Simon & Garfunkel were one of the most iconic acts of the 1960s. A duo consisting of songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel, together, they were at the head of the folk-rock wave that was pervasive during the decade. Their beautifully crafted songs made them one of the best selling groups of the time and, worldwide, they achieved number one hits with classic singles such as ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘Mrs. Robinson’, ‘The Boxer’, and their swan-song ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’.
The pair met in elementary school in Queens, New York, in 1953. It was here that they started to develop would become a highly productive partnership and began writing material. Fitting of the time, and their youth, they started off by being collectively named Tom & Jerry. However, this was not derived from the cartoon as it would seem. Garfunkel named himself Tom Graph as a reference to his love of mathematics, and Simon would go by Simon Jerry Landis, taking the surname of a girl he had dated.
Success would quickly follow the duo’s inception, and at 15 they were signed by Sid Prosen to independent label Big Records. He had overheard them recording one of their earliest tracks, ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ at Sanders Recording Studio in Manhattan. Interestingly, this recording only costing $25, which due to inflation, is around $244.00 in today’s money.
‘Hey Schoolgirl’ was released in 1957. Again, showing how times and the industry have changed, Prosen used the payola system and bribed DJ Alan Freed $200 to play the single on his nightly radio show, where it rapidly became a staple. The single attracted widespread rotation on primetime popular stations and eventually sold over 100,000 copies, reaching number 49 on Billboard’s charts. This success, which was widely attributed to Prosen’s tenacious promotion of the duo, landed them a headline spot on Dick Clark’s iconic American Bandstand alongside Mr. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, Jerry Lee Lewis.
The young Simon and Garfunkel shared approximately $4,000, roughly $38,000 today. What might seem a large amount is diminished by the fact that individually it equated to two per cent each from the royalties, with the rest staying with the opaque Prosen. They then released two more singles on Big Records ‘Our Song’ and ‘That’s My Story’, neither of which were successful.
Later, the duo would graduate from high school in 1958 and decided to continue in education as insurance for the possibility of their music career not taking off. Simon studied English at Queens College, City University of New York, and Garfunkel studied architecture, but then switched to art history at Columbia College, Columbia University. While still signed to Big Records as a duo, Simon released a solo single, ‘True or False’ under the moniker ‘True Taylor’. This, it transpired, upset Garfunkel who believed it to be a betrayal. This would be the start of the build-up of emotional tension that would end the duo in 1970. This incident would occasionally surface throughout their relationship. Garfunkel would come to believe that Simon held all the cards, after all to Simon, he was merely just a singer.
Over the period that followed, the band would release solo material but would reconvene under the name ‘Kane & Garr’ in late 1963. They performed at Gerde’s Folk City, a Greenwich club that hosted open mic nights. They performed three new songs ‘Sparrow’, ‘He Was My Brother’ and ‘The Sound of Silence‘. This attracted the attention of Columbia Records’ Tom Wilson. Wilson would become the architect of Bob Dylan‘s transition from folk to rock.
As Columbia’s “star producer”, he wanted a new British act, the Pilgrims, to record ‘He Was My Brother’. However, Simon convinced him otherwise, and Wilson agreed to let the duo audition in the studio. They performed ‘The Sound of Silence‘, and at Wilson’s behest, Columbia signed them as Simon & Garfunkel.
Consequently, the duo’s debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., was produced by Wilson and was released in October 1964. At this point, we would normally say the rest was history, but not yet. The album sold poorly as they disbanded yet again. Simon embarked on a solo career in England, befriending folk legends such as Bert Jansch and Sandy Denny.
Unexpectedly, the band’s star would start to rise, to echelon’s they could not have imagined as 15-year-olds. A new version of ‘The Sound of Silence’, overdubbed with electric guitar and drums became a smash hit and climbed the charts in the US. Unable to ignore this meal ticket, the duo reunited once more and released their second album, Sounds of Silence in 1966, followed by a college tour.
Subsequently, in 1966, on the band’s third release Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme the duo wrestled back creative control. It was then that they would cement themselves in the foundations of popular culture. Their music was featured in the classic rom-com The Graduate, giving them a level of exposure they had not yet been accustomed to. Their next album, Bookends in 1968, topped the charts yet again and included the iconic number-one single ‘Mrs. Robinson’, which has since become synonymous with The Graduate.
Their final studio album, and opus, Bridge over Troubled Water, was released in 1970. It became their best selling release, and one of the world’s best-selling albums. In the wake of this, to the surprise of many, the duo would definitively split.
Simon, not resting on his laurels, then embarked on a highly successful solo career, gaining critical and commercial acclaim, culminating in 1986 effort Graceland. Garfunkel would also pursue a solo career. He released solo hits such as ‘All I Know’ and briefly pursued an acting career. Teaming up again with The Graduate director Mike Nichols, only this time in front of the camera, in the films Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge. He also featured in Nicholas Roeg’s Bad Timing.
Of course, the duo have reunited several times for live performances. The most notable instance was the 1981 concert in Central Park, which attracted over 500,000 people, one of the largest concert attendances in history. In addition to this, it is a testament to their legacy that they have won ten Grammy Awards and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. However, this all leaves us with the lingering question. What made Simon & Garfunkel call it quits for the final time?
It seems that a sort of toxic rivalry ultimately split the pair. There are a few key factors that stick out. Mort Lewis, the band’s manager became concerned about their growing rivalry, once explaining: “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. I don’t think he ever got over what happened with Tom & Jerry.”
Fast forward to 2017, and Garfunkel would confirm Mort’s fears in his 2017 memoir Is It All But Luminous, Notes from an Underground Man. He referenced back to Paul’s betrayal with Big Records: “I concluded in an eighth of a second, and the friendship was shattered for life…I never forget, and I never really forgive,” he said, adding the subtle dig: “Paul won the writer’s royalties. I got the girls.”
Simon also struggled with his mental health and self-doubt. He had been in and out of therapy for many years. In 1984 he explained: “Most people look at me and wonder, ‘How could that guy be depressed?’ And I now feel that people were seeing a more accurate picture of me than I was. I eventually realised, ‘Jesus, all I’ve been looking at is this thin slice of pie that has got the bad news in it and I’m disregarding the rest of the picture’.”
When asked what was the “bad news” was, he said: “Being short. Not having a voice that you want. Not looking the way you want to look. Having a bad relationship. Some of that is real. And if you start to roll it together, that’s what you focus on.”
It seems that Garfunkel had noticed his partner’s insecurities, and given what he felt about the historic “betrayal”, there seems to have been a vindictive element that sometimes protruded. In the 2017 biography, Paul Simon: The Life, Simon told Robert Hilman: “I remember during a photo session Artie said, ‘No matter what happens, I’ll always be taller than you.’ Did that hurt? I guess it hurt enough for me to remember 60 years later.”
There were talks of a new album after the triumphant Central Park show, but these quickly dissipated. Simon posited: “We had grown apart,” in reference to their relationship. He then added: “We didn’t think the same musically. We’d had 11 years of making our own records, where you didn’t have to agree on it. You just did what you wanted.”
In addition to this critical point, the films of Mike Nichols seem to have played a significant role in the fact the duo have never released material after Bridge in 1970. After the massive success of The Graduate, as we have previously noted, Nichols cast Garfunkel in his next film 1970 project Catch 22. However, it was not just Garfunkel who was cast, Simon was too.
Paul’s part was eventually cut, and adding insult to injury, seeming as if Garfunkel was getting his own back for “the betrayal”, he had agreed to make Nichols’s next flick, Carnal Knowledge. This meant that Garfunkel would be away on set for sixth months, leaving the depressed Simon to write the pair’s new material in New York on his own.
“He knew how I’d feel, but he did it anyway,” Simon said in his biography. “Mike told Artie he was going to be a big movie star, and Artie couldn’t say no,” he added. “He later told me he didn’t see why it was such a big deal to me – he would make the movie for six months, and I could write the songs for the next album. Then we could get together and record them.”
“I thought, ‘F*** you, I’m not going to do that.’ And the truth is, I think if Artie had become a big movie star he would have left. Instead of just being the guy who sang Paul Simon songs, he could be Art Garfunkel, a big star all by himself…This made me think about how I could still be the guy who wrote songs and sing them. I didn’t need Artie.”
Consequently, in July 1970, months after the release of their final album Bridge Over Troubled Water, the duo’s writing career came to a limp halt in a car park after the show. The pair shook hands and went their separate ways. Knowing this was the end, there was no discussion between them. Simon recalled:”With Artie, there was no reason to talk about it”, “when he agreed to make Carnal Knowledge, something was broken between us… I just wanted to move on. We were finished.”
After the record-breaking reunion show, another decade passed and then the pair teamed up in 1993 for a run of New York shows. However, a critic’s opinion dredged up all the historic animosity between the two. He alleged: “Mr Garfunkel turned out to be just one of a large supporting cast of Mr Simon’s collaborators and fellow singers.”
In the aftermath of the newspaper review, Simon’s business manager, Joseph Rascoff claimed: “I genuinely believed that if there had been a knife on the table, one of them would have used it.”
Rascoff’s quote sums up the nature of Simon & Garfunkel’s long and well-documented relationship. The immovable force versus the unstoppable object dichotomy springs to mind. There have been other occasions in more recent times where the duo have been scheduled to reunite. In 2010, they were scheduled to tour North America, however, it was cut short as Simon – and the public – quickly noted that Garfunkel’s voice was not what it used to be. Garfunkel’s perceived lack of honesty infuriated Simon for the final time, this was the final nail in the coffin, a coffin that had been slowly building itself since the late ’50s: “He let us all down. I was tired of all the drama,” Simon told biographer Robert Hilman: “I didn’t feel I could trust him any more.”
Garfunkel would have his final say in 2018, telling the Telegraph that he thought Simon was an “idiot” to break up the band.
Whichever way you look at it, the turbulent history of Simon & Garfunkel is as opaque as their old manager, Sid Posen. Engulfed in opinions, self-doubt and rancour, given what we have discussed there is no surprise the duo would not write together after 1970, and there is certainly no surprise that every convergence between the two atomised individuals since 1981 has ended in resentment and vitriol.