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Troubled waters: A history of the discordant pairing of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel topped the charts 50 years ago with their masterpiece Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their relationship has been volatile ever since, writes Martin Chilton


The sound of silence: Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon have had four reunions - but they never last long

The sound of silence: Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon have had four reunions - but they never last long

Getty Images

Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon in 2010, the last time the pair performed together

Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon in 2010, the last time the pair performed together

Getty Images for AFI


The sound of silence: Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon have had four reunions - but they never last long

Some grudges last a lifetime. In his late 70s, Paul Simon was still festering about a cutting jibe from his teenage friend Art Garfunkel, even though the stinging remark about his short stature was by then six decades old. For a duo who joined forces to create some of the most sublime harmonies in popular music - lasting classics such as 'Homeward Bound', 'The Sound of Silence' and 'Scarborough Fair' - Simon and Garfunkel certainly rank as one of the most discordant pairings in music history.

Between 1964 and 1968, these two young Americans made five magnificent albums before starting work on their final masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

That final studio album, released on January 26, 1970, was for many years the best-selling LP of all time, certified platinum eight times. But the atmosphere around the album's creation was toxic, and the duo acrimoniously parted ways soon after its release. Although they have brokered occasional peace treaties, Simon and Garfunkel's relationship remained fragile and volatile for the following 50 years.

Both musicians were born in 1941 (Simon is 23 days older). Garfunkel's family were of Jewish emigrant stock and his family settled in the Forest Hills district of Queens in New York, where the Simon family lived. The pair met at primary school, in the fourth grade. Simon remembers talking to Garfunkel in the auditorium while "waiting for the school buses to come".


Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon in 2010, the last time the pair performed together

Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon in 2010, the last time the pair performed together

Getty Images for AFI

Within three years the pair were performing regularly under the name Tom & Jerry, a foreshadowing choice, as it turned out, to choose the name of a pair of natural squabblers. Their first single, 'Hey, Schoolgirl', peaked at No 49 in the American charts. At 16, they were interviewed by Dick Clark on American Bandstand. Although a music career appealed, both were bright students and went off to pursue graduate studies. Garfunkel studied architecture at Columbia University in Manhattan, which he dropped after three years to major in mathematics. Simon earned an English literature degree from Queen's, before briefly studying Law in Brooklyn.

When they met up again in the early 1960s, they resumed performing together. They thought they were too old to be called Tom & Jerry and cast around for a new name. "No one could figure out what to call the band, so by default they took our last names," said Garfunkel. The rest, as they say, is history.

In November 1968, they started what would turn out to be a tortuous year-long process to record Bridge Over Troubled Water, and the cracks in their partnership were starting to open up. Although they liked each other's sense of humour and were close friends for the most part, there was also a deep rivalry and self-interest in the mix of their relationship.

"We were trying to make one perfect person together," admitted Garfunkel in the 1980s. "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 laid-back guy and always was. 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 just two of the 11 tracks for the final Bridge Over Troubled Water album - 'The Boxer' and 'Baby Driver' - Garfunkel made the fateful decision to make his acting debut in an adaptation of Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Simon had also originally been cast in the movie but was told shortly before filming was due to start that his character had been cut from the script by director Mike Nichols.

Simon was somewhat resentful when an excited Garfunkel flew off at the start of 1969 - and became even more annoyed when filming overran. Garfunkel finally returned to America in September 1969 and, after taping a CBS TV special called Songs of America, they resumed working on the album on November 2. The recording session came straight after concerts in Detroit and Wichita. Simon said they were "exhausted"; Garfunkel confessed his long-term partner was "getting on my nerves".

Matters only got worse when Simon found out that Garfunkel had accepted another film role from Nichols - alongside Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge. Simon recalled how angry he had been on a CNN podcast 47 years later. "I said, "Why didn't you tell me?" And he 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… when he agreed to make Carnal Knowledge, something was broken between us. I just wanted to move on. We were finished."

The album itself was a sensation. The success of the LP made an immediate split difficult; Bridge Over Troubled Water was hailed as a triumph. There was money to be made touring brilliant new songs such as 'Cecilia', 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)' and 'So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright'.

Simon and Garfunkel remained on tour in late 1969 and travelled to Europe in early 1970.They continued to play dates up until July 18, 1970, when, following a concert at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queen's, they shook hands in the parking lot and agreed to go their separate ways. Eleven months later they agreed to come together again for one brief set, as part of a fundraiser for Democratic Party presidential nominee George McGovern, but their unease was palpable. When the concert ended, they parted for the next decade.

During the 1970s, the musicians remained in occasional contact. Garfunkel moved away from music, taking a job as a mathematics teacher after wedding architect Linda Marie Grossman. After a bitter divorce from Grossman in 1975, Garfunkel was involved with actress and photographer Laurie Bird from 1974 until her suicide in 1979. At this traumatic time, Simon offered the olive branch of a Simon and Garfunkel re-union. In September 1981, the pair reformed to record a stunning free concert in Central Park, New York, that was attended by more than half a million people and recorded for posterity. "What a night," declared Garfunkel to a cheering audience. "Yes, it did feel like Paul's heart was going out to me," he later told reporters.

A tour followed and the feeling of goodwill from that tour lasted long enough for them to plan a collaboration on a new joint studio album called Think Too Much. By the time the album was released in November 1983, by which time it was called Hearts and Bones, the pair had fallen out again and Garfunkel's contributions had been wiped from the final product.

With Simon's stock high again after the success of his superb solo albums Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints, they patched up things enough to tour again in 1993. As ever, the truce did not hold for long. The fractious nature of the tour was described by Simon's business manager Joseph Rascoff in his book Paul Simon: The Life. "They never came to blows but there was shoving, and I had to step between them."

Simon's candid reflection about the childishness of their fall-outs seems key to understanding this bust-up. They blew up over the trivial matter of the rendition of a version of 'The Boxer'. Garfunkel accused Simon of "singing over him" and coming in at the wrong time. Garfunkel retaliated and did the same thing on another song.

Like an embittered 'on-off' couple with dependence issues, they tried to patch up things a decade later with the 2003-04 Old Friends in Concert Tour. On that extended tour, there did seem to be genuine warmth between the sixtysomethings, and they were even joined on stage by The Everly Brothers in some shows. They remained on amicable terms throughout the decade and embarked on another reunion tour in 2009 that took them across Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

They have not performed together since a gig in June 2010. Fans live in hope of a fifth reunion by these two old friends; concert ticket sites are tracked by thousands of fans awaiting notification of any new tour. It's a tall order to expect one final OAP tour, though, especially after Garfunkel re-opened old wounds a few years ago. Garfunkel said the pair had only got together in the first place as young boys because he felt sorry for Simon because of his height. He said he offered the young Simon his friendship as a compensation, adding, "and that compensation gesture has created a monster".

The insult may have finally burnt the last bridge over troubled water.

© Telegraph

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