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Silent Night and the 7:00 News

When “Silent Night 7:00 News” was released in 1966, it was called “chilling” and “prophetic.”  Recorded by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel for their album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme,” it’s the twelfth and final track on that album. This might be the most moving version of any Christmas carol I’ve ever heard. Its power lies in the juxtaposition it offers. To listen, lick on “Silent Night” above.

We all know “Silent Night” as a gently rolling Christmas carol. Its rhythm and melody approximate a lullaby. It describes a peaceful Bethlehem night in which Joseph and Mary gaze in wonder at their newborn son. The 7:00 News, on the other hand, is reported with indifference, packed with the ways humanity wounds itself. People of faith war on one another, hunger still ravages our world though we have the power to stop it. In our world, beauty and cruelty seem to stand together all the time.

The song is recorded very simply, with Art Garfunkel playing the piano and both Paul Simon and Garfunkel singing the song straight through, repeating the first verse. They sing it with no embellishment or flourishes at all. After the first few lines, a news reporter’s voice slowly rises to an audible level. He details actual events which were reported on August 3, 1966. He gives an update on President Johnson’s efforts to pass the Civil Rights Bill. He reports on the death of comedian Lenny Bruce and then gives information about Dr. Martin Luther King’s plan to march in Cicero, Illinois, amid threats of violence. He continues with a report of multiple murders of nurses and a disruption, by anti-war protesters, of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The news report concludes with former Vice-President Nixon urging an escalation of the war in Vietnam and Nixon telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the peace movement is “greatest single weapon working against the U.S.”

“Silent Night 7:00 News” is as true for Christmas 2012 as it was in 1966. We might update the images to include a car bombing in Afghanistan, a hate crime in Phoenix, a school shooting in Connecticut. But still we have work to do if we are to build a quiet and peaceful world. Though our world suffers, usually from our own shortsightedness, our world also holds beauty, poetry, kindness, maybe even a saviour. Take a quiet listen to “Silent Night 7:00 News” and see what you think.

Merry Christmas, friends.

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