“Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down” rings in my head every time I hear it sung. It makes me ask 2 questions. Who would do this for me, and more importantly, who would I do it for? This song even rings clearer when you realize it is coming from a close friend standpoint, and that this is the story of the actual performers.
Simon and Garfunkel began their friendship in their elementary years. They both knew each other from school and realized that they could harmonize together. In high school they released their first single, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” which was a modest success, selling around 100,000 copies, and charting at number 49. At that time they were known as Jerry Landis and Tom Graph, or better yet, Tom and Jerry. They had a few follow ups, but none with the same success.
They then departed ways and attended different colleges. Simon majored in literature and Garfunkel in architecture. They both became interested in the upcoming folk scene, and once Simon dropped out of law school, recorded the album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
After this record did not show much success Simon moved to England and began playing music in the English scene and recorded a solo record. While he was in England he was told that a song from their previous album, “Sounds of Silence,” was number 1 in the U.S. It was a reproduced version that added electronics to the recording, thus making it folk rock.
They proceeded to make 4 more albums, the last of which was Bridge Over Troubled Water. This album came at a particularly rough time in their relationship. Garfunkel had begun filming his first film, Catch 22, while Simon was still wanting to pursue music full time. This caused rough traction within the recording process down to the point that they couldn’t decide on what songs to record. It was originally planned to be a 12 track album and was released with 11. This album is now heralded as their best and has sold around 25 million copies, is ranked 51 on Rolling Stone’s best albums, and won 6 Grammys.
The conglomerate theme of the songs is a walk through a glorious, yet public partnership and private friendship. I find it often ironic that Garfunkel is participating in songs written about himself.
The album opens with the gospel studded “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It was written by Simon, but the vocals were recorded by Garfunkel. The vocals soar across a sea of emotion that only a song could express. The song is literally a bridge over what they were going through together.
The next song is “El Condor Pasa,” a folk anthem for freedom. The song expresses the qualities of freedom through effectiveness, control, and nature. A great song with powerful metaphors. This song could be expressing how both wanted to fully control their career and not have any other outside forces.
The last song on Side A is entitled “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright.” This is a farewell ode from Simon to Garfunkel. It is clear in the lyrics, “Architects may come and Architects may go,” and “We’d harmonize till dawn.” The song is quite bittersweet running over memories past, yet ready to say so long to a life long friend. On the flip side, Simon expresses his musical loneliness without his partner in the song “The Only Living Boy in New York.”
Side B opens with the hit “The Boxer.” This is the original fighter anthem, wrapped in a story anybody can relate to. It’s again genius writing on the part of Simon. The song explains how becoming a fighter is a trade only acquired through living life.
Closing the album is “Song for the Asking.” This song expresses optimism for both frontmen. The song ends with “Ask me and I will play, all the love that I have inside.” A perfect ending to an album that concludes an extraordinary career.
Although Simon writes all but one song on this album, it is both men’s feelings and emotions being told in a musical whirlwind. Simon uses lyrics, whereas Garfunkel uses vocals.
In the end, we have all lived under the bridge, teetering off the edge. If one is fortunate, they have someone willing to be their bridge. This bridge may have holes, it may be worn, and it may not block outside deterrents, but always be thankful for the bridge. The relationship may come and go, but always be willing to do the same. Always sail right behind.