By Michael Strelcheck
I happened upon the 1969 documentary of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Songs of America” on PBS the other day. At first I thought of how long ago that time seemed and how this group’s importance had diminished over time. I remember back then . . . Simon and Garfunkel seemed to be the quintessential voice for America’s troubled youth – the poets of their generation – and their songs spoke of the unrest that permeated our society. But now . . . some 40 years later, much of their music seems dated, or I thought so until the song Bridge over Trouble Water came on. I had forgotten how emotionally powerful it was and the impact of Garfunkel’s angelic voice as it soared! Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down. The lyric stirred my memory. The time then seemed so dire and foreboding to me, as if there was great uncertainty as to America’s future. The artists’ genuine concern came through in their performance. It was, for an instant, surreal. It was like I had one foot here in the now and the other still in 1969. Taken aback for a moment, I fought to regain the present (after all, I was only 17 at that time – what did I know?) Perhaps, I was uncomfortable with feeling the darkness of that time again and had unknowingly married the song with my sense of hopelessness.
The documentary went on. An aged Garfunkel shared his memory saying that Simon’s original intent in writing the lyric was to reach out with his voice to support others, “If you are down or out, let my voice be a friend!” he said. Simon then came on and shared his line, “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down” saying it came to him in an instant that shocked him, maybe because it hinted to him some type of surrendering. I rewound the DVR and played the song again.
It’s funny how we only remember things that are relevant to us at those times. I found I had forgotten the second part of the song and that there’s a hopeful finish to it. It goes like this: Sail on silver girl; sail on by; your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on the way, see how they shine; If you need at friend; I’m sailing right behind. It was a revelation! Suddenly, I realized I was a part of the prophesied bridge, just like everyone else who had heard the song back then. My plank in the bridge was my journey through those troubling times sailing forward on the hopes of a brighter future! Awesome, or “groovy,” using the vernacular of that day! I now see how this late 60’s anthem served to strengthen my generation’s resolve to persevere and keep the American dream alive.
Amazingly, the message of the song is still relevant today, for we do still have problems, but they are markedly different than those back then when a violent revolt in our country seemed likely. It seems the key to progress is to not lose sight of one’s greater dreams. A dream that gives hope and strength – for it’s in the sacrificing of one’s personal fear (of survival) – or the “laying down” of self-centered interests – that propels a society to greatness (and insures mutual survival).
The journey of our society will continue – ever moving towards a brighter horizon, for the dream of America still exists! I can now see that our country has changed and grown over the last 43 years, for people were willing to make sacrifices in order to get along, and in doing so they insured the country’s march forward to a brighter future.