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Building bridges over troubled water: In defence of Art Garfunkel

The history of Simon & Garfunkel is one of the most tumultuous in all of music. Covered in the same belligerence that characterised much of Fleetwood Mac’s existence – just without all the drugs and inter-band relationships – as their career wore on and success increased, Simon & Garfunkel’s existence became noted for the perpetual power struggle for domination between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

The two once started off as best friends who played music under the moniker ‘Tom and Jerry’ in the 1950s, but egos, artistic direction and other things would signal the band’s break up by the dawn of the ’70s. The pair created an image of themselves as a sort of folk music Punch and Judy.

The feud between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is a tale that has been told many times, but often in the media, it is portrayed as a rather one-sided affair. On one hand, you have what is presented as the angelic Paul Simon, the duo’s chief songwriter and the man who can do no wrong, then on the other side, you have the dastardly Art Garfunkel, an egotist looking to undermine Paul Simon’s honest efforts at every turn.

Why did Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel split up?

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Since their split in 1970, infighting has been discussed on numerous occasions in discourse, and this has led to it taking on a life that is more akin to something from a novel or a film than in real life.

The question is this: is Art Garfunkel really as bad as he has made out? Considering he has come out with balanced takes such as the following over the years, we think it’s time that discourse starts seeing things in a more objective light. He once said: “Whatever your kids are comes from you. So whatever irritates, look at yourself.” This is a very pertinent take for someone alleged to be so outwardly callous.

A lot of today’s established opinion on Mr. Garfunkel comes from the notorious 2015 interview he gave with The Sunday Telegraph. After their sold-out world tour was cancelled due to personal reasons between the two, with Simon sick of Garfunkel’s repeated deceptions, Garfunkel agreed with the interviewer that perhaps his old bandmate Paul Simon suffered from a ‘Napoleon complex’ and called him an “idiot” and a “jerk” for “walk(ing) away from this lucky place on top of the world”.

To be honest, his frustrations were justified. The pair had seldom returned to the stage since 1970, and as a musician that must be incredibly hard. Being denied the opportunity to perform your life’s work to adoring crowd’s because of futile infighting that goes back years, record deals and disagreements over forgotten appearances in Mike Nichols films seems ridiculous, particularly given that the two are no spring chickens. 

(Credit: Alamy)

It has always seemed, from the outside looking in, that both Simon and Garfunkel suffer from inflated egos, and that it is not as one-sided as is made out. In 1990, this was made clear. That year, when the duo were giving their acceptance speech after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Garfunkel thanked Simon for the good times, labelling him “the person who most enriched my life by putting those songs through me”. To which Simon responded, “Arthur and I agree about almost nothing. But it’s true, I have enriched his life quite a bit.” 

That quote encapsulates the point perfectly. Yes, Garfunkel has been known to make many overblown statements over the years, but they’re not totally unfounded. The problem lies with the fact that it was a big case when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. 

Mort Lewis, the band’s manager, once explained: “They both envied the other’s place in the team,” he said. “Paul often thought the audience saw Artie as the star because he was the featured singer, and some people probably thought Artie even wrote the songs. But Artie knew Paul wrote the songs and thus controlled the future of the pair.”

Like two spoilt children, it would have been better if the duo kept their original name as it invokes all of the childish disputes they have found themselves in over the years. Both wanted what the other had, the unobtainable, and this created a large friction burn that has never healed. 

However, next time you’re thinking that Garfunkel‘s ego was solely responsible for the iconic duo’s demise, remember that they were a duo, and both did their bit to hasten the end. As an old man once told me, no one is perfect.

Listen to Simon & Garfunkel ‘The Boxer’ below.