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.