This song is about a recluse locking himself away from the world. When he says, "I am a rock, I am an island," he means away from everything and everyone. It's far from autobiographical, as Paul Simon was doing his best to write a hit song with this effort, and didn't write it for himself. The use of the word "rock" is interesting in that Simon considered himself a folk singer, and didn't associate himself with rock music. In the vast majority of songs with the word "rock" in the lyrics, it is used to imply music or lifestyle, but for Simon, it was just a piece of stone. He did the same thing in 1973 for his song "Loves Me Like A Rock."
This song has one of more perplexing histories of recordings and releases. Written by Paul Simon before he hit it big as a musician, the song was offered to the duo Chad and Jeremy, who turned it down. Simon then recorded it himself for his UK solo album (released in America 1981) The Paul Simon Songbook, which was released in the UK in August 1965. The single was issued in September but didn't chart despite a performance by Simon on the show Ready, Steady. Go!
Simon was going solo at this time because the Simon & Garfunkel 1964 debut album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. had stiffed, and the duo split up. Late in 1965, the producer Tom Wilson overdubbed and remixed a track from that album, "The Sound Of Silence," and it became a huge hit. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were summoned back to the studio, where they recorded the singles "I Am A Rock" and "Homeward Bound," which were included on their Sound of Silence album. These songs were recorded with producer Bob Johnston at one of the Columbia Records studios in New York City, and now released with a more contemporary sound, "I Am A Rock" became a hit for the duo.
In the UK, this was released three times in a one year span: first as the original Paul Simon single in 1965, then in the summer of 1966 it was released as an EP and again as a single. The song was very popular there in 1966, but the chart position suffered because the sales of the single were diluted by multiple releases.
The guitarist on the Simon & Garfunkel hit version of this song was Ralph Casale, who was a top session player in the '60s. He remembers organist Al Kooper and drummer Bobby Gregg - both associated with Bob Dylan - also performing on the song. Describing the sessions, Ralph told us: "The band was booked from 7:00 p.m. into the wee hours of the morning. I was given a lead sheet for 'I Am A Rock' with just chords and asked to play the electric twelve string guitar. The producer wanted a sound similar to the Byrds. It was important that session players became familiar with the current hits because many times producers describe the style they want by referring to well known groups. Paul Simon sang the figure he wanted me to play between verses and asked me to play it in thirds. The rest was left to me. 'Homeward Bound' was on that same date."
Roy from SloughThis song means more to me than any other Paul Simon song for personal reasons. I prefer the solo version on "songbook" it should be a song sung solo. If you like this you should like "most peculiar man,"which is perhaps even sadder & deserves its own discussion on here. This is also on "songbook"
Tom from Perth, AustraliaThe ultimate ode to the lyrical cynic!
John from Wilmington, DeI see the narrator of this song as a painfully shy, extremely introverted, intellectual adolescent boy from 15 to 17 years old. He has become infatuated with a girl who goes to his school. He asked her for a date. It took him an enormous amount of courage to do this. She either turned him down, or she accepted one date with him. He was too nervous to say very much. She was uncomfortable with him. She did not accept a second date.
Now he pretends that he does not care, that he is too strong and too hard to care, but he is terribly hurt.
Matthew from Toronto, OnPaul Simon seems embarrassed by this song today, and virtually disowns it. But I think it's the perfect embodiment of teenage isolation, and perfectly in keeping with the theme of the 2 hits that preceded it, "Sounds of Silence" & "Homeward Bound," both of which were predicated on loneliness & alienation. A maladjusted teenager myself at the time, I identified with this song, heart & soul, and loved it to death. Sitting in my room, listening to this song on my tiny transistor radio, I finally found my voice.
Jeffrey from Taipei, TaiwanA very sad song, but best of all times!
Hillary from Houston, TxFunny others mentioned Donne. I recently got a tiny tatoo: "une ile". I originally considered it my f-you to John Donne. Then I was reminded of this song, glad others thought like me.
Hannah from Charlottetown, PeI love this song.And ever since some classmates did a presentation on how this song could be about Holden Caulfield, I can't help but think of him when I hear this song.
Dayton from Memphis, TnI have always thought that this song was a declaration of a man who was not a rock, but needed people, and had been hurt. I am a rock was what he told the world, almost convincing himself. You can almost hear the truth seeping through at the end of the song, when the music and backing vocal fade into a single, solo voice, "and an island never cries." This is like the man who appears tough, mean, invincible, who is really the opposit.
Mike from Granum, AbA great song, sadly I have lived it. A person can choose to build a fortress where he can be safe from attack, safe from pain, and hence never need shed any tears. But hopefully the person will realize that a rock feels no joy either. The room that is cozzy as a womb becomes a tomb. The heart, given enough time, will become hard and incapable of any feeling. I choose to come out of my room at the risk of pain in order that I might also know joy. I repeat, I really like this song. I understand Simon. I think at times a person who is hurt will retreat to his room. This is okay for a time. Sadly, some stay in their room, never to come out. They stay in their fortress, like a turtle drawn into its armored shell. But this is not living, but only existing.
Nadia from Kiev, Ukrainethis is about an "anomalous man." He is extremely intelligent, but his life is empty. He has developed a hard exterior to hide the hurt inside that he may have experienced from the past. He tried to love and once had friends but was rejected for being different. He doesn't feel victimizes, he feels like a hero. Like he is better than everyone else and will not subject himself to the meaningless lives of everyday people.
Breanna from Henderson, NvThis is so my song. This song so discribes me. This and John Lennon's Watching the Wheels, so totally are me.
Dan from Lockport, NyThe upbeat music sure disguises the fact of the lyrics.I believe Paul said that at the time he wrote this,he was sick.It's a song about "screw the world",I don't need anyone or anything. I have my place with all my comforts to protect me, what more do I need?"Until you think about it, "a rock feels no pain and an island never cries."It's about depression.
Eve from Pécs, HungaryI think Paul Simon though writing about being a rock and an island, knows perfectly well at the same time that it is impossible, but he feels people sometimes are inclined to feel like this, mainly when hurt emotionally, and they imagine they can do this, they can be successful by relying only on themselves. But I think Paul is much more sensible and emotionally mature than believing that it is really possible. Yes, he's speaking about being a rock but he surely knows it's only a substitute for real human attitude and feelings in times of distress and lonelyness. Like saying, if you don't want me, I don't want you.
Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, CaWhen I first heard this song on the radio while in the car I really paid attention to the lyrics... part of what was great about the 60's...Paul Simon!
Julia from Brooklyn, NyHey, has anyone ever noticed the similarities between this song's lyrics and the poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe? I'd be interested to know if the poem did influence the song, but I haven't found any claims backing up that theory. Thoughts?
Kevin from Reading , PaUh, Sarah from Vegas, you don't know what you're writing about. Yes, "I Am a Rock" was written by Simon (as all the songs were) and recorded a version on his Songbook album (as he did "April Come She Will," "kathy's song" and numerous others) but the song was re-recorded once S&G reunited and got the Columbia contract. Simon's voice is the lead on this, but Garfunkel can clearly be heard singing harmony and unison parts.
Sarah from Las Vegas, Nv1965 was the original release date of Paul Simon's Songbook.
Sarah from Las Vegas, NvActually this song is not by Simon and Garfunkel. This was a solo project for Paul Simon off of his Paul Simon Songbook. He takes all the credit...sorry Garfunkel lovers.
Nick from Bethlehem, PaI can relate to this song very much as well. It's a healthy way to release tension and frustration. The ending though, seems to me, that is a bit of sadness. How I take it is "A Rock Feels no Pain, and an island never cries". I don't think he's saying it like in your face. I take it as 'You know, a rock feels no pain..and an island never cries..so perhaps he's going back on what he says and decides, "well, I released my anger, and I want to feel, I want to cry".
P.S. I'm glad I saw some messages that say he is going against what John Donne said. As for Mr. Alienation, maybe you remember him being on Saturday Night Live performing "Still Crazy After All These Years" on Thanksgiving weekend as a turkey. Another fun fact is the single version of this as well as the MONO LP version is slightly different in the vocal delivery as well as the music. Thanks All!
Marc from Perth, AustraliaInteresting comment from Eric, Teaneck, NJ. Perhaps Simon thought he was just having a bit of fun with his antithetical response to "no man is an island" and accidentally revealed a significant feature of his true nature. It's hard not to suspect that Simon is aloof and, to a large extent, alienated.
Bob from Parkers Prairie, MnThis song is definitely one of Simon And Garfunkle's top three. The others being Sounds of Silence (of course) and Homeward Bound.
Bob from Parkers Prairie, MnIt is definitely in Simon and Garfunkles top three. The other two being Sound Of Silence (of course) and Homeward Bound.
Joni from New York, NyThis was the first Simon and Garfunkel song I really ever liked. It kind of reaches out to me when I feel lonely.
Mary from Yuma, AzThis is about a man trying to prove how tough he is and how he doesn't need anyone. But at the end, there is a bit of sadness, when he says "a rock feels no pain", and an island never cries" This means that he was hurt very badly in the past, so has decided to cut himself off from the world. Mary, Yuma
Daan from Tegelen, NetherlandsKarlington, Belfast, that is the exact dilemma I have about this song. Are we to sympathise with these feelings or are these the words of an anipathic, Holden Caufield kind of person whom we should despise (or mock) rather than identify with. I myself can sometimes quite relate to the lyrics.
Pearl from Mayer, AzI have loved this song since the first time I heard it even though it is the exact oppisite of me
Nathan from From The Country Of, Canadait goes without saying this is the greatest seclusion song lol
Jon from Oakridge, OrSimon and Garfunkel's 2nd greatest. 1st being "the sound of Silence" of course.
Karlington from Belfast, Irelandthis song, to me, is about one prevents themself from feeling to avoid pain. a "if you dont feel you wont be hurt" mentality seems to surround it. my dearest song. one question to you though, is it for about feeling like this or against it?
Ellen from Graz, AustriaIt's like medication when you're sad... the best way to treat lovesickness. It reminds me that I'm not gonna break down because of this, I am strong and I'm gonna survive it. I am a rock. I used to scream the lyrics when i was sad.
Mike from Germantown, MdI misheard a lyric as " Satan in my womb".
Nathan from Defiance, OhI think Simon and Garfunkel really hit it on the head when they describe the feelings of introversion and isolation some people feel, and others cannot fathom. No offense to his fans out there, but John Donne is a dolt.
Joshua from Twin Cities, MnA joke I once heard is that Saddam Hussein misheard the chorus to this song (i.e. "I am Iraq") and took it to heart.
Howard from St. Louis Park, MnIt's one of the best written Simon and Garfunkel hits and one of my favorites.
B0b from Somewhere, MiThis song is about Paul Simon going against John Donne. The meaning is about Simon shutting himself away to write. He was saying he was an island.
Charlie from Cape Girardeau, MoThis is not talking about isolation for isolation's sake, like a hermit, but about a failed relationship. The best way to keep from being hurt is to put up walls around yourself. "I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died, if I'd never loved I never would have cried."
Jo Bob from Mccleary, WaI'm sure a lot of people have said this, but I was just blown away when I heard this song. Nearly every single line of this song explained exactly who I was. It was actually kind of scary, but it's still one of my favorite songs.
Bodhi from Calcutta, IndiaMay be the reference is for 'To Marguerite' "Yes: in the sea of life enisled, With echoing straits between us thrown. Dotting the shoreless watery wild, We mortal millions live alone. The islands feel the enclasping flow, And then their endless bounds they know. " It is a pretty old idea that turns up in each century.
Aylin from Montreal, CanadaI don't know why, but this is probably my favourite Simon & Garfunkel song.
Eric from Teaneck, NjSimon later said this was one song he wished he hadn't written, because it stuck him with the label of "Mr. Alienation."
Black from Toronto, CanadaThis song is exactly what I am.
Lance from Spring Hill, FlThis song describes how Paul Simon is with crowds. He admitted to a reporter that he isn't good with talking with large groups of people.
Kt from Guaynabo, OtherPerhaps refuting more than referencing John Donne and the fact that all people go through a stage in life when they want nothing to do with anyone and feel emotions are completely useless.
John from Levittown, NyFew artists have managed to capture bleakness as well as Simon and Garfunkel. A great declaration of misanthropy.
Jade from Chippewa Falls, WiI think many people can relate to this song....
Dana from Atlanta, GaReferencing, perhaps, John Donne: "No man is an island."
Natasha from Chico, Cawhen i was little i used to think it was 'i am a rock, i have it all in my hand' haha, good song...