities.
My brother Mark and I reckoned it was a fine time to listen to that song, and (despite its later debut date) the Sounds of Silence album. Sitting wrapped up in afghans in the basement, we sang the first few songs with our mum: the most appropriate company and atmosphere, outside a family road trip. Having loved every single one of them for some 15 years, I relished harmonizing during each song.
Halfway through “Blessed,” Mum headed upstairs to fetch her original-issue LP*: one of the first albums she owned, she told us. The sides are taped, but the record’s in good shape by the look of it. For those of us unaccustomed to records, it might be strange to recall that they have sides, and the first side ends with “Angie” (a guitar piece riffing on “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me”), and the second side starts with “Richard Cory.”
Listening to the album straight through is lovely, and a bit curious: I loved the songs before I was quite old enough to catch all the subtext, so it took me years to recognize how melancholy it all is. It manages to be rather upbeat, considering it treats the passage of time, the underprivileged, a robbery and the attendant flight from justice, a suicide, a different suicide, an April-September relationship, and a man determined to be an unfeeling island. It’s not quite Old Blind Dogs level-buoyancy – they can sing about syphilis and the gallows and make it sound cheerful – but there’s a lovely pensiveness to Sounds of Silence which reminded me of Chesterton’s line about the Irish: All their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.
I’m left wondering whether I would have delighted in the melancholy regardless, or if my listening habits in younger days shaped me to it. But either way, we’ve got a groovey thing goin’, baby.
*A note on the back of the album cover says “This Columbia high fidelity monaural recording is scientifically designed to play with the highest quality of reproduction on the phonograph of your choice, new or old. If you are the owner of a new stereophonic system, this record will play with even more brilliant true-to-life fidelity. In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of its becoming obsolete in the future.” What a claim! I admire your pluck, Columbia.