“We’re staying in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, I get my guitar and I head downstairs, I get in the elevator to go to the studio. And in the elevator they have newspapers. And I’d see the headlines on the newspapers and I’d think well, ‘why the hell am I going to make this album? What’s the point of this album if the world is crumbling?'”
– Paul Simon, 1969
Paul is second-guessing himself during the making of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, the artistic highpoint for his work with Art Garfunkel. This is the record that will include Cecilia, The Boxer, El Condor Pasa and the title track. It’s the fifth studio album from Art and Paul and will be their last one together.
Vietnam, Bobby Kennedy shot, Martin Luther King shot, political discord, civil strife, racial division. These are the headlines Paul sees each morning on his way to the CBS studio. He and Art have a house on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles, down the street from the rented house of actress Sharon Tate where the Manson murders took place that very summer. 1969 is the end of something and everyone can feel it.
But the fact that the world may be crumbling is not a valid reason to halt important work – it might even be a reason to push harder.
Does the world feel like it’s crumbling now? Like the problems are insurmountable and all the potential outcomes are merely degrees of awful? Does it feel like the bad guys are winning – or absent bad guys, does it feel like the good guys keep losing? Does the prospect of improvement feel thousands of miles away if it’s even possible at all?
But the stuff in the headlines is really big, bigger than you and I and our careers and families. It is generational stuff, decades in the making. It is cultural stuff, you are watching a conflict where the hearts and souls of entire civilizations hang in the balance. We cannot know the way forward or how these events will turn out. What they will mean in a year, in ten years.
We are small in comparison to the levers being pulled and the wheels that are turning. We cannot help but notice them but we should not forget that we are not in a position to influence them. But there are things we can do. Projects we can labor at, initiatives we can undertake, important work we can finish. We can be diligent and creative and willful and decisive while the larger forces clash and mold and shape what is to come.
For the record, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is completed and released in January 1970. It goes on to win six Grammys in 1971: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Pop Song, Song of the Year, Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical), and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. Paul’s world will continue to feel like it’s crumbling during and after the album’s release – Watergate, war casualties, gas lines, rampant unemployment.
And it is likely that our world will still feel like it’s crumbling for a while longer, too.
If the world is crumbling, it is always crumbling.
But remember, it is also always being rebuilt.
Happy Father’s Day.