I was three years old when Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was released and became the one of the most popular songs of its time. One of my earliest memories is of me, small boy hardly taller than my parents’ stereo loudspeakers, dancing about the living room, singing loudly:
“Like a bridge over trouble bubbles!”
Troubled Water was perhaps a metaphor too deep for three year old me, and besides, trouble bubbles is a cool internal rhyme, right?
Bridge Over Troubled Waters (live)
I loved the song. It loomed large in my imagination. It wasn’t merely a popular song. It was a monument. One of the important consuming items in my young life, as only a Really Important Thing can be to a three or four year old.
As such it has always remained one of the defining songs of our time in my estimation. There is something about a song, or perhaps any work of art, when it is introduced at a very young age and then makes a big impression, that can take on the power of a religious relic to a true believer.
“Hey Jude” is another song that effected me that way at a young age. The whole Beatles catalog, or rather the Greatest Hits compilations known then as the Red Album and Blue Album, which my older brother David owned, loomed large for me. The Beatles will likely remain beloved and highly critically acclaimed for as long as human culture persists, and one reason may be how accessible so many of their songs are to young children. I noticed this as a teaching artist teaching songs to Pre-K and Kindergarten classes. Beatles songs are gold for them. Songs like “Yellow Submarine”, “Hello, Good-bye”, “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to name just four, have the easy to learn, fun to sing, joyous qualities that captivate young children, and are so much more interesting for grown-ups to teach and sing along to than, say, “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”.
Finally, I will name one more score that loomed as large in my early childhood as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and The Beatles: “Jesus Christ Superstar”. “What’s the Buzz”, “Everything’s Alright” and the title song were mantras to me. My family being secular, and ethnically half-Jewish, my introduction to the idea of Jesus and Christianity probably came through hearing and latching on to the music from the rock-opera.
I remembered my parents talking about “Jesus Christ Superstar” being performed at a venue somewhere near the Berlin Funkturm radio tower. They said this while we were driving on the AVUS autobahn past the stands that were then set up for when car races were held on the AVUS once a year.
In my childish imagination the car race stands became the place the audience for “Jesus Christ Superstar” attended the performance. For years, every time we drove past those stands on the AVUS, I would try to place the performing space for the singers somewhere on the other side of the roadway, imagining “Jesus Christ Superstar” being performed in the open air, with a highway separating the audience from the stage.
When I got a little older, the logistical madness of that plan dawned on me, and I realized I somehow misunderstood what my parents had said about the time “Jesus Christ Superstar” was first performed in Berlin. Still, even as an adult, every time I’d drive past those stands by the highway, I would think “Jesus Christ Superstar”.