Simon & Garfunkel – a.k.a Paul and Art – are one of the most famous duos in music. Unfortunately, though, they no longer have the close friendship that they once enjoyed. The childhood friends encountered fame and fortune, and then their relationship disintegrated. For 40 whole years, that was the case. Eventually, however, they reunited one final time for the sake of a man they had worked with and who had helped them reach the highest point of their career.
Simon and Garfunkel have known each other for almost all their lives. They grew up together in Queens, New York, going to the same schools. And they had plenty in common – a love of music and performance, for one. In the sixth grade, they appeared together in their school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. It was their first collaboration of many.
“When Paul and I were first friends, starting in the sixth grade and seventh grade, we would sing a little together and we would make up radio shows and become disc jockeys on our home wire recorder,” Garfunkel told Song Talk in 1990. “So we emulated the songs and practiced sounding like them and we tried to have our own record, and we knew we were going to try to get on a label, and we would work on our harmonies.”
Eventually the pair were signed to the independent company Big Records, using the name “Tom & Jerry,” a reference to the popular cartoon. Their first single was called “Hey Schoolgirl,” and it was a moderate success. It reached number 49 on the Billboard chart and sold 100,000 copies. Even so, Simon and Garfunkel only earned $2,000 each.
Simon and Garfunkel were still only teenagers when they got their first taste of success, and unfortunately cracks began to show right away. While both Simon and Garfunkel were still signed to Big Records, Simon broke out on his own and released a solo single under a different name. Garfunkel was not pleased at all.
Garfunkel was very angry that Simon had released a song without him, and apparently the relationship between the two men was never quite the same. “During this time we were singing together, I made a solo record. And it made Artie very unhappy,” Simon said to Playboy in 1984. “He looked upon it as something of a betrayal. That sense of betrayal has remained with him.”
“We were talking about it recently and I said, ‘Artie, for Christ’s sake, I was 15 years old! How can you carry that betrayal for 25 years? Even if I was wrong, I was just a 15-year-old kid who wanted to be Elvis Presley for one moment instead of being the Everly Brothers with you. Even if you were hurt, let’s drop it.’ But he won’t,” Simon told Playboy.
Tom & Jerry didn’t last – instead they became Simon & Garfunkel. Their first studio album was Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M, released in 1964, but it wasn’t successful. In the wake of it, Simon moved to England, but fame was just around the corner for him and Garfunkel. It transpired that “The Sound of Silence,” one of the songs on the album, was a sleeper hit.
Simon & Garfunkel had more or less split up when “The Sound of Silence” suddenly gained popularity. “I didn’t have a career point of view towards music anymore because our one album with CBS was a flop,” Garfunkel told Song Talk in 1990. “The Sound of Silence” changed all that, though. “As it slowly climbed the charts, my life changed,” he said.
By 1966 “The Sound of Silence” had reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Simon & Garfunkel suddenly had an amazing thing going. Their next album was called Sounds of Silence, and it was followed up with a tour of America. Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was rereleased, and it did much better.
More songs followed throughout the late ’60s, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” being one of them. The pair also made appearances on TV programs, including The Andy Williams Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and The Mike Douglas Show. Then film director Mike Nichols and The Graduate entered the picture.
Nichols was a big Simon & Garfunkel fan, and wanted to use their songs for his new movie The Graduate. Simon was reluctant at first but eventually agreed to do it. One of the songs the duo submitted was “Mrs. Robinson,” and it became a massive hit. It even became the first rock single to achieve a Grammy for “Record of the Year.”
However, another Nichols production would create another nail in the coffin for the Simon-Garfunkel relationship. Garfunkel wanted to get into acting, so Mike Nichols cast him and Simon in his adaptation of Catch-22. But although Garfunkel remained in the film and played an important character, Simon was cut out.
In later years, Garfunkel has pointed to that incident as one of the big reasons that he and Simon fell out. In 2013 he went to New York for a screening of a Simon & Garfunkel documentary made by Charles Grodin, and Grodin mentioned the making of Catch-22. “You don’t take Simon & Garfunkel and ask them to be in a movie and then drop one of their roles on them,” Grodin said. Garfunkel agreed.
Simon & Garfunkel’s last studio album was called, appropriately enough, Bridge Over Troubled Water. But creating it was difficult as their relationship had crumbled so much. After that, even though the album was a huge hit, Simon & Garfunkel became officially no more. They became merely acquaintances, seeing each other only a few times a year.
They did, however, do a few more concerts together in the end. They performed together at a benefit concert in New York in 1972, and again on Saturday Night Live. For a while, it seemed as if the band might get back together after all. They recorded a few more songs and did another benefit concert in 1978.
But the relationship was a on-off one at best. The duo held a free concert in Central Park in 1980, and ended up playing to 500,000 fans, the largest concert crowd ever at that point in time. They embarked on a world tour in May 1982… but by then, their relationship was in the “off” stage again.
Simon & Garfunkel won a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They exchanged some back-and-forth banter at the event and performed for the crowds, but they didn’t speak to each other after that. The next year, Simon had his own Central Park concert and turned down the proposal of Garfunkel joining him.
Yet shortly afterwards they were “on” again. Simon & Garfunkel went on another tour in 1993, and it seemed at first to be what they needed to mend their relationship. But alas, it wasn’t to be. In 2001 Simon was inducted as a solo musician into the Hall of Fame and gave a speech about Garfunkel. “I regret the ending of our friendship,” he said.
Despite the status of their relationship, they performed as a duo again at the 45th Grammy Awards, where they were to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. That seemed to kickstart them going again. “Before the Grammys, for about nine or ten years, our friendship was not there,” Simon told USA Today in 2003.
“There had been this constant inquiry about whether we would tour again. But after we had this satisfying experience at the Grammys, it became something that could be seriously considered,” Simon went on. So they embarked on a tour come October 2003, and it had the apt name of “the Old Friends tour.”
For a while, the pair genuinely seemed to be old friends. They were even photographed hanging out together while not working, a big step up from earlier days. When they did another free concert at the Colosseum in Rome in 2004, 600,000 fans came, even more than had turned up for their Central Park concert.
In 2009 the duo did another Old Friends reunion tour, traveling all around the world, and yet another one was planned to follow. That tour was supposed to launch at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2010. But things suddenly went wrong, both for Garfunkel personally and for the future of Simon & Garfunkel.
In January 2010 Garfunkel realized something was wrong with his vocal chords. While eating at a steakhouse he choked on a lobster. “That can send you into a near-panic state if it’s bad enough,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “All seemed to be okay, but a couple of days later I started to find that the swallowing muscle was numb. For the rest of the week I was speaking real hoarse and I couldn’t quite swallow properly.”
“When I went to a doctor, they put a snake down my throat with a camera to check things out. They said, ‘Yeah, one of your two vocal chords is stiffer and fatter than the other one,’” he told the magazine. It was a horrifying experience for him. “As the weeks ensued, I saw that I couldn’t finesse my singing in the mid-range,” he said.
“I could do the high notes and the low notes. High notes are my stock in trade, thank God,” Garfunkel went on. “[But] I couldn’t do anything in the middle where you need that finesse. It’s indescribable. I was crude instead of fine.” Yet he desperately didn’t want to cancel the Simon & Garfunkel tour.
Garfunkel did perform the Jazz Fest concert with Simon, but he found it very difficult. “I was terrible, and crazy nervous. I leaned on Paul Simon and the affection of the crowd. It was the beginning of bravery,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. But regardless of bravery, the tour had to be canceled.
Garfunkel gradually fixed his vocal chords. But by the time he was able to perform again, Simon was reticent to tour. That rang what was almost, but not quite, the final death knell for the duo. They would sing together for the last time – though they may not have known it was the final time – in 2010, at a tribute dinner.
The tribute dinner was for none other than Mike Nichols, the film director who had asked them to do The Graduate. Nichol’s circle of friends and acquaintances was so impressive that a whole crowd of Hollywood A-listers attended the ceremony: Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford, Warren Beatty and Meryl Streep among others.
Garfunkel’s vocal chords still weren’t great, so he let Simon do most of the heavy lifting. But the night went off without a hitch – there was no drama, just a happy tribute to Nichols and his extensive body of work. The pair performed “Mrs. Robinson” as scenes from The Graduate played.
Meanwhile, Nichols only lived for four years after that. He passed away from a heart attack in November 2014. Simon and Garfunkel were among those who released tributes to him. The styles of their tributes showed just how different the singers really were. Simon’s tribute was short and simple, while Garfunkel’s was long and ponderous.
“My dear friend of 47 years. I love and admire Mike Nichols,” read Simon’s statement. Garfunkel’s on the other hand was more involved, perhaps because he had worked with Nichols more. “How I loved Mike. Truly. Deeply. He was the most sparkling man among us. Life will be different for us now. Earth will be a little duller. Mike Nichols is not alive,” he wrote.
“The self is a creation. Mike created an extraordinary star – so bright, so extremely clever – himself,” Garfunkel went on. “When you were with him, he brought you up to your best smart self, and kept it light with humor. To act for him on camera was to glide on a liquid film of intelligence.”
It was fitting that Simon & Garfunkel’s last performance was for a man whom they had loved and admired. Alas, chances seem pretty high that the pair will never perform together again. Their relationship has once more deteriorated, as evidenced by a 2015 Daily Telegraph interview where Garfunkel had some words for Simon.
“Will I do another tour with Paul? Well, that’s quite do-able. When we get together, with his guitar, it’s a delight to both of our ears. A little bubble comes over us and it seems effortless. We blend. So, as far as this half is concerned, I would say, ‘Why not, while we’re still alive?’” Garfunkel said. “But I’ve been in that same place for decades. This is where I was in 1971.”
Then, with the Daily Telegraph interviewer still in the room, he addressed his old friend directly. “How can you walk away from this lucky place on top of the world, Paul? What’s going on with you, you idiot? How could you let that go, jerk?” He said he had only ever become friends with Simon in the first place because he had felt sorry for him.
Simon had a complex because of his shorter height, Garfunkel said, and he had become friends with him out of pity more than anything else. “And that compensation gesture has created a monster. End of interview,” he said flatly. Needless to say, those words got back to Simon before too long.
In 2016 Rolling Stone spoke to Simon and asked him if he would ever consider a reunion with Garfunkel. “No, out of the question,” Simon answered. “We don’t even talk.” He was focusing fully on his solo career. However, even that has come to an end now. In February 2018 he announced he would retire from touring.
Garfunkel did express a little guilt over his comments. In 2017 Rolling Stone asked him, “Do you regret saying all that?” and he answered in the affirmative. “Yes. I do. You press people, you get stuff out of us.” Then he was given the same question Simon had put to him: will there ever be another reunion?
“Are you hopeful you two will patch things up and maybe sing together again one day?” Rolling Stone asked. “Not particularly.” When the interview pressed him, he didn’t elaborate. So perhaps the Nichols tribute really was the last time the pair will ever perform together. At least they left on a high note.