Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Children are Literal creatures. I adored the song Bridge Over Troubled Water for years, from at least age 7, long before I understood the meaning and story behind it.

When you listen to the lyrics literally, especially the beginning, it sounds like a beautiful, loyal friendship.

“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.”

It sounds like a lovely sentiment.

Isn’t that the kid of friend we all want? It appealed to me as an 8 year old, and I still find it appeals at 34.

I remember telling various adults in my life how meaningful I found this song.

And then they set me straight…

That complicated matters a bit.

According to the popular lore of my childhood , Simon and Garfunkel wrote it as satire, and that it chronicles a struggle with alcohol. Or perhaps even heroin ( referencing the” Silver Girl “ line.)

This was a widely accepted story that was oft-repeated.

If we read the lyrics with a skeptical view , now Alcohol is the narrator, instead of a friend.

Alcohol lying to us, seducing us, saying it will comfort us when friends can’t be found ?

Well that flips the entire song, the entire meaning , completely on its head.

Hardly the comforting , soulful tune I first thought it was. I still found the tune haunting, the lyrics hopeful. But it was hard to ignore the dark underbelly of meaning.


We live in the age of Information.

Because of this easily accessible information superhighway, I’ve read a handful of interviews about the story behind the song.

It was written by Paul Simon (performed as a solo by Art Garfunkel) , in 1969, during a period of political unrest , much like our own time.

According to Mr. Simon himself , the song is in fact about providing comfort to someone in their time of need. It’s about comfort, hope,protection.

Whew. Big sigh of relief.

That means the childlike , innocent, and literal interpretation wins this round over the skeptical, sarcastic and jaded.

It’s not often that this is the case.

Too often adults art is jaded. It’s sarcastic. It’s laughing up our sleeve at every Pollyanna we encounter. Why is that? Why on earth would we consistently create art out of our bitterness and then display it for all to see?

What would our culture look like if we applauded the Brave Hopeful for making art , instead of the Sarcastic Sophisticate?

What if we created art, genuinely good art, the celebrated friendship, loyalty, and carrying one another’s burdens?

And then, when the next generation comments on the meaning of our songs, we can joyfully tell them that yes, the song really is about unity and brotherhood .

And maybe we ourselves could become that bridge?

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