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In Simon and Garfunkel's song The Sound of Silence1, there is the following passage in lyrics:

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made

What is this neon god?

Obviously, they are referring to neon signs, but in what sense are neon signs "gods" and how exactly are people praying to them? Is this an attack on advertising or consumerism?

I have seen on various occasions accusations of people "bowing and praying to" television, but not so much to neon signs.


1: if you're more into metal-ish than into hippies, there's a cover by Disturbed, which is disturbingly better than one would expect it to be

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    All the sources I've looked at so far suggest it's supposed to mean a television screen... – Beastly Gerbil Feb 5 '17 at 21:35
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    @BeastlyGerbil "Cathode god" didn't have the same poetry ;) – DukeZhou Jun 28 '17 at 18:08
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The "neon god" is obviously the sign pictured earlier in the song. But why is it a god?

The sign is a god because people made it a god ("the neon god they made"). In praying and bowing to the sign, they made it into a god. What the sign represents, though, is harder to answer. Many interpretations I've found have said it represented advertising and TV.

According to Garfunkel (this quote is from Wikipedia, but it's directly quoted from a book on Paul Simon's life):

Garfunkel once summed up the song's meaning as "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other."

It seems the song is about people's inability to communicate with all of the television watching and stuff; people who don't have any kind of original thought. I haven't found any direct quotes on the meaning other than Garfunkel's above, so you're just going to have to take what you can get.


However, this site cites Simon as saying this in an interview with NPR:

It's not a sophisticated thought, but a thought that I gathered from some college reading material or something. It wasn't something that I was experiencing at some deep, profound level - nobody's listening to me, nobody's listening to anyone - it was a post-adolescent angst, but it had some level of truth to it and it resonated with millions of people. Largely because it had a simple and singable melody."

It sounds like he just wrote the lyrics, then realized that they fit nicely with this theme.

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    Simon's songs are so often beautiful nonsense. The Graceland album is incredibly evocative, but the emotions that the words drive are far more important than any surface-text reading. – Joshua Engel Feb 6 '17 at 17:26
  • @JoshuaEngel Cobain seemed to take a cue from Simon in that regard. – DukeZhou Jun 28 '17 at 18:09
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I like @CHEESE's answer very much, and will only add that "neon god they made" almost certainly relates to the worship of technology, with the alienating effects suggested by Garfunkel, regardless of what Simon said.


Bob Dylan is famous for dismissing meaning and profundity of his work, which is untrue on most levels. Perhaps Simon was taking a cue from Dylan. Imo, Simon's castigation of his youthful genius strikes me as overly harsh in relation to that extraordinary period of work. Simon rendered the trite profound. Compare, say, to the Beastie Boys' similar take on their early work as "just the most outrageous sh#t we could think of to say." (i.e. the Beasties evolved profoundly over the years, and their sensibilities kept getting more refined.)*

  • "The Neon God" may be technology we worship like a God even though we ourselves made it. It came out of our humanity but our obsession with, and the precedence we give it, may have the effect of diminishing our humanity

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