In late 1977, Paul Simon‘s close friend Lorne Michaels helped him promote his new LP Greatest Hits, Etc. with an NBC primetime special. This was the peak of the variety hour where everyone from Donny & Marie to the Brady Bunch to the Starland Vocal Band had a cheesy variety show, but this was also the peak of Saturday Night Live and Michaels wasn’t about to attach himself to anything remotely like those other shows. Instead, they assembled a killer team that included Chevy Chase, Tom Davis, Al Franken, Charles Grodin and Lily Tomlin to craft something completely different.
The basic premise of the Paul Simon Special is that Simon merely wants to perform his tunes, but an imperious director, played by Charles Grodin, keeps interrupting him with crazy ideas. You never see much of the actual special, but there’s plenty of supposed behind-the-scenes footage and rehearsals. It’s basically a musical Curb Your Enthusiasm that included renditions of “The Boxer,” “Loves Me Like a Rock” and “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
Near the end, his old singing partner Art Garfunkel shows up to rehearse “Old Friends.” They had a pretty nasty split in 1970, but just two years later reunited at a George McGovern fundraiser in New York City and in 1975 even recorded the new song “My Little Town,” which they performed on the second ever Saturday Night Live. Their friendship has gone through countless ups and downs over the past 60 years, but this was one of the up moments, or at least a moment where they could stand being in the same room together.
The TV special did very poorly in the ratings, though Simon’s new single, “Slip Slidin’ Away” (the “Etc” in Greatest Hits, Etc.), did reach Number Five. His momentum stalled three years later when his movie One Trick Pony, a passion project he wrote and starred in, stiffed at the box office and the soundtrack failed to connect. To revive his career and pull in some money, he reunited with Simon & Garfunkel for a rapturously received concert in Central Park in 1981 that lead to a two-year tour. Other reunions followed in 1993 and 2003, but they haven’t performed together since Garfunkel’s vocal problems derailed a 2010 tour.
Garfunkel is back on the road and eager for another reunion, but Paul recently told NPR that’s just not going to happen. “Quite honestly, we don’t get along,” he said. “So it’s not like it’s fun. If it was fun, I’d say, ‘OK, sometimes we’ll go out and sing old songs in harmony. That’s cool.’ But when it’s not fun, and you’re going to be in a tense situation, well, then I have a lot of musical areas that I like to play in. So that’ll never happen again. That’s that.” We’ve heard that before. Until one of them is no longer with us, the Simon and & Garfunkel soap opera is likely to continue.