Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Art Garfunkel and Bridge Over Troubled Water

There's a scene in the film Impromptu in which George Sand says something to this effect: "When Chopin plays, it's proof that there is a God." She is speaking of the exquisite beauty with which he plays, the pure, unfettered beauty of his music. Whether literal or figurative, the statement is an effort to categorize the the feeling it generates. This is how I feel about Art Garfunkel. His voice carries such an evocative purity, tinged with melancholy, elevating listeners to some transcendent place.

Art Garfunkel met Paul Simon in sixth grade in an elementary school graduation play. But he'd been singing since first grade and his gifts were well on their way to being honed at an early age. When he was 15 he and Paul Simon began performing together as Tom & Jerry. They themselves idolized The Everly Brothers because of their intertwined harmonies. Like a lot of youth who were swept up in the music of their lives, they performed at high school dances and even recorded some songs. Each went off to college but they continued to perform together.

When we think of Simon & Garfunkel we don't picture them as anything other than musicians, but in college Garfunkel was a member of the tennis team, did fencing, skiing and bowling. After an art history degree he went on to get his masters in mathematics which he received in 1967. Paul Simon's initial studies were directed toward a degree in law.

But their natural gifts won out. Paul Simon was a gifted poet who would go on to write so many great songs that reflected the angst our youth was experiencing in the Sixties. "Save the Life of My Child," "The Boxer," "Only Living Boy In New York," "Sounds of Silence," "I Am A Rock"... songs that spoke of alienation and longing for hope.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water," which Paul wrote for Art to sing solo, became their biggest hit as a duo, hitting number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks straight, also topping the charts in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and New Zealand. It eventually sold over six million copies worldwide. Wikipedia notes that it became one of the most performed songs of the twentieth century, with over 50 artists, among them Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, covering the song.

Troubled waters speak of impassable rivers, places in life where we're thwarted, isolated. The turbulence is frightening. But we're not alone. Someone has noticed our sorrows, is reaching out... It's the voice of an angel.

It's Art's voice that elevates these simple images, making the song soar. And soar it does. Like a bird.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes I will dry them all
I'm on your site, oh, When times get rough
And friends just can't be found

Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down,
Oh, like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out, when you're on the streets
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you
I'll take your part when the darkness falls and pain is all around

Yes, like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Oh, 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

Yes, like a bridge over troubled water
I, I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will easy your mind

The sheer beauty of the song is therapeutic.

His work with Paul Simon put him on the map, but his career didn't end with their breakup. In addition to numerous singles and albums he earned six Grammy's, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.

EdNote: Art Garfunkel was born in 1941, same year as Bob Dylan. Both will be 75 this year, Bob in May and Art in November. One of my favorite Art Garfunkel albums from his solo career is Up 'Til Now. I for one am grateful he chose to pursue a singing career instead of tennis. 

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