Among the body of work that traces the undulating contours of human emotion through melody, Art Garfunkel’s “Bright Eyes” stands out. On the surface, it may seem to be a simple song from the animated film “Watership Down” (1978). Yet, the song’s depth and resonance extend far beyond the visual narrative it originally accompanied, making it a timeless artifact of popular music.
Watership Down and the Birth of a Lament
“Bright Eyes” is a ballad of life, death, and the tender transience of existence, composed by Mike Batt. It was designed to elegantly underscore the harsh realities depicted in Richard Adams’ allegorical tale, “Watership Down”. In the world of the novel, and its subsequent film adaptation, rabbits engage in primal struggles for survival, and the song paints their fragility and courage with vivid auditory hues.
“How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale?” sings Garfunkel, as the narrative of the movie unfolds onscreen. His tender voice wields the power to invoke images not merely of anthropomorphized rabbits, but of the human condition itself – our universal battles against the unyielding march of time.
A Rabbit’s Tale, A Human Truth
The lyrics of “Bright Eyes”, while ostensibly about the death of a rabbit, present a deeply poignant reflection on mortality. The song explores the inevitable cycle of life and death, and through this exploration, becomes a universal anthem for fleeting existence and the simultaneous beauty and melancholy of mortality.
Its hauntingly melancholic melody, when paired with the evocative lyrics, transcends the original context of the story about rabbits. The song has thus been widely appreciated for its universal appeal, capturing the essence of the human condition and our shared experiences of life, loss, and memory.
A Chart-Topping Resonance
Garfunkel’s rendition of “Bright Eyes” managed to touch millions, and the song became a remarkable hit. In 1979, it climbed to the summit of the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for six continuous weeks. While it didn’t achieve the same commercial success in the United States, “Bright Eyes” etched itself deeply into the hearts of listeners, becoming one of Garfunkel’s most recognized and beloved songs.
The song’s profound and universal message allowed it to gain traction with diverse audiences. Yet, the tune itself has not been as widely covered as some other hits from the same era. Its rich emotive intensity and unique context (originally written for a tale of anthropomorphic rabbits) have, perhaps, rendered it a daunting challenge for other artists to tackle.
Echoes in Time: The Legacy of “Bright Eyes”
Despite this, “Bright Eyes” has found new life in various renditions over the years. One prominent example is the heartfelt cover by Stephen Gately, a member of the Irish boy band Boyzone. Gately’s version brought a fresh sense of urgency to the song, its unique reinterpretation gracing the soundtrack of the “Watership Down” TV series that aired from 1999 to 2001.
Another adaptation of “Bright Eyes” comes from an unlikely source – the British pop group The Choirboys. Their 2005 album featured a choral arrangement of “Bright Eyes” that imbued the song with a novel texture, propelling it to minor hit status in the UK.
More recently, in the realms of electronica, Swedish producer Kleerup and singer Laleh reimagined “Bright Eyes” in a mesmerizing electro-pop avatar in 2012. Their rendition offered a testament to the song’s enduring appeal.