Bridge over Troubled Water

 

"Bridge over Troubled Water" is the title song of Simon & Garfunkel's album of the same name. The single was released on January 26, 1970. 

Ranking and Awards

It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 28, 1970, and stayed at the top of the chart for six weeks and on the charts for far more than a year. "Bridge over Troubled Water" also topped the adult contemporary chart in the U.S. for six weeks. The single has sold 6 million copies worldwide.

It was ranked number 48 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

It swept the Grammys in 1971, claiming six awards, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year, Best Contemporary Song, Best Engineered Record, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. The album also won Album Of The Year.

Bridge Over Troubled Water was the last album Simon & Garfunkel released before they split up. It is the biggest selling ever for Columbia Records.

It’s been covered by hundreds of artists, including Johnny Cash, Annie Lennox, The Shadows, Bonnie Tyler and most recently, as part of the Hope For Haiti benefit, by Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli.

Writing

Mostly from Classick Rock:

Spring 1969. As Simon gazed out the window of his New York apartment across the East River, he sang the opening lines he’d had for over a week. “When you’re weary, feeling small . . . When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.” He especially liked how the melody to the second couplet echoed one of his favorite Bach chorales.

But after that promising start, there was only the sound of silence.

“I was stuck for a while,” Simon admits. “Everywhere I went led to somewhere I didn’t want to be.”

Simon started writing this In 1969 at a summer house that he and Garfunkel rented on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles (Garfunkel was in Mexico acting in the film Catch 22 at the time). It was the same house where George Harrison wrote The Beatles song "Blue Jay Way."

What ultimately inspired him to finish his “humble little gospel song” was an album by southern gospel group The Swan Silvertones.

“Every time I came home, I put that record on, so it was in my mind,” Simon says. “I started to go to gospel chord changes, and took the melody further. Then there was one song (Oh Mary, Don't You Weep, 1959) where the lead singer (Claude Jeter) was scatting, and he shouted out, ‘I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name.’

“And well,” Simon says. “I guess I stole it, actually.”

Simon couldn’t wait to play his new song for Art Garfunkel. With its sweeping melody and sustained high notes, it would be perfect for his partner’s choirboy-pure voice. Or so he thought.

“He didn’t want to sing it,” Simon told Rolling Stone in 1973. “He couldn’t hear it for himself. He felt I should have done it. And many times, I think I’m sorry I didn’t do it.”

Today, Garfunkel remembers it differently. “When Paul showed me Bridge Over Troubled Water, he did say it was for me. And I loved the song immediately. My way of saying thank you was, ‘Are you sure? Because you sound lovely singing it, and it’s almost like you could do it . . .’ Now the famous story is that he took offense and that became a thorn between us, as if I was rejecting the song. That’s nonsense. I don’t remember him having a hard time with my grace. He said, ‘No, I wrote it for you.’ I said, ‘Thank you, man,’ and got into singing it.”

Within a week, the duo was in CBS Studios in Hollywood,  But it soon became apparent that Simon’s two-verse song wasn’t quite finished.

Simon wrote this song with just two verses, considering the song "a little hymn." Garfunkel and producer Roy Halee heard it as more epic, and convinced him to write a third verse, which Paul did in the studio (the "Sail on, Silvergirl part"). This was very unusual for Simon, as he usually took a long time writing his lyrics.

Simon wrote a third verse (“You could clearly see it was written afterwards,” he says).

Speaking in the documentary The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon said, "I have no idea where it came from. It came all of the sudden. It was one of the most shocking moments in my songwriting career. I remember thinking, 'This is considerably better than I usually write."

Garfunkel reportedly liked Simon's falsetto on the demo and suggested that Simon sing. He and producer Roy Halee also thought the song needed three verses and a 'bigger' sound towards the end. Simon agreed and penned the final verse, though he felt it was less than fully cohesive with the earlier verses. 

During an NPR interview with Terry Gross, Simon said this one song came to him in total at once. He also mentioned "from above."

 

Lyrics

When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side
Oh when times get rough
And friends just can't be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you

I'll take your part
Oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on silver girl, sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind



 

 

Poem Analysis

The lyrics have initial conditions:

  1. When you're weary, feeling small
  2. When tears are in your eyes
  3. Oh when times get rough
  4. And friends just can't be found
  5. When you're down and out
  6. When you're on the street
  7. When evening falls so hard,
  8. Oh, when darkness comes
  9. And pain is all around

Then the comforting action:

  1.  I will dry them (tears) all
  2. I'm on your side
  3. Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
  4. I will comfort you
  5. I'll take your part

Comment:

The line "Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down" and the subject matter for the first two choruses are taken from a poster that Simon saw where a black couple were standing together and the man said to the girl "like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down".

So far people interpret this as a song about friendship, God, Jesus and even dogs.  The Challenge is in the added 3rd verse:

Then the results, all in the 3rd verse:

Sail on silver girl, sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind

Comments:

There are basically pretations on this verse. 

  • The first is Paul Simon's hair explanation:

Though Bridge Over Troubled Water seemed to be a straightforward hymn, there was that ambiguous “Sail on, silver girl” line. Paul Simon says, “There was a whole period of time where the song was supposed to be about heroin.” And silver girl was the syringe. “It’s absolutely not so,” Simon says. In fact, silver girl was a sly reference to Simon’s girlfriend and later wife, Peggy Harper. “It was half a joke,” Simon explains, “because she was upset one day when she found two or three gray hairs on her head.”

Another expalnation is quite similar: "My girlfriend at the time was particularly saddened upon finding a few grey hairs in her brush, lamenting that she was getting older. I wrote that lyric as a tribute and inside joke to her. I don't know how the heroin connection rumor got started. The song is basically about friendship."

paul simon - 1984 playboy interview:

I've burst into tears uncontrollably I was saying something that I had been keeping hidden for a long time.
Playboy: What's an example?
Simon: In a way, I'm embarrassed to say the one that comes to mind, because now I've disowned the song, it's such a cliché. But when I wrote and first sang the line "Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down," it happened. Then line came all at once. I didn't know it was coming. What I was saying was, "I'm going to do this act of generosity for you."
Playboy: For whom?
Simon: Well, I suspect I was thinking of Peggy. That I would lie down and be a bridge for her. It was an overwhelming feeling coupled with that melody.

  •  The second is the heroine explanation:

In Winter 1971 came the publication called "The Mindszent report" by Cardinal Mindszenty out, based in St. Louis, Missouri.  On the front page was a piece called "'Rock' and Revolution." The article started by quoting the first ten lines of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Then the writer said that two words in the song - "silver girl" - were about a hypodermic needle filled with heroin.

The rumor about the song being about drug use appeared in a book by Brian Wilson Key titled Subliminal Suduction. This book and its sequel Media Sexploitation where pop culture icons in the early 70's The book talks about various songs and there hidden messages. The "sail on silver girl" line was specifically mentioned.

The word "girl" in drug culture is used for drugs that work on the brains hypothalamus region; this is the same area one feels pleasure during sexual activity. The drugs that pleasure this area are cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy.  At the time "silver girl" was a very commonly-used street reference to a heroin syringe.

The main basis for this theory is the line “sail on silver girl, sail on by… I’m sailing right behind”  – evidently ‘silver girl’ means needle and ‘sailing’ is what you do when you’re high on heroin. The line “[when] pain is all around…I will ease your mind” refers to heroin’s intended purpose as a pain killer, obviously. “I will lay me down” – well, when one is high on heroin, one tends to pass out, nod off and otherwise lie down.

Did Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel use drugs?

paul simon - 1984 playboy interview:

Playboy: Do you use drugs to write?
Simon: Sometimes. I know a lot of writers who use various drugs. I wouldn't be surprised if the overwhelming majority of them used some sort of drug.

 

Paul Simon married actress Carrie Fisher (´Star Wars´) on 16th August 1983 during the S&G World Tour, after many years of an on again, off again relationship that was somewhat chaotic. They were introduced by Shelley Duvall, whom Paul had dated for two years prior, in 1978 at the L.A. Film Critics Awards. It was maybe the most passionate relationship of his life. They had no children together although Carrie tragically miscarried one and separated after only 11 months. They divorced in the summer of 1985 due partly because of the misunderstandings between them and partly because of her problems with drugs.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/aug/08/ayahuasca-bees-klaxons-devendra-banhart

Grunwell pointed out that musicians such as Sting and Paul Simon have discussed taking ayahuasca, with Simon recalling how his 1990 song "Spirit Voices" was based on an ayahuasca experience in which the singer visited a jungle shack and was promised visions of an anaconda as the shaman chanted "beautiful melodies".

 

http://www.laweekly.com/westcoastsound/2013/05/30/what-is-ayahuasca-and-why-is-everyone-singing-about-it

The drug's not new to musicians. Paul Simon recounts an Ayahuasca experience in the 1990 song "Spirit Voices" which describes his journey into the Amazon. "I drank a cup of herbal brew," he sings. "Then the sweetness in the air/combined with the lightness in my head/and I heard the jungle breathing in the bamboo."

 

In January 2004 a state trooper near Hurley, New York State, noticed "a strong smell of marijuana emanating from Mr Garfunkel's limousine". In August 2005, the singer was charged again in near-identical circumstances, this time just outside Woodstock.

Conclusion

 

Both Simon and Garfunkel are Jewish, so this song is definitely not about Jesus.  And then we can wonder why Paul Simon used the exact expression "silver girl" if it was just an internal family joke in a rather weak context ....


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