The dynamic between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is one that permeates outside of whether ‘Simon & Garfunkel’ happen to be a current entity or not. These are old bonded friends who grew up three blocks from each other and first recorded together as teenagers. Even when the duo are officially broken up, they’re never far removed from each other’s lives.
1975 wasn’t even the first time that the two were recording separately. After the relative failure of their debut LP Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., Simon departed to England in 1964 and recorded his first solo album The Paul Simon Songbook while Garfunkel enrolled in Columbia University to study mathematics. During the summer of 1964, Garfunkel stayed with Simon. Ostensibly separated, the two still leaned on each other for friendship and connection.
As much as Garfunkel has resonated as a second banana in popular culture due to Simon’s near-monopoly on songwriting, the truth is that Simon and Garfunkel were counterparts and equals, matching wits intellectually and complementing each other’s personalities, Garfunkel with his outgoing and opinionated demeanour and Simon with his more reserved nature. They harmonised in a way that only two people with a deep love and strong personal understanding of each could. There was nothing contrived, or even particularly refined, about it. It just worked so well.
Both men knew they had a singular chemistry, but as their success and individual profiles rose in the latter half of the ’60s, their bond began to erode. By the time they reached the recording of Bridge Over Troubled Water, Garfunkel was actively pursuing a film career, alienating him from Simon’s dedication to music. Even though the group were one of the biggest acts in the world, they began to grow apart and realise that they both wanted more individualism. The two once again disbanded.
The duo’s relationship was tense for a number of years. A lone eight-song public performance in 1972, brought together more for political purposes than true renewed kinship, was the only reunion as the two rarely talked or socialised. It took a blowsy recording session between Harry Nilsson and John Lennon on his ‘Lost Weekend’ in 1975 to bring Simon and Garfunkel back together.
When they decided to reunite professionally as well, the result was ‘My Little Town’, a fantastically caustic assessment of the two’s upbringing in Queens that would appear on the member’s respective solo albums: Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years and Garfunkel’s Breakaway. Around that same time, Simon had befriended a Canadian comedy producer by the name of Lorne Michaels, who was bringing a new late-night sketch show to NBC. Michaels asked Simon to be the host and musical guest during the show’s first season. Simon agreed and invited Garfunkel to perform with him.
The episode, only the second in Saturday Night Live history, bears only a passing resemblance to the SNL of today. Still figuring out their desired format, the producers structured the entire show around musical performances as a sort of revue (Garfunkel was the actor, after all, not Simon). The Not Ready for Prime Time Players only make brief appearances, and the show revolves around Simon’s various numbers.
For their segment, Simon & Garfunkel look relaxed around each other and sound pristine, almost as if no time had progressed or acrimony had occurred over the past five years. With a three song setlist, the duo decide to focus on three distinct periods of their partnership: the early coffeehouse days of ‘Scarborough Fair’, the world-conquering folk superstardom of ‘The Boxer’, and the renewed bond of ‘My Little Town’.
In 1978, Garfunkel decided to move back to New York, putting him once again in many of the same social circles that Simon was in. The two’s friendship began to rebuild, and the old habits of the two boys from Queens began to take shape once again.
1980 was a difficult time for both: Simon’s One-Trick Pony, from which a film and accompanying soundtrack were produced, had flopped. Garfunkel’s girlfriend for nearly half a decade, Laurie Bird, had taken her own life in 1979, causing Garfunkel to spiral into depression. Around them, the duo’s hometown of New York City was crumbling, especially the legendary oasis of Central Park. Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis figured that a large open air concert could generate enough funds to restore the park. He turned to those same boys from Queens who had left a permanent mark on the city.
Although The Concert in Central Park was a massive success, the camaraderie between the two deteriorated once again as they attempted to build on the concert’s momentum with a 1982 tour. The pair’s relationship for the next four decades remained hot and cold. Simon shit-talked Garfunkel to his face at the pair’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990, but apologised and sought peace during his solo induction in 2001. The two were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Grammys in 2003 and embarked on their Old Friends tour that same year. However, apart from a brief number of appearances in 2009 and 2010, the duo once again remained in the past tense professionally and personally.
Today, the status of the two’s relationship is frosty. Simon retired from touring in 2018, but that doesn’t preclude him from making one-off appearances, even if a professional reunion with Garfunkel remains unlikely. What we do know is that despite having a contentious and often volatile partnership, the two remain connected, and likely will until one shuffles off the mortal coil. Never say never, because reunions between the two had seemed unlikely for nearly fifty years. If nothing else, their appearance on SNL in 1975 proved that the old friends could always find their way back to one another.