Research Day: Who The Hell Is Silvergirl?

I have been listening to (and learning the lyrics from) a lot of Simon & Garfunkle songs in preparation for The Squirrelly. After all, that’s what I was raised on, and look at what a wunderkind I turned out to be. Besides, there’s nothing like singing The Sound Of Silence to your child to provide him the existential angst of overwhelming emptiness that most childhoods sorely lack these days.

In particular I’ve been focusing on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” because it’s 66.66% Daily Affirmation. The first two verses describe how the singer is “on your side / when times get rough / and friends just can’t be found,”, etc. etc. It’s all very Stand By Me-esque. But then, in the third and final verse, we get this:

Sail on silvergirl
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.

Yo, Silvergirl! What are you doing sailing through my nurturing and supportive lullaby?!

In Googling this, I gathered more supporting evidence for a hypothesis I coined while researching Hotel California: “Any ambiguous lyric in a song released between 1964 and 1982 will be interpreted as encouragement of drug use or Satanism.” Specifically, the first few websites I checked out regarding Silvergirl all claimed that the entire ballad was a tribute to smack:

Last Trumpet Ministries: “Paul Simon referred to heroin as being the “Bridge over troubled waters.” In that infamous song he referred to the bridge as a ‘silver girl’, which is the street name for a heroin needle.”

In The 70’s: Meaning of Lyrics From Songs of the 70s: “My dad told me that this song was about ‘shooting up’ or IV drug use. He said the part where they say ‘Sail on Silver Girl, sail on by, you’re time has come to shine….’ is about the needle. I don’t know how true this is but when you listen to the rest of the lyrics you could see how they might be singing about using drugs to escape the pain of the world.”

And so on.

Fortunately — and unlike Hotel California — it didn’t take me long to get the skinny on this myth. Here’s Paul Simon himself refuting the rumor in an Song Talk interview:

SongTalk: [Do] people come up with perverse ways to read your songs?

Simon: Well, yeah … but to sustain those interpretations, you’ll find that people just have to twist themselves into a pretzel to do it. I mean, there was a whole period of time where Bridge Over Troubled Water was supposed to be about heroin.

SongTalk: Yeah. ‘Silvergirl’ was supposed to be a syringe.

Simon: That’s a tough one. It’s a tough one to prove cause, of course, it’s absolutely not so.

So who was this elusive Silvergirl? In another interview, this one with Playboy (work safe link), Simon spilled the beans:

Playboy: When you wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water, did you know immediately that you had written a hit?

Simon: No, I did say, “This is very special.” I didn’t think it was a hit, because I didn’t think they’d play a five-minute song on the radio. Actually, I just wrote it to be two verses done on the piano. But when we got into the studio, Artie and Roy Halee, who coproduced our records, wanted to add a third verse and drums to make it huge …

The last verse, it was about Peggy [Simon’s girlfriend, later to become his wife], whom I was living with at the time: ‘Sail on, silver girl … / Your time has come to shine’ was half a joke, because she was upset one day when she had found two or three gray hairs on her head.

Bah. These things always wind up so mundane.

Moral: if you want to be remembered as a songwriter who routinely encourages drug use and Satanism, it’s better to write lyrics like:

And so the flaming argyle hid
Behind a copper flute


I really enjoy smoking crack
O Beelzebub my master.

Bonus Research Day Fact #1 : I found zero corroboration for the claim that “‘silver girl’ .. is the street name for a heroin needle”. See: Google: (“silver girl” OR silvergirl) heroin needle -bridge. Oh those Last Trumpet Ministries — I’ll never trust them on matters of street slang again!

Bonus Research Day Fact #2 : Paul Simon was married to Carrie Fisher??! I had no idea.

11 thoughts on “Research Day: Who The Hell Is Silvergirl?

  1. ARG! You have debunked one of my favorite myths. Don’t tell me Eye in the Sky isn’t about the Devil looking down on puny Earth people!

  2. the worst thing you can do
    is be completely hoenst about it.
    wrote entire albums about heroin
    and no one thought to try to get them off the stuff
    until the lead singer
    bad been dead in his apartment for a week.

  3. Wow. weird. that’s the second time I’ve seen that “Last Trumpet Ministries” website this week. I had to do a report on religious themes The Lord of the Rings, And I stumbled onto that website. HOLY CRAP!! that guy is a freak! (and this is coming from a devoted fundamental Christian here).

    Its actually quite funny. He calls LOTR a “witchcraft teaching material”. And he seems convinced of this because of the occurance of the number 13, not in the book, but in a book ABOUT the book.

    Actually quite a good read:

  4. Apparently CF said in an interview on WNYC the other day something to the effect of: “My mother married a short Jewish man and I made the same mistake.”

    She’s funny and kinda mean; I love her.

  5. My college buddy went to boarding school at Putney with Paul Simon’s kid and, apparently he was super loaded and would always splurge for beers. According to my friend, the boys at school would taunt him something fierce for having sucj a hot stepmom.

  6. Labasted their marriage (fictionalixed, somewhat) in her book Surrender The Pink. I don’t know if the part about hiding in the ex’s hall closet is true though. I doubt it.

  7. Carrie Fisher in the songs of Paul Simon Part 2:
    Somebody once told me that the lyric from ‘You Can Call Me Al’ that runs:
    ‘I can call you Betty
    And Betty when you call me
    You can call me Al’
    refers to a party they were at in hollywood. They were introduced to somebody who misheard their names and spent the rest of the evening referring to them as ‘Betty’ and ‘Al’.
    obviously this does not explain the ‘bodyguard’ stuff or, indeed, why they thought it would be a good idea to get Chevy Chase to do the video.

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