Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 television special, Songs Of America, was not quite what original sponsor Bell telephone hoped it would be. The scene where trains carrying the bodies of assassinated leaders JFK, RFK and MLK were a bit much for them; ditto the look at “real America” that Paul and Artie wanted to discuss. The conglomerate wanted a concert. The artists wanted a message.
Bell pulled out. Alberto Culver stepped in, and after some haggling CBS aired the program once. It was stomped in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice skating special and never re-broadcast. Go figure.
The recently re-issued Bridge Over Troubled Water package includes the original special, plus a new documentary about the making of the film, and they are both fascinating. The documentary (The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water) features Paul and Artie looking back at the times along with some of the critical participants in the film. I hadn’t even realized that comic actor Charles Grodin was the behind the project; he is interviewed along with musicians Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn and engineer Roy Halee, among others.
I mentioned that I have learned to appreciate well made documentaries, and this certainly qualifies. Beyond being an entertaining look at the making of one of the most seminal albums of its era, it’s also an opportunity for Paul and Art to re-evaluate their own history. Friends since childhood, their split seemed partially acrimonious, and perhaps it was. I couldn’t understand it at the time; it seemed like a terrible move for both. But one of Simon’s comments put it all into perspective. They were transitioning from the Everly Brothers – inseparable parts of a whole – into The Beatles, where each personality had its space. And like The Beatles, whatever rose no longer converged.
It was heartwarming to see Paul pay genuine tribute to Art’s majestic voice, while Art seems as ethereal and cosmic as ever. Seeing the members of The Wrecking Crew also reminded me that Simon followed that same path in his solo career when he surrounded himself with Steve Gadd, Richard Tee and other skilled New York session players; an East Coast equivalent of the old days.
Bridge Over Troubled Water remains as timeless and majestic as it was forty years ago. The reissue, combined with the films, is a must-own.