Old friends? You must be joking… As Paul Simon prepares for his final ever UK concerts, he’s laid bare how decades of bitterness, jealousy and in-fighting with Art Garfunkel created a rift that can NEVER be healed
When the celebrated duo Simon & Garfunkel re-united in 1993 for a series of shows in their home town of New York the ten-night run – given the name Event of a Lifetime – sold out so quickly that the pair added 14 more dates.
However, things went rapidly downhill after the opening night, when a newspaper reviewer praised Simon but wrote that ‘Mr Garfunkel turned out to be just one of a large supporting cast of Mr Simon’s collaborators and fellow singers’.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first started getting together to sing at age 11 after they had performed in a school production of Alice In Wonderland
The review opened a lot of old wounds and the atmosphere backstage became toxic.
Joseph Rascoff, Simon’s business manager, literally had to position himself between the pair’s dressing rooms to guard against trouble. ‘I genuinely believed that if there had been a knife on the table, one of them would have used it,’ Rascoff said.
How had it come to this for two old friends, who had met at the age of 11 and gone on to become one of the best-selling groups of their generation?
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first started getting together to sing after they had performed in a school production of Alice In Wonderland.
They would record their vocals to measure how well their voices blended, and as Simon got more comfortable on the guitar, he and Garfunkel raised their ambitions again by trying to write their own songs – almost always patterned after something they had heard on the radio.
They soon felt good enough about their music to take it public by singing in school assemblies, and, on October 16, 1957, three days after Simon’s 16th birthday, they went into a Manhattan studio and recorded an Everly Brothers-type number called Hey Schoolgirl.
Sid Prosen, boss of a small label called Big Records, liked the song and released it after renaming the pair Tom & Jerry. When the record was a minor hit, reaching number 49 in the charts, Prosen asked Simon if he had any songs for the second single, and then suggested to him that he could record a couple of tunes on his own. These would be in addition to the Tom & Jerry record. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Simon agreed and recorded two songs.
The mistake he and Prosen made – and it was a massive one – was not telling Garfunkel about their plan. He was crushed when he found out; he felt betrayed.
Garfunkel knew he had a wonderful voice but also that he was dependent on Simon for songs, which meant that Simon had all the power while he would always be in danger of being tossed aside
The Paul Simon single and the new Tom & Jerry singles all flopped, so by the autumn of 1958, Tom & Jerry were history, personally and professionally. The split caused a wound so deep in Garfunkel that it would never heal fully.
Despite his huge success, Simon would often struggle with negative feelings and saw psychiatrists several times
But there was resentment on both sides. Simon told me in 2017 that he had been sensitive about his short stature all the way back to the Tom & Jerry days.
‘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.’
Carrie Fisher, the Star Wars star with whom Simon had a long-term relationship and a short-term marriage, was the same size as him. ‘I used to say to him, “Don’t stand next to me at the party – people will think we’re salt and pepper shakers,”’ she joked.
Simon and Garfunkel wouldn’t have a meaningful conversation until they ran into each other again in the summer of 1963. By then, Simon had finished university and had been performing in folk clubs in England, while Garfunkel was an architecture student but had put out some records. Garfunkel was impressed by his friend’s new songs, and on the basis of one song in particular, The Sound Of Silence, Columbia signed them.
The name Simon & Garfunkel was agreed upon, despite concerns that it sounded like a law firm, and they recorded an album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, which was ignored by the press when it was released in November 1964, so Simon and Garfunkel went their separate ways once more.
Yet, slowly, radio stations began playing The Sound Of Silence, first in Boston then in other parts of the country, when students went home during the holidays and requested the song on their local stations. Then a reworked version really took off, finally topping the charts in January 1966.
Garfunkel knew he had a wonderful voice but also that he was dependent on Simon for songs
Despite his huge success, Simon would often struggle with negative feelings and saw psychiatrists several times. In 1984 he said: ‘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”.’
Asked what it was he saw as ‘bad news’, Simon replied, ‘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. I was unable to absorb the bounty that was in my life.’
Their next two albums, Sounds Of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, were huge hits, and by the time director Mike Nichols asked them to contribute music to The Graduate, the pair were millionaires. Audiences loved the film and the song Mrs Robinson. The soundtrack topped the charts for nine weeks.
In 1967, Simon, whose drug use was generally limited to pot, decided to take an LSD tablet that he’d been given by Owsley Stanley, the Grateful Dead’s sound man. He took it at home, alone. ‘It is not a good idea to take it alone, but I didn’t know that at the time,’ he said. ‘All of a sudden I felt I was up on the ceiling, looking at myself on the bed. I felt panicky and thought it would help if I took a bath, so I walked into the bathroom, telling myself not to look in the mirror. So what do I do? I look in the mirror, and I see my head had turned into a skull. I get into the shower, and I start seeing these big bugs in the tub.’
But by now their manager Mort Lewis was noticing moments of rivalry between the two.
‘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.’ Years later, Garfunkel confirmed that, saying, ‘I never forget, and I never forgive.’
On April 15, 1968, Garfunkel sent Simon a long, deeply emotional and profoundly sad, handwritten letter outlining his frustration over their relationship, and there were more problems when Nichols decided he wanted the pair as actors for Catch-22. They were told the filming would start in January 1969 and take only three months, but the character Simon was due to play was cut from the script before filming began. While Simon said his disappointment was only momentary, he was annoyed when filming overran because he was ready to start recording and Garfunkel was not available.
He became more incensed in November 1969, when he learned that Garfunkel had agreed to make another film, Carnal Knowledge, with Nichols.
Simon and Garfunkel in the late Fifties as ‘Tom And Jerry’. In 1957 the pair recorded an Everly Brothers-type number called Hey Schoolgirl
Carrie Fisher, the Star Wars star with whom Simon had a long-term relationship and a short-term marriage, was the same size as him
‘He knew how I’d feel, but he did it anyway,’ Simon said. ‘Mike told Artie he was going to be a big movie star, and Artie couldn’t say no. 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. And this made me think about how I could still be the guy who wrote songs and sing them. I didn’t need Artie.’
In July 1970, in a New York stadium in front of 14,400 people, Simon & Garfunkel played what would be their last concert as a dedicated team. Afterwards they walked to the parking lot then paused, shook hands and went their separate ways.
Simon didn’t announce his decision publicly. He didn’t even tell Garfunkel. ‘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.’
Homeward Bound is one of Simon’s best-loved songs and it has long been believed that he wrote it while sitting at Widnes train station in 1965, waiting for a London service. There is even a plaque at the station proudly commemorating the event – the third to be affixed there after the previous two were stolen.
Homeward Bound is one of Simon’s best-loved songs and it has long been believed that he wrote it while sitting at Widnes train station in 1965
However Geoff Speed, who ran a folk club where Simon had been playing, drove him to the station on the day he was supposed to have written it.
‘There’s no way he could have written the song at the station,’ Speed said.
‘We got to the station just as the train pulled in, and Paul had to run to make it. He didn’t have time to sit down, much less write a song.’
Yet a decade later, when the city of New York wanted Simon to do a concert in Central Park in 1981, he asked Garfunkel to get involved. It was a huge success, with a crowd of half a million.
The city had initially contacted Simon’s former manager, Mort Lewis, to ask about the possibility of a show. Lewis had simply passed on the message to Simon. Nevertheless, Simon gave him $100,000 for his help. ‘I said, “Paul, you don’t have to do this. All I did was pass along a phone call,”’ Lewis recalled. ‘Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mort, you’ll always be Simon & Garfunkel’s manager. This is your commission.”’
Not everyone was a fan of Simon. ‘I never liked the way Paul left Art,’ CBS boss Walter Yetnikoff declared in his 2004 memoir, Howling At The Moon. ‘I thought he lacked loyalty… Paul struck me as pretentious and self-important.’ Yetnikoff recalled visiting Simon backstage after one of his concerts. ‘His entourage treated him like little Lord Byron, hanging on his every word,’ he wrote. ‘When I walked in he was stretched out on a couch, smoking a joint, pontificating about the nature of poetics.’
In the wake of Central Park, there was for a time a plan to have Simon and Garfunkel record a new album, but it eventually fizzled out. ‘We had grown apart,’ Simon said. ‘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. If you were collaborating with someone who was contributing in the same direction that you were going, then it was a good collaboration. But if you were pulling at each other, it was torturous, and that’s what that was. Artie would write a harmony that he really liked, and I would say, “I don’t like that harmony,” and he’d say, “Well, that’s the harmony,” and I’d say, “No, you can’t just write the wrong harmony to my song.”’
Not everyone was a fan of Simon. ‘I never liked the way Paul left Art,’ CBS boss Walter Yetnikoff declared in his 2004 memoir, Howling At The Moon
The pair teamed up again in 1993 for a series of New York shows but, according to Simon, Garfunkel was hurt when a critic was dismissive of his contribution and accused Simon of encouraging the journalist to write a negative review. After that, the atmosphere between them was hostile. ‘They never came to blows but there was shoving, and I had to step between them,’ said Joseph Rascoff.
Simon recalled the incident that led to the backstage shoving. ‘During one song, I think it was The Boxer, I made a mistake over when to come in, and it threw Artie off for a second,’ he said. ‘But it was an accident; it wasn’t intentional. So later, we’re singing Feelin’ Groovy, and suddenly Art just stops singing at the part that goes “Life, I love you”, and I’m just left there by myself, trying to figure out what to do. I assumed it was another mistake – no big deal. But then at intermission, Art comes up to me and says, “You tried to make me look like a fool on The Boxer,” and I said, “No, Artie, it was a mistake. Mistakes happen, just like you forgot to do ‘Life, 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.”’ That was when they went at each other. They managed to get through the rest of the dates but they wouldn’t tour again together until 2003, when they were offered $1 million or more a night to play.
It was partly a business decision, but sentiment was also involved. Simon remembered how the late George Harrison had told him that he had gone through tensions with Paul McCartney but eventually put them aside to reconnect with his old friend. So now he and Garfunkel put aside their issues and audiences sensed a genuine warmth between them during the 2003-2004 Old Friends tour.
The healing power of Graceland
During the first half of 1984, Paul Simon was depressed, discouraged over his future as a recording artist. He was 42 years old and his marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had collapsed in less than a year.
He felt numb and sat in his car listening to music and watching workmen build a house he had planned for Fisher and himself.
When Ladysmith Black Mambazo singer Joseph Shabalala came to one of the sessions, the two men embraced. It was the first time Shabalala had ever hugged a white man
One day he realised he had been listening to the same tape of South African music over and over. He decided to track down the musicians and try to record with them. At the time there was a boycott against Western musicians playing or recording in South Africa. Harry Belafonte advised Simon to contact the African National Congress but Simon had already been told that the musicians were eager to record with him and that was all the approval he felt he needed. He got further assurance from Quincy Jones, who said, ‘Just be sure everybody gets paid and that everybody likes you.’
Not all the musicians knew who he was. ‘I said, “Who is Paul Simon?”,’ recalls Bakithi Kumalo, a young bass player. ‘Then I asked myself why someone so famous would want to record with me. I was only playing part-time. My regular job was as a mechanic.’
Initially, the musicians were stiff – so accustomed to life under apartheid that they were reserved and very careful to address white visitors as ‘sir’, but as they became more focused on the music over the next couple of days, the mood loosened.
When Ladysmith Black Mambazo singer Joseph Shabalala came to one of the sessions, the two men embraced. It was the first time Shabalala had ever hugged a white man.
The album Graceland was released in autumn 1986. It was a huge success. ‘Graceland changed my life,’ said Kumalo, who has played bass with Simon for more than 30 years.
In 1992, Simon returned to South Africa and was hosted at a reception in his honour by Nelson Mandela.
On April 24, 2010, they played at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the relationship finally broke for what Simon vowed was the final time. It was soon apparent that Garfunkel was having trouble with his voice. He had caught a bug earlier that year that had affected his vocal cords. He kept telling Simon that things would be fine, and that he’d be ready for New Orleans and the Canadian-US tour that was to follow.
But after Jazz Fest it became obvious that the remaining shows would have to be cancelled. Simon decided Garfunkel had been underplaying the vocal problem all along and he was angry over what he felt was the lack of candour. It reminded him of the Carnal Knowledge row.
‘He let us all down. I was tired of all the drama,’ said Simon. ‘I didn’t feel I could trust him any more.’
The break was complete – personally and professionally.
‘Paul Simon: The Life’ by Robert Hilburn is published by Simon & Schuster on May 8, priced £20. Offer price £16 (20% discount, including free p&p) until May 6. Pre-order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640