What is the "Neon god" in "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel?
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
All the sources I've looked at so far suggest it's supposed to mean a television screen...
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.
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.
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.