Last week I attended a meeting held on the 38th floor of a nameless, faceless midtown skyscraper. On my way up, the elevator serenaded me with “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Muzak-style. Like most people, I can’t stand Muzak, but I cannot stomach “Bridge”. Never could. Not even in my folky college phase did I want to be in the same room with the album. The first few notes would send me screaming from the dorm, begging anyone on the quad to take me back to their lairs to listen to Public Enemy or Milli Vanilli. This day, the rapidly ascending elevator prevented my escape from torture, but don’t think I didn’t consider hitting the emergency button.
I don’t mean any disrespect to Messieurs Simon and Garfunkel. Any rock critic worth his muster agrees that the album is one of the seminal oeuvres of that era, let alone a triumphal farewell for the artists. I get it. The problem between myself and “Bridge” stems from two seemingly unrelated factors coming together like the Bermuda Triangle: my birth month and the lesbians who lived in the apartment below my parents.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was recorded in September 1969, released in February 1970 and grew into a bona fide phenomenon by mid-June of that year. I was recorded in September 1969, in utero during the record’s groundswell, and three weeks past my release date by mid-June of that year. Three weeks late makes for one big-ass baby, and between that and the record high temps the East Coast was suffering, my mother was not a happy person. To add insult to injury, for the past month the Lesbians Downstairs had started a little cocktail hour ritual: blasting “Bridge” over...and over...and over again, the first set starting every evening promptly at 5:00.
The girls must have had the precursor to Surround Sound, because my mother relates that the record was played at decibels greater than those heard at the landing strip of your nearest airport. My parents heard it as clearly as if the record were on their own hi-fi. The people upstairs from my parents heard it as clearly as if the record were on their own hi-fi. Which means I could probably hear it in my mother’s womb. You know that study where scientists discovered that babies are familiar with their parents’ voices by the time they’re born? Well, apparently babies can be familiar with the works of Simon and Garfunkel before they’re born. In fact, I might be the first scientific case of a person being sick of hearing a record album even before I had the cognitive development necessary to know what I was listening to.
The nightly concert did not appear to be ending any time soon, no matter how many times my father had tried to appeal to these women’s sense of aural decency by asking them to “Turn the fucking music down.” Oh, initially they would acquiesce, but over the course of the night the volume would get jacked back up to levels that made one’s ears bleed. But all that was about to change, as a showdown the magnitude of ‘High Noon’ was about to happen.
Most of the month of June had already seen record-breaking temperatures, but this day in particular the heat and humidity added up to something akin to a typical day in Bangladesh. My mother lay supine on the sofa, my three-weeks-late poundage protruding from her belly like something out of a John Carpenter movie. At 4:45, in walks my father from a rough day at the paper mill. In response to the indefatigable heat and lack of decent air conditioning, he strips down to his skivvies and flops onto the sofa beside my mother. No sooner do the two doze off than at 5:00 sharp, the first floor-shaking set begins from below. Much like the Spike Lee movie ‘Do The Right Thing’, tempers and temperatures were already flared to the brink of ignition, so when the Lesbians Downstairs started up with their nightly ritual, my dad, who on a good day had a fuse the size of a grain of rice, went ballistic.
He shoots up from the sofa and roars “Jesus Christ,” his favorite go-to phrase for anything remotely irksome. Mom tries to prop herself up in order to get a better look at my father storming around the apartment, but the effort proves futile, and she resigns herself to interjecting a steady series of “Jim, calm down”s. Suddenly, he thunders over to the entertainment center (read: stereo and record player) and rifles through the sparse album collection, finally locating the perfect candidate to wage war upon the Lesbians Downstairs. He holds it before him proudly, like an Academy Award, then carefully places it on the turntable and cranks up the volume to its limit. He then kicks the speakers face-down on the floor, steps into the middle of the living room...and waits.
As the needle touched down on the record, the Lesbians Downstairs – as well as the entire apartment complex at 1800 Bristol Road – were treated to the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah played at earsplitting volume. As if this alone were not enough to make his point, my father proceeded to jump up and down in time with the crashing symbols. Picture it, kids: my dad in nothing but his tighty-whiteys, all 250 lbs of him jumping in time to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s greatest hit. Fortunately, the police were not summoned, for the entire show lasted all of a 1/2 a minute before the speakers blew out.
As usual, my father’s fanaticism resulted in something getting broken. Given the fact that my parents had very little money at this point in their marriage, and that they were expecting a child in a mere matter of days, speaker replacement was out of the question. This of course was a big let down to my dad, who loved his Motown and Steely Dan records. But all was not for naught, for his 30 seconds of male hysteria got the results he intended. From that moment on, the blasting of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” ceased, and the Lesbians Downstairs were never to be heard from again.
A few months later, everyone’s world had changed. After another week and no labor contractions, my mother’s OB-GYN declared “everybody out of the pool”, and I was delivered C-Section in the early evening of June 28. Not too soon afterwards, my father got a halfway decent job and the family moved from the Bristol apartment to our very own house – in Bristol. There, we would undoubtedly encounter new and different adventures (most of which instigated by my common sense-lacking father), but for the time being, everything was just peachy chez nous.
I often wonder whether my parents would have gotten married had my mother witnessed this performance during their courtship. I’m sure when she repeated her wedding vows to the pastor on her wedding day, never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that “for better or for worse” would be tested by the sight of my father in a blind rage, jumping up and down in his BVDs, accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I only wish I had gotten to see it first hand.