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Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

Album: Bridge Over Troubled WaterReleased: 1970Charted:
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  • Paul Simon wrote this about providing comfort to a person in need. It started as a modest Gospel hymn but became more dramatic as he put it together. Speaking in the documentary The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon said, "I have no idea where it came from. It came all of the sudden. It was one of the most shocking moments in my songwriting career. I remember thinking, 'This is considerably better than I usually write."
  • Art Garfunkel sang this alone, although he thought Simon should have sung it. Says Simon, "Many times I'm sorry I didn't do it."
  • At first, Simon thought the opening lyrics were too simple: "When you're weary, feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all." He later realized that it was this simplicity that helped give the song a universal appeal.
  • Simon wrote this song with just two verses, considering the song "a little hymn." Garfunkel and producer Roy Halee heard it as more epic, and convinced him to write a third verse, which Paul did in the studio (the "Sail on, Silvergirl part"). This was very unusual for Simon, as he usually took a long time writing his lyrics. Simon's "little hymn" got a grand production, and after hearing it, Paul thought it was too long, too slow and too orchestral to be a hit. Clive Davis at Columbia Records is the one who heard the commercial appeal of the song, and insisted they market it like crazy and use it as the album title.
  • This was one of the few songs to top the US and UK charts at the same time. It was #1 in the US for 6 weeks, #1 in the UK for 3.
  • In 1971, this won 5 Grammys: Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Best Contemporary Song, Best Engineered Record, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. The album also won Album Of The Year.
  • This is one of the most covered songs ever. In the '70s, so many people sang a version of this that it became a joke.
  • Elvis Presley did a version of this song that helped win over many critics who claimed he was not a great vocalist. It appears on his 1970 album That's The Way It Is.
    Paul Simon said this about the Elvis recording: "It was in his Las Vegas period and done with conventional thinking. He sang it well, but it would have been nice to hear him do it Gospel because he did so many Gospel albums and was a good white Gospel singer. It would have been nice to hear him do it that way, to take it back - as opposed to the big ending; he seemed to end everything with a karate chop and an explosion. So he didn't really add anything to the song. It's not nearly as significant as the Aretha Franklin recording. It's just a pleasure for me that Elvis Presley recorded one of my songs before he died." (thanks, Chris - Cleveland, OH)
  • The production was modeled on Phil Spector's "Old Man River" by The Righteous Brothers. Spector is famous for his "Wall Of Sound" production technique, and when he did "Old Man River," he kept it mostly piano through most of the song but had it end with a flourish of instruments.
  • Simon wrote this song on guitar, and it took about two days to come up with the piano part, which was played by Larry Knechtel, who later joined the soft-rock group Bread. Simon, Garfunkel, Knechtel and the album's producer Roy Halee worked together to transform it into a piano piece. Knechtel, who was best known as a bass player, had a background in Gospel music and was able to come up with the Gospel piano sound they were looking for.
  • The line "Sail on, silver girl" is often reputed to refer to a needle (meaning the song is about heroin) but it actually refers to Simon's girlfriend (and later wife) Peggy Harper who found a few gray hairs and was upset. The lyric was meant as a joke - Simon calling her "Silver Girl" because of her hair. (thanks, Helen - York, England)
  • Around the time he wrote this, Simon had been listening to a lot of music by the Gospel group The Swan Silvertones, which he says subconsciously influenced his decision to put Gospel changes in the song. A Swan Silvertones song called "Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep" contains the line "bridge over deep water," which may have seeped into Simon's subconscious as well. In 1973, Simon had the group's singer Claude Jeter sing on his UK hit "Take Me To The Mardi Gras."
  • Simon started writing this In 1969 at a summer house that he and Garfunkel rented on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles (Garfunkel was in Mexico acting in the film Catch 22 at the time). It was the same house where George Harrison wrote The Beatles song "Blue Jay Way."
  • The string section was arranged by Ernie Freeman. After listening to Simon's demo, he made up the arrangements for the musicians, and wrote the song title as "Like A Pitcher of Water." Simon got a kick out of how Freeman didn't even bother listening to the words, and made a framed copy of one of the music sheets with Ernie's title.
  • Simon played a stark version of this at the 2001 "Tribute To Heroes" benefit telethon for the victims of the terrorist attacks on America. Other performers included Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Mariah Carey. Almost 60 million people watched the show in the US. To put that in perspective, the Super Bowl draws about 80 million viewers.
  • This was included on the 2001 Columbia Records benefit CD God Bless America. Proceeds from the disc went to the Twin Towers Fund.
  • The song first aired on NBC on November 30, 1969. It was a Simon and Garfunkel documentary directed by the actor Charles Grodin, who Garfunkel met working on the movie Catch-22. The special made a strong political statement, and its sponsor, AT&T, pulled out when they saw a screening. Aired with Alberto V05 as the new sponsor, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" played under scenes of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and their funeral footage.
  • In 2008 it was reported that Paul Simon sued a musical clock company for using this song without permission. His lawyers claimed that Rhythm Watch Co Ltd and its subsidiary had used its tune on 40,000 clocks, making a profit of around $3.7 million.
  • American R&B singer Mary J. Blige and Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli performed this song as a duet during the 2010 Grammy telecast. Their performance was dedicated to the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck the country a month previously.
    The duo's version peaked at #75 on the Hot 100 marking the fourth time the song had reached the singles chart. It followed Simon and Garfunkel's original version and covers by Aretha Franklin (#6, 1971) and Linda Clifford (#41 1979). The song charted a fifth time in 2013 after The Voice contestant Tessanne Chin performed it on the reality singing show. Her version peaked at #64 on the Hot 100.
  • Some of the top Los Angeles session players performed on this track: Joe Osborn on bass and Hal Blaine on drums. Blaine's drums were muted for most of the song, but recorded in an echo chamber for the last part of the song to get the crashing effects. Garfunkel's vocals were added last.
  • Before this song was released, Simon & Garfunkel performed it on a 6-city tour in 1969 they embarked on with the session musicians who played on the album as their band. Art Garfunkel would introduce it as a new song, and by the end of each performance there would be rapturous applause. Recordings from this tour were eventually released on their Live 1969 album.
  • The first time this song was broadcast was during a TV special called Songs of America, which 2003 American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken released this as his first single after the show. Aiken lost to Ruben Studdard, but still gained massive publicity from the show.
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water was the last album Simon & Garfunkel released before they split up. It is the biggest selling ever for Columbia Records.
  • In 2010, the Songwriters Hall of Fame honored this song with its Towering Song Award. At the ceremony, Art Garfunkel said: "Well, here we are, years later, I'm still singing it from town to town, and it's completely alive and fresh to me. There is nothing dated, or any feeling of the past - I love doing it. Thank the Lord the feeling - the goose bumps - constantly checks in every time I do it." (thanks, DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation)
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Comments: 67

In my younger years before song-texts became readily available over the internet, I thought this passage was about a bird, a silver-gull:
the herring-gull is quite commonly called silver-gull in Netherlandish and German; its Latin name larus argentatus has this meaning.
There is also a blues song by Leadbelly titled Sail On Little Girl.
Amand - Delft, Netherlands
The best cover version I've heard for Bridge Over Troubled Water is by Alfie Boe. If you've never heard of Alfie, check out this concert performance from April 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqIKWfKbQ6g As for the comment about the lyrics being meaningless nonsense--if you try to interpret them strictly literally, MOST song lyrics are meaningless nonsense. Haven't you ever heard of a metaphor? Song lyrics are poetry, not nonfiction prose!Kylie - Mankato, Mn
Awesome song. The original S&G is the best, but a close second in my opinion is the Johnny Cash/Fiona Apple version. Johnny's deep vocals with Fiona's sultry voice is an amazing combination. Even late in his life you can still hear the power in his vocals.Stu - El Paso, Tx
Doubtful BOTW inspired McCartney to write 'Let It Be' since the Let It Be sessions began shortly after The White Album was released in late '68.
BOTW wasn't released for more than a year later.
Mike - Levittown, Ny
Feeling strong ... we all feel this at times. streets can be very cold if only noted. Cont.and realiz. the brightness moment to shine. and they will shine cont....... to belive the best in us of US. to understand. and believe value within then lyrics... ty ... Kimberly Glass.... Thank You!Kimberly - Landing, Nj
Well stated, Tess. The lyrics have the ability to be strong and complex, yet with a simple, universal theme. Everyone at one time or another seems to need that person who is their 'bridge over troubled waters'. Would the song have become as iconic as it has if Paul Simon had sung it? We'll never know. Imo, I think he knew what he was doing in letting Art Garfunkel sing it. And the words in the last verse...they lift the song up, giving the listener hope that you can ride out the storms causing all those troubles, with a good friend right behind you.Camille - Toronto, Oh
I think regardless of what an artist thinks a song is about, once it enters the realms of the listeners it can take on meanings that the artist/s may never have thought of - and that (to me) is true artistry. It shows that the piece is so strong that it has complexity that can fit seamlessly into mulitple worlds. So for the Christians it is about Jesus, for those living with a dying friend, it is about standing strong in the face of grief and loss; for radical activists it is about standing with allies in unpopular causes like ending the Vietnam war was for many Americans; for those knowledgeable about and insightful about the lifes of the authors it reflects and is drawn from the artists' personal experinces; sail on silver girl is at the very same moment about an aging lover and a heroin needle; it is about them all and more.... I think of Sarah MacLachan's "in the arms of angel" which for her was about the death of a close friend from his addiction but which she has sung for our provincial SPCA to promote the adoption of animals who would otherwise be euthanized and many people who don't know her interpretation absolutely believe it was inspired by and done from her love of animals. I can't see that TV ad with her pure clear her voice without weeping.Tess - Prince George, Bc
All of the questions that have been asked on here about Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer have been answered on the 40th Anniversary DVD of Bridge Over Troubled Water. I saw this documentary on MTV just about 2 months ago and it is terrific. The big drum crash echo sound on The Boxer came from the drums being setup in front of an elevator shaft in the CBS building in NYC. I could tell you more but there is too much to cover and the DVD covers it all. Watch for a replay on MTV for those of you who do not want to buy the DVD.John - Oklahoma City, Ok
One of those songs that blend the power of magnificent lyrics with towering vocals and instrumentation into a crescendo that, even all these years after I first heard it back in about 1974, makes the hairs stand up on my neck and arms.
Simply magic.
Oldpink - Farmland, In
Read above for Paul's thoughts on Elvis' version. I think Paul was more blown away by Aretha's version, which basically just brought the entire song right to church. Out of any and all versions I have heard of this song, the original recorded version is the strongest and has the most effect by far. Also, I agree that Paul was being quite egotistical when "jokingly" saying how he wished he recorded the vocals instead of the (much superior) Garfunkel. You'd think making millions upon millions of dollars off the song would have been good enough!Sean - Syracuse, Ny
This masterful lyric portrays two older friends; one of which is fatally ill and suffering. In and around the heart of the lyric are allusions to the other friend being willing to step up and face the end with the soon to pass friend, while referencing that not many friends would rise to such occasion. "I'm on your side.
When times get rough. And friends just can't be found." When that sacred time approaches, the friend proclaims: "I'll take your part, when darkness comes, and pain is all around." As she begins her journey toward paradise, as promised, the good friend is by her side, and he joyously helps console her as her spirit begins to flow, "Sail on Silver Girl, Sail on by. Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way. See how they shine."
Robert - Brea, Ca
According to John Lennon in All We Are Saying(David Sheff),he believed that Paul's "Let It Be" inspiration was derived from this song. He said "I know he really wanted to write a BOTW"Rick - Brick, Nj
Was this song, this Masterpiece I must add, recorded in a studio? Because the applause makes me think it was live......
Can anyone please explain.
Mark - Hilo, Hi
It doesn't matter WHY the writer wrote a certain line in the lyrics, or WHAT he was thinking of when he did it. A good song stands for itself and doesn't need external knowledge and personal infos to be appreciated. The "silver hair" thing is utterly irrelevant, since no songwriter has the right to expect audience to know about his personal life. He doesn't write for his friends and family, he writes for millions of people. If the line "Sail on silver girl" is good and tells something, then good, if not, then it doesn't matter why the hair was silver and not blonde and who Paul Simon was thinking of - this is irrelevant. By the way - BEAUTIFUL SONG.Alberto - Roma, Italy
Wonderful song and great music arrangement. They were sensationalLarry - Coral Springs, Fl
absolutely wonderful song but quite sad...Art's voice is amazing!!! give credit to Simon for the wonderful lyrics..Ken - San Mateo, Ca
Some people can see drug references in anything. They'll tell you 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' is about heroin. I guess if you think about drugs all the time, than that's all your gonna see.Mark - Lunenburg, Ma
this song has some meaning to me, the verse your dreams become memories very awesome song.Brenda - Danville Pa, Pa
This album was the epitomy of how great rock musicians were in the 60's and 70's.....the title song, or songs released on 45 were always great, but the other songs on the album were just as great, if not greater than the others. This is, of course, a sign of greatness....which, most bands just dont have today. They go all out for the title song and just put filler of "fluff" on the rest of the album....Rick - Belfast, Me
Supposedly this song inspired Paul McCartney to write 'Let it Be'Mimi - Silver Spring, Md
The song is a nice song but the lyrics, if you actually think about them, are meaningless nonsense. How would one physically go about attempting to lay down like a bridge over anything? Bridges don't lay down - they pretty much get built and stay put. And how can water be troubled, when water doesn't think? And how, in particular, if a bridge does lay down, does it do so differently when laying down over troubled water? What steps would one follow to perform this task?Lem - Denver, Co
This song is not about Jesus. Both Simon and garfunkel are Jewish. /debate overMichael - Richmond, Va
When Paul Simon first heard the elvis presley arrangement of "bridge over troubled water" he stated that it blew him away. He often comments that then Presley version opened his eyes on how the original arrangements and recording should have been laid out.Rick - Philadelphia, Nj
Hi, big fan here. Been a fan for years and recently become Christian. Now i honor their songs with an enlightened point of view. Check this out, You can tell the would obvious chrisian son about rejoice. Bleeker street, song about the street where people have no faith therefore have no hope, look up bleek in your dictionary. He was my brother, this song is about Jesus and how they killed and he died for our sins, he was a freedom writer, he was singing on his knees the day he died (he was 33 not 23.) Kathy's song is the most beutiful love song to God. He lost all his beliefs and no only knows one truth. Like the rain falling on the window there by your grace go I. The sun is burning, is without a shadow of a doubt about the second coming of Christ. Patterns, is about our pre-destined lives and how we have the free will to change the patterns of our lives. The 7 O Clock news/Silent night is about a world of confusion and violence outside but a louder peace that is inside. And yes if you said that Bridge over troubled waters was about religion you are 100% correct. And no if you haven't accepted Jesus you won't and may never understand.Heath - Vancouver, Wa, Wa
Where is the explosion sound in this song, the slam of the grand piano? I've never heard that part before. Is it in the middle?Annabelle - Eugene, Or
hal blaine created the drum sound by using the chains from his snow tires to hit the snare.Patrice - Beverly Hills, Ca
For all of your anti-Christian folk - yes this song is about God. If any of you know anything about Paul Simon this was a gospel/hymn piece of art. Hence, "and friends just can't be found". Helloooooo? And please, do not pollute the beauty of this song by bringing talent-less American Idol contestants in to the mix. The only person who deserves accolades are Art and Paul - nuff said...Jill - Los Angeles, Ca
RIP Harry Kalas, the Voice of the Phillies. This was one of his favorite songs, and per his request, was played at the end of his memorial at Citizens Bank Park. There was not a dry eye among us.Stu - Philly, Pa
W-O-W.... this song is sooo beautiful and haunting....n guys..i don't think this is abt God... like somebody said before it's abt friends being there for each other.... art garfunkel's vocals are among the best in his career.... especially the line "when evening falls so hard" haunts me everytime i hear it n i get goosebumps.... i rate this as one of the greatest songs ever recorded...Rahul - Chennai, India
Simon has written so many great songs, but this is the best to me.
Actually, I'm glad that Art sang the lead, but Paul is also right there, singing harmony.
Fantastic lyrics, great pipes from the boys.
What else could you ask for?
Oldpink - New Castle, In
THIS IS NOT ABOUT GOD!!!!!!! it is about a friend who is always there to help. the friend is the bridge, the bridge will always b there for u to get over the troubled water. ITS NOT ABOUT GOD!!!Will - Baghdad, Iraq
My take on this song is of a more spiritual/religous nature. It's saying to me that God/Jesus will be there for me no matter what.
Garfunkel's voice on this song is so pure. One of the greatest songs ever recorded.
Larry - Riverside, Ca
I have been thinking about this song alot lately, and sing it to my dog. I have had the funniest thought that this song could possibly be about the love of good dogs. They lay down with you when you are feeling small and weary, when friends are few and they do "take your part" when pain is all around. The "Silver Girl" in the lyric, sounds as though it really could be about a wonderful dog, a great friend who loves someone very much. That is the way I have been interpreting the song lately. At any rate, it is beautiful and soothing, and I am pretty sure it's not about drugs. Beautiful song and always in my heart, forever.Lynell Robertson - Seattle, Wa
My feeling is that the lyrics to this song reflect the time in both artists lives. They were at the end of their collaboration and I believe that Paul wrote the lyrics to Art to let him know that no matter what he would always be there for him, which was reinforced when they both sang "In My Little Town" on Garfunkle's "Breakaway" album and also by their Concert In Central Park....Stosh - Springfield, Ma
What a powerful, emotional piece!Vince - San Francisco, Ca
There is a line in "Mary, Don't You Weep," by the Swan Silvertones, where the singer just ad libs, "He'll be your bridge over troubled waters if you just call on His name." Reportedly this is where the idea for the song came from.Terri - St. Louis, Mo
A truly classic song, timeless and powerfully emotive. A tale I heard about the recording of this song, was that it took weeks to get the vocal track down, for Art's voice had a tendency to crack on the high notes. Can anyone verify?
- Jim, Calgary, Canada
Jim - Airdrie, Ab
This is by far my favorite Simon & Garfunkel song. I'm more spiritual than religious, so this song hits home for me. With all the anti-war demonstrations, race riots having happened the previous few summers, etc. this song really hit a nerve. Emotionally powerful, lyrically beautiful & gorgeously sung, it deserved every Grammy awarded to it. Chartwise, it was their biggest hit (6 weeks at #1).Jim - Brunswick, Me
This song has, in my opinion, one of the best piano parts in a popular song. I was bummed when I saw the video to this song from The Concert in Central Park and it had a less interesting part, played on an electric piano.Steve - Hermitage, Tn
Lord, I love this song.Heather - Los Angeles, Ca
By far G&F's best. I've always loved Art's voice, and this song was the perfect vehicle for it. And this song shows how good a lyricist Paul Simon could be when he wasn't trying to be more "hip" than he actually was or simply being solipsistic. Unfortunately, that happened only on a few of his other songs, two of which were on the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album: "The Boxer" and "Frank Lloyd Wright."Musicmama - New York, Ny
To those of you who find drug references in this song, I can only think that must be easy to do if you're the one who's high! "A pusher coming to the aid of an addict"? What kind of "aid" is that? GMAFB! It's about being there for a friend in need; the "Silver Girl" was Paul Simon's girlfriend, who had found a gray hair; the cymbals are there to emphasize the climax of the song; and, believe it or not, Elvis is dead - and has been for a long, long time!Gregg - Middletown, Ct
Roberta Flack covered the song on her 1971 album Quiet Fire. Her rendition was used in the 2006 movie "The Pursuit of Happiness" starring Will Smith and his son Jaden.Patrick - Wr. Neustadt, Austria
Garfunkel's vocals are simply amazing. He's probably one of the best singers of his time.Dom - MontrÃ?al, Canada
Johnny Cash covered this song in his last album American IV:The Man Comes Around.Jon - Oakridge, Or
As for what AJ said about a cover in Wayne's World 2, if I'm not mistaken this is because the end is basically satire of The Graduate.Emma - Hickville, Pa
#47 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs.Andy - Arlington, Va
Willie Nelson performed this song during the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.Joshua - Twin Cities, Mn
This was the last song Elvis Presley ever performed live.
The cymbal crashes at the end of the song were rumoured to mimic the initial rush that one receives when shooting heroin.
Paul Simon has stated that he regrets not having done the vocals on this song. I believe the reason for his lament is that this is S&G's most famous song. He is said to have a tremendous ego, and it must gnaw on him that he's not singing on this classic.
Jim - Honolulu, Hi
Even though it was Simon and Garfunkel's last Number One hit before they split up, it was one of their most beautiful songs. I also remember Aretha Franklin's gospel-like remake.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
Paul Simon said that this was orginally intended to be a standard S&G 2-part harmony song, but when he heard Artie run through they lyrics on his own, he decided it would work better as a (mostly) Garfunkle solo. He said he did the middle as a duet to keep it a S&G song, and not a total Garfunkle solo.Ken - Louisville, Ky
Although this song was out years before I was born it's one of those songs I can listen to and never get bored of it. It's a classic and is so inspiring. That probably explains the reason why it's covered by other artists so much!Paul - London, England
To say this song has some drug references is an understatement. A pusher coming to the aid of an addict is how I would characterize it. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful song. Simon writing and Garfunkel singing. What a team.Mike - Fort Worth, Tx
I have heard that Paul Simon wrote this song on a visit to Bickleigh, a small village outside Tiverton, in Devon, England. It had been stormy and there was indeed, a bridge over the (troubled) river. Can anybody verify this?Alan - Exeter, England
Drums and piano ballads don't mix. They just don't. Thanks for nuthin' Phil Spector.Nessie - Sapporo, Japan
I saw A Tribute to Heroes, and I can easily see why Art Garfunkel sings this song, and not Paul Simon. Either way, it's a great songRob - Portage, Mi
I was a year old when this song charted, but I really have always liked it since the 1st time I heard it on the radio. It is a comforting song, but sad as well. Simon And Garfunkle were one of a kind and this is just one of many great tunes they did together.Dee - Indianapolis, In
2004 Australian Idol runner up Anthony Callea also released this song.Kate - Armidale, Australia
Originally this song had 2 verses, but a few months later it was decided it needed a third. That's why the third verse takes a different turn on the subject (even heard in the music!)

Great song!
Tim - Eastborough, United States
One of the best songs ever!Honzin - Prague, Czech Republic
There have been alot of covers of this song, and while most really don't measure up to the original, the best one I have ever heard was by a little known West coast A Capella singing group called The Coats. They covered the song on thier 2001 album "The Coats Collection" which featured both live and studio preformances of thier best originals and covers. While its not perfection compared to S&G's original, its pretty darn close. If The Coats ever come to your area, they are defenately worth seeing, and with most shows (save for thier Christmas tours) they will preform this song.Jeni - Beaverton, Or
To J, Olympia: How can you possibly interpret that this song is about drugs? It is about anything, but. BTW this song nevre grows old, it's absolutely beautiful.Shirley - Ocean, Nj
Silver girl was Paul Simon's girlfriend and later wife, Peggy. She was upset because she found a few grey hairs one day, so he teased her in the song.Helen - York, England
I TOTALLY love this song! It has been one of my favorite songs practically forever. It is a very beautiful and inspirational songs.

I was wondering if anyone knows if it's ever been on any movies?
Sarah - Ottawa, Canada
I think this song is about drugs because of the Sail on Silvergirl thing sounds kind of like a needle, it might sound weird but if you look at the rest of the lyrics it makes sense.J - Olympia, Wa
Paul wrote this song for Art, even though they were going through terrible times in their friendship. Many of the songs on the "Bridge" disc were written by Paul to Art (Only Living Boy in New York, So Long Frank Lloyd Wright, etc).Maggie - Charleston, Wv
My Dad was in the Veitnam War and this song is very close to him. The meaning to him is that its about comming home from the fighting is the bridge over troubled waterDale - Oklee, Mn