Here’s the key thing about
Bridge Over Troubled Water:
when Paul Simon wrote it – he had
just two verses. He took it to
Art Garfunkel and asked what he
thought. Artie told him to go away
and write a third verse – told him he
had half a good song but it needed
Paul returned with
that “Sail on silver girl” bit
ie: The Whole Fucking Journey
Of The Song –
you know, “Your time has come to
shine” and “All your dreams are
on their way”
and “If you need a friend I’m
sailing right behind”.
And he decided it would ease
his mind if Garfunkel took the
lead and sang the hell out of the
song – sending this white, modern
gospel hymn to the heavens.
That’s fucking teamwork right there.
Two guys that grew to hate one another
but respected the shit out of each other all
the while. They had professional acumen and
admired it in each other – they had separate
strengths. Art Garfunkel’s voice is honey and
heaven, but it’s fire too. Soul fire. He was more
than just a lead singer, and more than just an
ethereal harmony vocalist, more than a conjurer –
he was also an arranger, a conceptualist, a motivator.
Paul Simon knew enough to know that he had done
all he needed to do with this song in the writing. He
would hand it over. He would sit it out. Play a background
role, let Artie take it to up the charts and send it to live
on in various places, in the spaces in hearts around the
world over decades and forever.
I saw Simon & Garfunkel twice in 2009. Two nights in a
row. First night I was up the front – fourth row. Unbelievable.
Second night I was right down the back – for a different perspective.
I’d already seen Art Garfunkel solo. A few years on I’d see Paul
Simon with his incredible band.
Two interesting things happened the nights I saw Simon & Garfunkel.
They each did solo sets in the middle of the show. And Paul
Simon really seemed to come alive when he got to parade on a few
of his own musicians and bask in the world-fusion stew of pop and
folk songs married to South American and African rhythms. It was as
if he could shake off the cape of nostalgia.
Art Garfunkel’s solo set felt like admitting defeat. As if suddenly he was
judged on the merit of the material alone and it really wasn’t up to much
apart from Bright Eyes still melting hearts.
But the incredible moment happened on the first night.
There was a microphone malfunction.
Art Garfunkel didn’t notice. So he kept singing – but nothing came
out. We could hear him – just. Because we were close enough. But
there was no chance for the room to hear those magical words. So
the audience instinctively joined in.
The song – of course – was Bridge Over Troubled Water.
So you had this audience joining in to lend a hand
Our time had come – to shine
We were sailing right behind…
And standing behind Art Garfunkel as he thought he was
battling on, was Paul Simon. Benevolent gift-giver of songs
(to Artie and us). He was smiling. And Paul hardly ever smiles.
He was gracious and he was blown away actually. He wiped a
tear from his eye.
Some 40 years after he wrote the song he saw a whole new
meaning come from it. He saw and heard a new spirit lift it.
One of my favourite things to watch – and I mean this, I watch
it most weeks – is Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon on Saturday
Night Live in 1975. They had just recorded My Little Town together
and released it twice, on their respective solo albums of the time.
They are co-musical guests on SNL – they are playing The Boxer
and other Simon & Garfunkel classics. It’s their first televised
They are sitting together on stools, an adoring crowd in the studio
and at home.
And what does Paul say to this old friend? To the guy that helped
shape his songs and give them wings…
“So, Artie, you’ve come crawling back?”
Pain is all around.
The promise to supply comfort long gone.
A bridge too far.
Weary, feeling small.
Friends just can’t be found.