Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, aka Simon and Garfunkel, began performing very early on and continued making music into their late adulthood. However, their professional relationship wasn’t without its bumps. In their case, it was more like waves – waves that eventually toppled them over and split them apart. From break-ups to make-ups, Simon & Garfunkel’s partnership was far from easy. But once they found fame and fortune, it seemed like success proved to be their biggest obstacle.
It’s been decades since the two were on top of the world with their best-selling hit Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s such a shame they hated each other. For a duo who created some of the most sublime harmonies, it’s too bad they ended up becoming one of the most conflicted duos in music history.
Here’s the story of Simon and Garfunkel…
In his late ‘70s, Paul Simon was still annoyed about a wisecrack made by his old friend Art Garfunkel, even though the remark about his short stature was already six decades old. But some grudges last a lifetime. The ex-friends no longer have the close friendship we once saw. Growing up together in Queens, New York, and even going to the same school, these childhood friends faced fame and fortune together.
And, like a pair of close buddies, the bickering was just part of the package. Sadly, their relationship deteriorated over the years. Eventually, though, with the help of someone who had a vital role in their careers, the two were finally reunited one last time.
Both musicians, now 78, were born in 1941, with Simon being only 23 days older than Garfunkel. Both come from Jewish families who settled in the Forest Hills district of Queens. The pair met at elementary school in the fourth grade. Simon recalls talking to Garfunkel while they waited for the school buses to come.
Both later said that they bonded over a shared love of the Everly Brothers’ music. Before long, the two buddies were impersonating the famously argumentative sibling singers in their school shows. A bit of foreshadowing, perhaps. But, nonetheless, they started out getting along just fine, at least according to Simon. “We’ve known each other since we were 11 and had been having arguments since we were 12,” Simon remarked.
Since the sixth grade, the two would sing together and conduct their own radio shows. The time they spent together during their spare time paid off seeing as how they were eventually – around 1957 –signed to the independent company Big Records under the name Tom & Jerry. Their first single was called Hey Schoolgirl, and it did well.
The song got to number 49 on the Billboard chart, selling 100,000 copies. And they were only teenagers at the time. Despite meeting moderate success for the first time, Simon and Garfunkel only earned $2,000 each. When they were 16, they were interviewed by Dick Clark on the show American Bandstand.
Within a few years, the pair were performing regularly as Tom & Jerry, which happened to be a fitting name considering their future as a pair of natural quarrelers. Although a music career was undoubtedly appealing, both boys were bright students and went on to pursue graduate studies. Garfunkel studied architecture at Columbia University, but he switched to Art History and then completed a master’s in mathematics education.
Simon earned an English literature degree from Queens College, CUNY, and then went on to briefly study Law in Brooklyn. They were young and had bright futures ahead of them. They had already dipped their feet into success, but before it could follow them into their 20s, Simon figured a solo career would do him best… at least at first.
Simon went solo right away, and Garfunkel wasn’t pleased. This was pretty much the beginning of a decades-long feud between the two. Ever since their relationship has never been the same. According to Simon, Garfunkel saw his choice to go solo as “something of a betrayal. That sense of betrayal has remained with him.”
Despite all the cracks, Tom & Jerry didn’t split up. They met up again in the early ‘60s and decided to resume performing and playing together at folk clubs. At that point, they figured they were too old to be called Tom & Jerry. They asked around, but “No one could figure out what to call the band, so by default, they took our last names,” Garfunkel stated. The rest, as you know, is history.
And so, they became Simon and Garfunkel instead. They released their first studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., in 1964. Yet it didn’t receive the success they hoped for, at least not at first. As a result, Simon upped and left, choosing to move to England. Little did he know that this was nowhere near the end.
In fact, fame was just around the corner. Simon and Garfunkel’s relationship at the time was holding on by a thread. That is until their single The Sound of Silence became a massive hit. “As it slowly climbed the charts, my life changed,” Garfunkel admitted. It was only the beginning…
Between 1964 and 1968, the two made five major albums (Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., Sounds of Silence, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Bookends) before they started working on their final studio album, the masterpiece Bridge Over Troubled Water, which was released in 1970.
For years it was the best-selling LP of all time, gaining a status of certified platinum eight times. It won five Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Song of the Year, and is seen as one of the most exceptional records of the 20th century. But the atmosphere was toxic, and the duo parted ways soon after. Their relationship remained fragile for the following five decades.
The duo appeared on TV shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Andy Williams Show. They were becoming the talk of the town. In November 1968, they began what proved to be a tortuous year-long process of recording their famous album appropriately called Bridge Over Troubled Water. By then, the cracks in their partnership were revealed.
Soon enough, they went from being childhood friends to mere acquaintances and, eventually, a pair of “frenemies.” Although they appreciated each other’s sense of humor and were, for the most part, close, there was still a deep sense of rivalry and self-interest in the mix. “We were trying to make one perfect person together,” Garfunkel admitted in the ‘80s. He explained how they used each other in specific ways…
“I guess he was using my popularity as part of who he was, but I was using his drive to get someplace, because I’m more of a laidback guy and always was,” Garfunkel said. “I don’t think I would have had the career I had if it weren’t for the engine that Paul Simon is.” After recording two of the 11 tracks for the album (The Boxer and Baby Driver), Garfunkel was about to make a fateful decision…
Many say that the real turning point in the duo’s career together was when Mike Nichols came along. Nichols was a huge fan of the duo’s music and wanted to use their tunes for his new movie The Graduate. Simon was hesitant, but they ultimately agreed to it. As you may know, this birthed the famous track, Mrs. Robinson.
Simon and Garfunkel contributed extensively to the soundtrack of 1967’s The Graduate, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. While writing the song Mrs. Robinson, Simon played around with the title “Mrs. Roosevelt” at first. When Garfunkel voiced his indecision over the song’s name to Nichols, the director said, “Don’t be ridiculous! We’re making a movie here! It’s Mrs. Robinson!”
The film version of the song uses a Bo Diddley Beat, unlike the studio version. The final version of the song was completed on February 2, 1968, and was released three months after The Graduate came out. Through countless radio plays, the track became prominent in the promotion of the film during its initial run in movie theaters.
Nichols’ production was about to unleash another feud between the two singers. Garfunkel wanted to try his hand at acting, so Nichols cast him in his new movie Catch-22. And so, his acting debut was as Lieutenant Nately in the film. As it turns out, Simon was initially cast in the movie but Nichols told him right before filming began that his character as a serviceman was cut from the final script.
At the time, it was pretty clear that Simon was resentful when Garfunkel rose to fame at the start of 1969. While Garfunkel was having fun being on set with actors like Alan Arkin, Orson Wells, and Bob Newhart, Simon was “stuck” in New York (as well as Hollywood) writing material for their upcoming album.
Two songs (Why Don’t You Write Me and The Only Living Boy in New York) give us a look into his frustration during that period. In The Only Living Boy in New York, the lyrics “Tom, get your plane right on time / I know your part’ll go fine / Fly down to Mexico” were read as a cutting remark at Garfunkel, aka Tom.
When Garfunkel finally came back in September 1969, he and Simon resumed working on their album. The recording session took place right after concerts in Detroit and Wichita. According to Simon, they were exhausted, and Garfunkel confessed that his long-term partner was “getting on [his] nerves.” Garfunkel later referred to the Catch-22 incident as the main reason why he and Simon parted ways. But Simon points to something else…
Things only got worse when Simon learned that Garfunkel accepted another role from Nichols. This time, he was to star alongside Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge. As he revealed on a CNN podcast, 47 years later, Simon remembered how angry he was at that time. Simon recalled asking Garfunkel, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Garfunkel said, “I was afraid that you’d stop working on this [music] if I told you.”
“So that really pissed me off, and I just decided that’s the end of that. I don’t want to do this anymore,” Simon admitted. If you ask Simon, when Garfunkel agreed to make Carnal Knowledge, “something was broken between us. I just wanted to move on. We were finished.”
A Bridge Over Troubled Water was a sensation. The talent of the session group The Wrecking Crew –with Joe Osborn on bass guitar, Larry Knechtel on piano and organ and Hal Blaine on drums – only added to the record’s appeal. The success of the album made an immediate split between the two that much more difficult.
The album was hailed as a triumph, despite the apparent flaws in their partnership. Simon and Garfunkel toured in late 1969 and traveled to Europe in early 1970. Below the surface, Simon was irritated by the fact that Garfunkel would receive wild applause for his solo renditions of the song Bridge Over Troubled Water. “His performance… would produce this incredible reaction and I would be standing in the wings,” Simon remarked a decade later.
Later on, when Garfunkel learned about his partner’s complaining, he was upset. “How many songs did I sing upfront and have a real tour de force of vocal? Does he resent that I had that one? I find that ungenerous,” he said. Nonetheless, they kept playing dates until July 1970 when, after a concert at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, the musicians shook hands in the parking lot and went their separate ways.
But their time apart didn’t last that long. 11 months later, they regrouped for a brief set as part of a fundraiser for Democratic Party presidential nominee George McGovern. But to those around them, their unease was palpable. Rolling Stone described them as looking as though “they had not spoken in 12 years.”
Simon, famously (and justly) known as a masterful singer-songwriter, remained bitter about the work he did in the ‘60s as part of their duo. Both musicians spoke publicly on the reasons for their split, which happened when they were still only in their 20s. “We were forced to travel together through the power of business; it began to tell on our friendship,” said Garfunkel.
According to Simon, they were still dealing with issues from their childhood. “The problems were working out the last bit of adolescence. Competitiveness or whatever, that rivalry. So when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work on a pretty childish level.” Their competitiveness took a few forms…
Their teenage collaboration on the song Hey Schoolgirl was actually the only song they ever co-wrote. Simon was annoyed by any suggestion that the lyrics of their great songs were a shared triumph. “He didn’t write any of the songs. I wrote all the Simon and Garfunkel songs,” he flatly stated in 1980.
But one particular issue between them seems more personal, a sign that their partnership was always anchored in their early competitiveness. Simon, a man who stands 5’ 2” tall, has always been touchy about his height, or lack thereof. Here’s a little fact: Carrie Fisher (may she rest in peace), the second of Simon’s three wives, was just an inch shorter than her husband.
Their height similarity was actually something she found amusing. “I used to say to him, ‘Don’t stand next to me at the party; people will think we’re salt and pepper shakers.’” In an interview with The Telegraph in 2015, Garfunkel asked the singer whether Simon might have a “Napoleon complex” regarding his height…
“I think you’re on to something. I would say so, yes.” Two years later, 76-year-old Simon was still revealing his insecurities about how Garfunkel stood eight inches taller than him. He recalled a photo session when Garfunkel said, “No matter what happens, I’ll always be taller than you.” Did that hurt Simon? In his own words, he said, “I guess it hurt enough for me to remember 60 years later.”
During the ‘70s, the musicians were only in contact occasionally. For a period, Garfunkel moved away from music. In fact, he took a job as a mathematics teacher after marrying architect Linda Marie Grossman. “I’d just got married and moved to Connecticut, and there was a nearby preparatory school, and so I taught math there,” Garfunkel explained.
He described it as a “weird stage” of his life, “to leave Simon and Garfunkel at the height of our success” to become a math teacher. He recalled talking to his students about a math problem, asking if anyone had any questions. Their response: “What were the Beatles like?” Garfunkel’s marriage to Grossman ended in 1975.
After a bitter divorce from Grossman, he got involved with actress and photographer Laurie Bird. Their relationship lasted until her suicide in 1979. During this traumatic time, Simon extended a peace offering in the form of a Simon and Garfunkel reunion. In 1981, 11 years after Bridge Over Troubled Water, the duo reformed to do a free concert in Central Park, New York.
The recorded concert was attended by more than half a million people. “Yes, it did feel like Paul’s heart was going out to me,” Garfunkel later told reporters. Following the concert, they went on tour, and the feeling of goodwill lasted long enough for the two to plan collaboration on a new album.
According to sound engineer Dan Nash, one of the things that Garfunkel used to do when he was mad at Simon was disappear. He would say that he was going for a walk and wouldn’t come back for days. “And it turned out, apparently, that he was walking between two towns in South America. Paul blew a gasket, and he was fired,” Nash revealed.
It was Simon’s demand for independence over the production that frustrated Garfunkel. The musicians ended up working in separate studios. “I realized that by including him on it, I would probably improve the overall quality, certainly would improve the sales and would satisfy a lot of people,” Simon admitted. But he also knew they would “end up in some terrific fights over points I really didn’t want to fight about. And that’s exactly what happened.”
As you might expect, Garfunkel didn’t like being treated as just a background singer. Simon turned Hearts and Bones into a solo album instead. By the time Hearts and Bones was released in 1983, the pair had another falling out. Garfunkel’s contributions were ultimately wiped from the final product.
“We had to make sure all Art’s vocal parts were erased from the master tapes,” Eric Korte, another sound engineer on the album, recalled. Garfunkel was still prickly about it when he was interviewed by Time magazine seven years later. “Paul does things that I could never understand.” Apparently, Simon called him up one day and said, “Artie, I’m dropping your vocals on Hearts and Bones. It’s not turning into the kind of album I want. And by the way, I’m marrying Carrie on Tuesday, and I want you to come.”
After Simon’s success in the ‘80s with his solo albums Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints, the two frenemies patched things up again and toured together in 1993. But, of course, the truce didn’t last for long. The nature of this tour was described by Simon’s business manager, Joseph Rascoff, in his book titled Paul Simon: The Life.
According to Rascoff, “They never came to blows, but there was shoving, and I had to step between them.” Simon himself was candid about the childishness of their spats. The fight was over a rendition of The Boxer. Apparently, Garfunkel accused Simon of “singing over him” as well as coming in at the wrong time.
Like a pair of bickering kids, Garfunkel did what he accused Simon of on another song. Simon recaptured the incident in an interview: “At intermission, Art comes up to me and says, ‘You tried to make me look like a fool on The Boxer.’ I said, ‘No, Artie, it was a mistake. Mistakes happen, just like you forgot to do, I love you.’”
“That’s when he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I didn’t forget. I just wanted you to see what it feels like to be made a fool of’.” Like a typical on-again-off-again couple with co-dependence issues, they patched up things a decade later or at least tried to.
Fans have always wondered if the duo would tour again. Simon finally revealed that after a “satisfying experience at the Grammys,” a tour was becoming something they were seriously considering. So, in October 2003, they set off on a new tour they called Old Friends. During their Old Friends in Concert Tour, there really seemed to be genuine warmth between the now-60-somethings.
The two were even spotted together outside of their gigs, just like old pals. At some shows, they were joined on stage by their original inspirers, The Everly Brothers. The musicians remained on amicable terms throughout the decade. Then, they embarked on another tour in 2009 that took them through Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
They also performed a free concert in Rome in 2004 in front of 600,000 fans. That concert gained an audience more massive than the record-breaking show in Central Park. In those days, their relationship was still “on,” and they planned another tour in the near future. They were aiming to start at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2010.
But, as history repeats itself, things started to go wrong. In January 2010, something happened to Garfunkel that changed his life forever. While he was dining at a steakhouse one evening, the singer choked on a piece of lobster. He explained to Rolling Stone in 2014 that everything seemed okay at first…
But, a couple of days later, Garfunkel started to notice that the swallowing muscle in his neck was numb. For the rest of that week, he was speaking very hoarsely, and he couldn’t swallow properly. Garfunkel realized that the choking incident impacted his vocal cords. It’s basically the worst thing a singer could find out.
Garfunkel damaged two of his vocal cords. He later claimed that because of Simon’s insistence on loud on-stage instrument monitoring, it caused problems. Simon and Garfunkel canceled their scheduled shows in the US in the spring of 2010. Garfunkel’s vocal cords eventually healed, and he was ready to perform again.
Simon became reluctant about going on tour. It nearly meant the end of the duo forever, but Simon and Garfunkel were given one final opportunity to sing together. They didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time. Their final performance came in June 2010 at a tribute dinner.
They flew to Los Angeles to do a gig for the American Film Institute’s tribute to Mike Nichols. Many Hollywood A-listers were there, such as Harrison Ford and Meryl Streep. Despite what he thought, Garfunkel’s vocal cords didn’t fully recover. So, Simon had to sing most of the notes that Garfunkel couldn’t. Regardless, the night was a hit. As scenes from The Graduate played in the background, the duo performed Mrs. Robinson.
It’s kind of a weird coincidence that their last show together was in honor of the man whose casting decision for his film Catch-22 sparked one of their biggest and earliest feuds. A decade after that swansong, Simon and Garfunkel’s fans continue to hope for a fifth reunion. It’s a tall order to expect, though, especially after Garfunkel re-opened some past wounds a few years ago.
He spoke about his harsh words regarding Simon’s shortness. Garfunkel stated that they had only gotten together in the first place when they were young because he felt sorry for Simon. Why? Because of his height. Garfunkel said he offered the young Simon his hand in friendship as a compensation. He added: “and that compensation gesture has created a monster.”
Four years after that tribute dinner, Mike Nichols passed away from a heart attack. Both Simon and Garfunkel released tribute statements, and both were very different. Simon’s was short and sweet: “My dear friend of 47 years. I love and admire Mike Nichols.” Garfunkel’s, on the other hand, was long and thoughtful, including the words: “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.”
Their different styles in their tributes summed up just how different these two singers were. When Garfunkel was asked if he would do another tour with Paul, he said, “Well, that’s quite do-able.” So are they going to reunite?
Garfunkel mused: “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.” According to him, they blend. So, as far as his half is concerned, he says, “Why not, while we’re still alive?” However, he also said, “But I’ve been in that same place for decades. This is where I was in 1971.”
As for Simon, who heard the harsh words, his ex-partner said about him feeling sorry for him, he told Rolling Stone in 2016, “No, out of the question, ” when asked if he would ever consider a reunion with Garfunkel. After splitting, Simon continued to focus on his solo career. That too, however, came to an end. In 2018, he announced that he was retiring from touring.
Garfunkel showed some guilt over what he said about Simon. It was, after all, insensitive. When he was interviewed by Rolling Stone in 2017 and asked if he regrets saying all that, his reply was: “Yes. I do. You press people, you get stuff out of us.” Then, the interviewer asked him again if there will be another reunion…
Garfunkel’s reply was matter-of-factly: “Not particularly.” When the interviewer pressed him for more details, Garfunkel didn’t budge. So, the question remains: was the tribute to Nichols the last time they will perform together? I guess time will tell. These days, nothing surprises me anymore.