By 2010, Simon and Garfunkel had become an insanely lucrative nostalgia machine that revved up every few years to play stadiums, festivals and arenas all over the world. Paul and Art had a pretty rocky relationship after their brief 1993 reunion ended, but in 2003 they made peace and teamed up for the highly-acclaimed Old Friends tour that seemed to genuinely reestablish the friendship. They were even spotted a couple of times side-by-side at Yankee games when nobody was paying them a dime to be together.
They brought the Old Friends tour to Japan, Australia and New Zealand in the summer of 2009, and that October they were one of the highlights of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. Months later, they announced a 2010 North American tour that was supposed to kick off at Jazz Fest in New Orleans.
That January, Garfunkel briefly choked on a chunk of lobster at the Palm steakhouse in New York City. “A couple of days later I started to find that the swallowing muscle was numb,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “For the rest of the week I was speaking real hoarse and I couldn’t quite swallow properly … When I went to a doctor, they put a snake down my throat with a camera to check things out. They said, ‘Yeah, one of your two vocal chords is stiffer and fatter than the other one.'”
The situation made it extremely difficult for Garfunkel to sing, though he didn’t want to cancel the tour and tried to slog his way through the Jazz Fest set. “It was just terrible,” he said. “I was terrible, and crazy nervous. I leaned on Paul Simon and the affection of the crowd. It was the beginning of bravery.”
They had little choice but to “indefinitely delay” the North American tour supposed to kick off a few months later. Garfunkel spent the next few years slowly learning how to sing again, and Simon publicly said he hoped to rebook the shows and do one final tour with his old buddy. But by the time Garfunkel was finally able to perform full shows without any difficulty, Simon was unwilling to agree to anything. Frustrated, Garfunkel began venting in the press.
“How can you walk away from this lucky place on top of the world, Paul?” he said to The Telegraph earlier this year. “What’s going on with you, you idiot? How could you let that go, jerk?” He went on to say that he initially became friends with Paul in the sixth grade because he felt bad for him since he was so short. “And that compensation gesture has created a monster,” he said. “End of interview.” Paul has yet to respond to any of the comments, but the fact that Art is forced to speak with him via a Telegraph reporter suggests they aren’t in a good place right now.
If they do never play together again, it’s a good thing that painful night at Jazz Fest won’t be their grand farewell. Two months later, they flew to Los Angeles to participate in the American Film Institute’s tribute to Mike Nichols. The director played a huge role in their career. His decision to put their music in his 1967 film The Graduate made them superstars, and then three years later he hastened their demise when he cast Garfunkel in Catch 22, but not Simon. It drove a huge wedge between the two.
They played “Mrs. Robinson” at the AFI tribute to an all-star audience that included Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Cher, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts and many others. Aware of his vocal limitations, Art wisely let Paul handle the bulk of the singing. But even in his dramatically weakened state, he still helped the harmonies soar. And there could be no better person to honor with their (possible) last performance than Nichols. Here’s hoping they have one more tour inside of them though. If they wait another six years, it can be called the “How Terribly Strange to Be 80” tour.