I know precisely when my childhood ended, not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but rather with the popping of a stereo turntable needle hitting a slab of vinyl.
I had lived a life of blissful innocence up until that point, unjaded, unscarred, uncynical, embracing the wonders and pleasures of the world around me, satisfied with my lot, and free from worry or fear about what tomorrow might bring.
Until that day. That terrible, terrible day. When I pulled open the center drawer of my parents’ wooden stereo cabinet and figured out which buttons to push to make the platter on the turntable make music for me.
I had a record player of my own already, mind you. It was a little portable job, with red and white checkered paperboard casing and a white plastic handle, perfect for playing 45s like “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by The Royal Guardsman, over, and over, and over again. I loved that song so much, and I was so certain that my parents would want to hear it all day long, too.
My parents’ stereo was a bit more complicated, and I wasn’t sure why the discs on their platter were bigger than mine were, with smaller holes in the middle. But I persevered, and eventually the needle arm swung over and dropped onto the record, and my life was altered, forever, irreparably, my innocence stomped into a bloody pulp in the subway walls, and tenement halls.
For I had discovered Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, perhaps the most nihilistic, depressing, despairing record in popular music history. And I say this as a guy who grew up to listen to death metal.
Oh sure, the harmonies are great, and the songs are pretty on the surface, and it would probably seem like a safe record to play for kids, since it doesn’t have any bad language or overt sexual imagery. But let me tell you: Mamas, don’t let your babies listen to Simon & Garfunkel, unless you want to produce some seriously warped grownups some day.
Let’s review the tracks that to my wondering ears did appear that day, and the thoughts that accompanied them:
“The Sound of Silence:” From hello darkness my old friend to the people bowing and praying to the neon god they made, with intermediate stops in the silent cancer ward and those thousands of people talking without speaking. Nightmares!
“Leaves That Are Green:” Wait, we’re all going to die, like the leaves on the trees?!? No way! NO WAY!!!!
“Blessed:” The Lord blesses the penny rookers, cheap hooker and groovy lookers, but my words trickle down like a wound that I have no intention to heal. Why? Why don’t I want to heal it? And what does forsaken mean? And what’s a hooker? I’d better ask Mom about that.
“Kathy’s Song:” Oh good, maybe this will be a nice love song, because it has a girl’s name in it, and girls only appear in love songs, right? But wait, now I have come to doubt all that I had known, and I am like the rain, gone but for the grace of you? Girls are scary! Help!
“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me:” I robbed a liquor store! Why would I do that? And now the cops are chasing me down the alleyways and the highways, but even more frightening, there’s a girl with her hair like a fine mist floating on my pillow! Is she an alien? How does she float?!!?
“Anji:” Oh phew, it’s just a guitar song without words. Now I’m just bored. Why would people write songs without words anyway? How can you sing along with them? Isn’t that the point of music? Okay, time to turn over the record, this is going on too long . . .
“Richard Cory:” Okay, so Richard Cory is this rich guy, and I work in his factory, and I curse the life I’m living, so things must really be bad for me, so I really wish I could be that Cory guy. What?!?!? He went home last night and put a bullet through his head?? Are people allowed to do that? Why would he do that? He was rich? Was he cursing his life too? I’m confused! Help!
“A Most Peculiar Man:” The music is pretty happy, and maybe the most peculiar man will want to fight the Red Baron or something. No, no, wait . . . he wants to turn on the gas, with the windows closed, so he’ll never wake up, to his silent world, and his tiny room. What?!?!?! Are people allowed to do that? What would he do that? He was peculiar! Auggghghhhh!!!!
“April, Come She Will:” Oh great, it’s like “Leaves That Are Green, Part 2.” What once was fresh grows old and dies. I’m starting to get it now. I’m going to die. We’re all going to die. My dog is going to die. My cat is going to die. All is vanity. All in vain. All in vain.
“We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Going:” Sounded promising, until the first line: bad news, bad news, I heard you’re packing to leave! This song should have been called “We Had A Groovy Thing Going, But Now We Don’t.”
“I Am A Rock:” Well, gosh, I guess I have to be now, since Simon and Garfunkel have introduced me to a world of unimaginable suffering and pain. I’ll get some books, and maybe some poetry, to protect me, and hide in my room, safe in my room . . . but, wait, what if there’s gas, or a gun, or a guitar song with no words in there?? Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter, I will just sit there with the floating alien girl, doubting everything and being peculiar, until me and every thing I know dies, like the leaves that are green, and turn to brown. And wither in the wind, and crumble in my hand.
Just like my childhood innocence did that day. Thanks Paul and Artie. Thanks very much indeed.