High Notes 2018

Songs for the New Year: Paul Simon classics that remind us to break the silence – and never give up

Scroll staffers pick their favourite tunes.

The Sound of Silence

Disturbed

Play

Paul Simon once said that the lyrics of The Sound of Silence were post-adolescent angst – how no one was listening to him, how no one was listening to anyone. But the American folk rock song released in Simon and Garfunkel’s debut LP in 1964 went on to become one of the most recognised symbols of protest against war, and a warning about a society without empathy.

There have been many covers of The Sound of Silence in the 50 years since it was released and a new version by heavy metal band Disturbed seems to have struck a chord with many listeners. With vocals by the band’s lead singer David Draiman, the song is slower and darker than the original. The music video shot in black and white is meant to be haunting and is a little too obvious with images of silent, dust-covered musical instruments and masses of motionless, blank-faced people. But it may still be that Simon’s words are as relevant to the YouTube generation as they were to the Americans protesting the Vietnam War. As we continue to witness horrific sexual abuse, bans on art and mob lynchings, some silences have been broken – but too many still remain. – Nayantara Narayanan

The Boxer

Paul Simon

Play

On June 3, 2016, Paul Simon paused while singing a verse of The Boxer during a concert in California, looked to the audience and said, “I’m sorry to tell you like this, but Muhammad Ali has passed away.” He then continued to sing the last verse of the song with these lyrics:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
“I am leaving, I am leaving.”
But the fighter still remains…

The Boxer is a song by Simon and Garfunkel from their 1969 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. It is as relevant as ever because of its lyrics that remind us to find the fighter within. This song makes me feel energised every time I hear it. The feeling comes from the sudden lift this song takes by the loud crashing drums in the refrain. It is this sound that many people remember most about this song. From a calm and almost peaceful tone, the drums take over to produce an sensation of elation. That’s the sound with which I would like to start the New Year.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.