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The Simon and Garfunkel Collection

May 23, 2011

Sifting through some records, I came across The Simon and Garfunkel Collection (1981) and it got me thinking. You’ve probably heard of Bridge Over Troubled Water or Mrs Robinson, but there’s so much more to their musical career than that.

The duet have a beautiful sound with understated harmonies and simple lyrics. Listen to Scarborough Fair, for example (in fact, if you follow this link, it’ll take you to their youtube mix).

Let’s take a look at some of their thought-provoking lyrics from I am a rock , the first track on their collection album (click on the link to listen). Think back to a moment of lonely contemplation on a winter’s day in a deep and dark December

I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
Well, I’ve heard the word before.
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

The way that the ironical persona in this song seeks calm is to internalise himself, to become an island. This silent defiance and false strength recalls Matthew Arnold’s words: I knew the mass of men concealed/Their thoughts, for fear that if revealed/They would be other men be met/With blank indifference, or with blame reproved.

Contrast Simon’s defiant “I am a rock” with the Psalmist’s humble affirmation: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliver; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn[i] of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

Elsewhere, the Psalmist writes: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:2)

 Jesus said that when we build our life on our own rock, it is like building a house on sand; when the storms of life’s chaos come along, our false sense of calm will crumble like the walls of a house with unstable foundations.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

What does it mean to hear the words of Jesus, and to put them into practice? Simon, renamed Peter (meaning rock), gives us some idea. When many of Jesus’ disciples left him because of his challenging message[ii], he asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67) Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Simon Peter acknowledged that “the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1), is “the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:11) and therefore followed him.

The Bible says that we can either carry on living in our crumbling houses with their shaky foundations, or we can acknowledge with the Psalmist that: “My salvation and my honour depend on God; he is my mighty rock and my refuge.” (Psalm 62:7)

[i] Horn here symbolises strength.
[ii] “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe […] no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (John 6:65) Elsewhere in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:16) cf. the Psalmist’s words: “You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Saviour.” (Psalm 89:26)

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