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Simon & Garfunkel: Bridging the Troubled Waters

Updated on February 17, 2015
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I'm a lawyer and mother of two from New Zealand. I have a passion for the written word and am interested in lots of topics (esp. Travel)!

All lies and jest, a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest

— Paul Simon (the Boxer)

One of music's best known splits

Rock bands have become notorious for bitter splits and feuds. Who could forget the long running (and very public) feud between Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Don and Phil Everly (the Everly Brothers), or more recently, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis?

However common they may be, the break-up of the iconic folk duo Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, and their subsequent public feuds, shocked and saddened many of their fans around the world. It seemed to mark the end of what was perhaps the most talented and remarkable musical and vocal partnership ever to exist in modern music. There was something so special and unique about Simon & Garfunkel's sound that no other duo since has managed to come close to replicating their enduring popularity and success.

This hub looks at the history and reasons behind the duo's split, and who may have been primarily to blame.

I did have a lucky thing going on there in my throat

— Art Garfunkel

Who were Simon & Garfunkel?

Anyone over 40 will know something about Simon & Garfunkel. Those over 60 will have grown up with their music. For the younger generation or the uninitiated, here's a brief history.

Simon & Garfunkel were an American vocal folk duo comprised of Paul Simon (singer, guitarist and songwriter), and Art Garfunkel (vocalist and occasional producer). They first met as children in 1953 in Queens, New York, where they wrote songs and sang together as 'Tom and Jerry'; learning the close harmonies that would become their trade mark when they went on to become a global phenomenon in the 1960s.

Typically Paul Simon wrote the songs and sang the principal melody line, strumming on his guitar, and Art Garfunkel added his soft, angelic, pitch perfect tenor harmony line, which floated above the melody; creating an ethereal, spine chilling quality to the duo's music.

Initially modelling themselves on the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel had their first minor success with 'Hey Schoolgirl', but then went their separate ways to attend college, and pursue their own separate musical interests for a period of 10 years or so.

In 1963, as folk music was becoming more popular around the world, S&G got back together and were signed to Columbia records, where they recorded their first album -Wednesday Morning, 3am. When this sold poorly, Simon moved to England and the duo disbanded again. They got back together in 1965 after one of their early songs -Sound of Silence, hit no. 1 on the US charts after a producer added electric accompaniment and released the track to radio. This induced the duo to return to the studio to record a second album 'Sounds of Silence'- which marked their first real commercial success, and its music featured in the movie soundtrack for the movie 'the Graduate' starring Dustin Hoffman and Ann Bancroft. The iconic song from this album -'Mrs Robinson', chronicles the spring-autumn relationship between Hoffman's character of a university student, with the much older mother of his roommate.

S&G's third studio album, Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme, was released in 1966. The duo then toured extensively between 1965 and 1970, but disputes and increasing friction in their relationship led to them breaking up permanently in 1970, after releasing their final album -'Bridge over Troubled Water'.

The reasons for the split between one of the most talented and successful musical duos of all time, will be discussed in the next section.

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Bridge Over Troubled Water (Central Park, 1981)

The 'Divorce'

With the 1967 release of 'Bookends', which featured all Simon songs, and where Garfunkel's vocal role was greatly reduced, Simon was signalling an end to the partnership between the two.

The year 1970 marked the end of Simon & Garfunkel as a duo, forever. Although they've reunited a number of times for nostalgia concerts over the years since, and have even toured together a few times, they've never got back together as a duo to record songs or albums.

Why did they split so early on? The answer to this is more complex than you might think, and differs slightly depending on who you talk to. These are some of the relevant facts:

  • Throughout the 1960s as they were recording and performing together, the duo's friendship seemed to give way to personality differences and ego clashes that made it increasingly difficult for them to work together, and put great strain on their partnership. By the late '60s they were barely on speaking terms;
  • In the mid '60s Paul Simon had gone to England to pursue a solo career and write songs, and (arguably) it was only the unexpected commercial success of 'Sound of Silence', with its electric backing track, that induced Simon to return to the partnership with Garfunkel, and to keep recording and touring as a duo between 1965 and 1970;
  • There were arguments about creative control of the songs, and about the respective contributions of both men. Simon (rightly or wrongly) felt that he was the major contributor to the duo as the songwriter, so he should get the lion's share of royalties, song credits and recognition. Garfunkel felt his vocal contribution was essential, and equal;
  • There were disputes over royalties and credits for songs. Simon argued that the duo's early albums were all based off his early catalogue of songs he'd written solo in England before the duo re-formed. Garfunkel felt that he was contributing extensively to vocal arrangements, and producing the music, so that their fees should be equal;
  • 'Catch 22' - The catalyst for a final split came in the form of the movie 'Catch 22', in which both friends were cast. Simon's part in the film was cut by the screenwriter, whereas Garfunkel continued to appear in the movie, and eventually received fourth billing. This led to much jealousy and animosity of Simon towards Garfunkel, and the 8 months of filming, mostly in Mexico, put huge strain on the duo's relationship. It led to Simon writing the bitter song 'The Only Living Boy in New York' about Garfunkel's departure for Mexico -although Garfunkel only found out years later the song was about him;
  • 'Bridge over Troubled Water' (1970): After filming of Catch-22 ended, S&G resumed work on their 4th (and final) studio album, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', but again there were fractious creative differences between the two men, especially on the title track. Simon apparently wanted a more gospel, upbeat feel to the song, whereas Garfunkel wanted to keep it sweet and pretty. Garfunkel's version won out.

"At that point I just wanted out", Simon later said. Initially they didn't intend the breakup to be permanent, but it turned out that way. In 1971, after 'Bridge over troubled water' had won six Grammys, Paul Simon made the split official -announcing it to the record label.


People often called us perfectionists, but we were not looking for perfection. We were looking for some kind of magic in the music

— Paul Simon

1981: Concert in Central Park

1970-1990: Two Decades of Animosity

Much has been written about the post-break up relationship between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

Aside from the specific events leading to disputes between the duo, they also had stark personality differences and radically different outlooks on life. To most outsiders looking in, Simon was the serious, sensible, pragmatic, rational and cool-headed one, while Garfunkel was the easy-going, cheerful dreamer -content to live in the moment, and let the music wash over him. Simon was more comfortable on stage and performing, while Garfunkel's home was the studio, and his books. Garfunkel was comfortable feeling and expressing emotion, whereas Simon kept himself tightly buttoned up - only releasing his feelings through song.


The duo reunited for concerts, benefits and tours a number of times over the years. Art always wanted to keep things open, whereas Paul tended to make bold statements like "Art and I will never record together again". Paul wanted desperately to make his mark as a solo, independent musician and touring artist, whereas Art was happy to keep collaborating, and wanted to focus on movies for a while. There were periods of years during which tensions between the two were very evident to others -for example during a 1975 recording session involving John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Paul and Art, tensions between the two ran so high that the other men involved in the sessions stayed away while Paul and Art worked on background melodies.

1981/82 -Concert in Central Park and a world tour

By 1980 the two men seemed to reconcile again -partly out of necessity, as it seemed their solo efforts weren't doing well. To help New York City's economic decline, concert promoter Ron Delsener came up with the idea to throw a free concert in Central Park. The concert, held on a perfect, moonlit night, attracted more than 500,000 people. A live recording was made, and it went platinum. The concert was also made into a documentary movie, and this created a new interest in the duo, and introduced them to a new generation. It seemed like time to bury the hatchet. The two men had a number of "heart to heart" talks to try to put the past behind them, and began to plan a world tour, beginning in 1982.

Unfortunately for much of that tour, tensions grew again between the pair, and for much of the tour they weren't speaking to each other. Warner Bros pushed for them to extend the tour and release another album.

Tensions over recording of 'Hearts and Bones'

The duo began to record a fifth album together in the studio. However their relationship again broke down, as Garfunkel refused to learn the tracks in the studio, and to give up dope and cigarettes (Simon was pushing him to do so). Garfunkel apparently felt uncomfortable singing much of Simon's new material, as it sprang from Simon's failed relationship with Carrie Fisher, and Garfunkel felt this was too personal. He left the project early, and Simon ultimately erased his vocal tracks from the album entirely, and released the album as a solo effort. This decision led to renewed animosity between the pair, and a split that lasted almost another decade.

A further rift emerged in 1986 when Paul Simon released his chart topping solo album, 'Graceland'. He used a sound engineer Roy Halee for a lengthy period of time, preventing Garfunkel from using the same producer to help him record a Christmas album.

1990: Induction into Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame -Paul Simon remarks

In 1990 Paul Simon gave his former partner further cause for hurt and anger. At the ceremony inducting the two into the R&R Hall of Fame, Garfunkel graciously thanked his partner, calling him "the person who most enriched my life by putting those songs through me," to which Simon responded, "Arthur and I agree about almost nothing. But it's true, I have enriched his life quite a bit." After three songs, the duo left without speaking.

SNL: 'When Simon Forgot Garfunkel'

Saturday Night Live: 'When Simon Forgot Garfunkel' (1986)

When Simon and Garfunkel made the 1986 SNL skit "When Simon Forgot Garfunkel', it was hilariously funny, but had the unintended effect of highlighting the inequality in the men's relationship.

In the skit, Simon's character meets five or six people at the movies who are people he's only ever meet (or seen) once -in some cases a long time ago, or amongst a crowd at one of his concerts. He remembers all of their names, and incredible details about them and their families. Finally, his longtime friend and musical partner Art Garfunkel walks in, and Simon pretends to have "forgotten" who Garfunkel is. He needs to be reminded twice, but even when Garfunkel sings the opening bars to "Bridge over troubled water", Simon still doesn't remember.

The way things were between the pair in the decade between 1980 and 1990, the SNL skit may have hit uncomfortably close to the truth.

'Old Friends' Tour 2003: 'Cecilia'

1991 - 2014: The Ice Thaws

Following on from the Hall of Fame induction, which (perhaps) represented the low point in Simon & Garfunkel's rollercoaster relationship over the years, Paul Simon began to reach out to his old friend to try and mend the friendship.

It's from statements made by Simon around this time, that one begins to sense a growing insight on Simon's part into his own role in the demise of the friendship and musical partnership. For example, in 2001, at the ceremony where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a solo artist, he thanked Garfunkel, and stated:

"I regret the ending of our friendship. I hope that some day before we die we will make peace with each other. [long pause] No rush."

Then after the duo were given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2003, Simon invited Garfunkel to do an international tour with him - titled the 'Old Friends' tour (named after the song 'Old Friends/Bookends'). The tour was a huge financial success, playing to sold-out arenas, and lasted nine months. The tour ended in Rome with a free concert in the Colosseum that attracted more fans than the 1981 concert in central park.

Although the duo reportedly got on well, and had a great time on tour, the planning stages weren't free from trouble -there were lengthy debates about royalties and profit-share for example, which highlighted some of the long standing disagreements between Paul and Art about the value of their respective contributions to the pairing of 'Simon & Garfunkel'. Word is that Paul wanted the split to be in his favour (because he was the major songwriter), whereas Art felt that it should be 50/50 because of his strong vocal contribution and production assistance.

Everything worth doing starts with being scared

— Art Garfunkel

2004 - 2014: "How very strange to be 70" - the mellowing of age

The decade from 2004 - 2014 saw perhaps the biggest thawing out of the fractious relationship between these two brilliant men, and much of that may simply be to do with the "strangeness of being 70" (as Artie put it in a recent interview), and the prospect of going to their respective graves without ever properly reconciling.

Here are some statements from Paul Simon showing that he may have developed a new and deeper appreciation of the unique contribution made by his vocal partner:

"Without Arthur's voice, I never would have enjoyed that success"

and has defended Garfunkel forcefully after others have lampooned him in skits.

However as on previous occasions, even this 'coming back together' wasn't without its difficulties.

Between 2005 and 2009 the two men pursued their solo projects, which included Garfunkel (in 2007) releasing an album of pop standards from his childhood, titled 'Some Enchanted Evening', and Simon heavily involved in a Broadway musical titled 'the Capeman'. Garfunkel made a number of movie appearances, and in 2009 even appeared in 'Flight of the Conchords' as himself.

Reunion tour of Asia and Australia: 2009

2009 was the next time the pair reunited for a three song set during Simon's two night fixture at New York's Beacon Theatre. This led to another successful Simon & Garfunkel reunion tour of Asia and Australia in 2009.

Garfunkel later said (of this tour):

"It was a glorious success. I was into it."

However their newly found harmony and success was to be relatively short-lived, unfortunately. They were headlining the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival when Garfunkel began to experience serious vocal problems. Garfunkel was diagnosed with vocal cord paresis, and the remaining tour dates were postponed indefinitely. Garfunkel's manager, informed Simon's camp that Garfunkel would be ready within a year, which did not happen, leading to another cooling in relations between the two.

"Paul got thrown under the bus of false optimism. [...] I felt terrible about that"

Garfunkel later said. He regained some of his vocal strength over the next four years, performing solo shows to smaller audiences.

Despite this, the two have not toured or performed shows since 2010. Garfunkel confirmed to Rolling Stone in 2014 that he believes they will tour in the future, although Simon had been too "busy" in recent years. "I know that audiences all over the world like Simon and Garfunkel. I'm with them. But I don't think Paul Simon's with them," he remarked.

As for Paul Simon? His most recent statement was along the lines that although he didn't rule out another tour with Garfunkel, he wasn't sure Garfunkel's middle vocal range was sufficiently healed, and he didn't especially want to keep "looking back".

A betting man might conclude from putting these two statements together that backing the 'Simon and Garfunkel' horse for a third world tour may well be throwing good money after bad.

On the other hand, in the words of Paul Simon himself:

"Who am I to blow against the wind"?

It is moving to see them sing together now after all these years. That kind of partnership is like a marriage, only more difficult and more public. You have two very strong, very willful individuals sharing this tight space...[a]nd perhaps because it wasn't something that came easy, it's all the more inspiring and reassuring to see that Paul and Art can still pull off such great reunions.

— James Taylor

Concluding thoughts

In recent years there's been evidence of a newfound peace, and a deep and abiding love and respect between these two old friends. Like bookends whose intervening books have been removed one by one over the years, it seems they've finally (but very belatedly) found their way back to each other.

What was needed, much earlier on, was a real and genuine acknowledgment on Simon's part of the immense value of Garfunkel's unique and beautiful tenor/falsetto voice in creating the signature 'Simon and Garfunkel' sound; thus ensuring the success over five decades of one of the world's most popular folk duos. Without Garfunkel's perfect, angelic sound, and immaculate harmony arrangements, Simon's clever songs may have flown, but would never have soared. Without that Garfunkel sound the songs may have evoked emotion, but could not bring us to tears. They could create happiness, but not euphoria. Garfunkel regards his voice as his connection to the divine, and he communicates this connection every time he take the stage to sing.

Garfunkel may have been perceived as having a narrower set of skills than Simon, as far as the duo's music was concerned, but his contribution was so immense, and so critical, to the duo's sound, that it's equality should have been recognised and reflected much earlier on. Had that happened, then perhaps some of the drama and feuding could have been avoided.

Garfunkel himself isn't blameless, however. His 'devil may care' attitude, and refusal to quit some of his bad habits, contributed to problems in the relationship. He may at times have flaunted his acting success in front of Simon -thereby creating resentment.

In the end, the bond between these two men may have been sorely tested at times, but could never be broken. Ending in (always poetic) words of Garfunkel (speaking of Simon):

"We are indescribable. You'll never capture it. It's an ingrown, deep friendship. Yes, there is deep love in there. But there's also shit."


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