Simon and Garfunkel Reunite: It’s Paul, But Is It Art?
Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS202 from December 18, 1975. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone’s premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
New York — — Comedian Richard Belzer was warming up the studio audience for NBC’s Saturday Night program, October 18th. This, he was saying, was an historic show: “For the first time in five years, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel will be performing together.”
Belzer was a bit misinformed. Last July, Garfunkel joined Simon onstage for three songs at CBS Records’ convention in Toronto. And when George McGovern ran for president in 1972, the two teamed up at a Madison Square Garden benefit.
Still, the show was a big deal, if not as big as Joe Garagiola claimed during a World Series telecast, when he likened the meeting of Paul and Art to the resurrection of Ruth and Gehrig. Simon and Garfunkel, who once had one of the best-selling albums in history with Bridge over Troubled Water in 1970, broke up shortly thereafter, and their two previous “reunions” were nervous and tentative affairs.
Although NBC generally attempted to follow guest host Simon’s directions — “I specifically stated that I didn’t want it pushed as a Simon and Garfunkel show,” Simon said — there was reunion fever in the air. The two had just made their first recording together in five years, “My Little Town.” The song appears on both of their solo albums, which were simultaneously released: Simon’s Still Crazy after All These Years and Garfunkel’s Breakaway.
“I think a standing ovation might be in order,” Belzer told the crowd.
Three minutes before showtime, Simon walked on. “So this kangaroo walked over to the bar and said … I know this is going to come as a disappointment to you, but Art Garfunkel is not going to be here tonight. Instead, my brother is gonna give a guitar lesson on the spot.”
When Garfunkel did appear, Simon once again instigated the semihostile repartee that cropped up on last year’s Grammy show. “So,” Simon taunted, “you’ve come crawling back.” Garfunkel dead-panned: “It’s very nice of you to invite me on your show.” The two sang a medley of old hits, their new single, and Garfunkel performed one other number, “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
Simon and Garfunkel have pursued independent paths for five years now. Simon has concentrated on composing and making albums and has become one of popular music’s more craftsmanlike songwriters, incorporating such diverse musical strains as reggae, gospel and jazz.
Garfunkel, the nonwriting partner, has recorded two albums, the cloyingly sweet Angel Clare and the more restrained Breakaway. Not enormously successful as a solo, he has sought to establish himself as an actor and gained respect for his performances in Carnal Knowledge and Catch 22.
One wondered, then, how Simon and Garfunkel came to do a record and TV special together and what’s behind the animosity that seems to exist. In separate interviews on their separate sides of town (Art on the east, Paul on the west), they tried to explain.
“I had had the typical musician’s experience with TV,” said Simon. “It was unpleasant and the music didn’t come off that well. But Phoebe Snow was in town and Artie said he’d come by. It was a good chance. I didn’t have anything to lose.”
Garfunkel: “Paul invited me a few months ago and I took the invitation. During the summer he began hanging out with people who make that show — Lorne Michaels and Tom Schiller and Chevy Chase — and he became more fervent about saying, ‘You’ll enjoy this, come.’ I must say he was right.”
Still, reunions of former supergroups have an exaggerated impact on an audience seemingly in search of heroes, and Garfunkel himself was quick to try to discourage talk of a more complete reunion.
“Paul and I are very aware of the commercial potency of Simon and Garfunkel,” he said. “And this potency could be like an unwieldy and unwantedly weighty issue. Unwantedly weighty? You know what I mean. It could have more weight than could actually be constructive or helpful. So we do think that some of the things we might do together might have long shadows or larger ramifications. And because of that there’s a reserve caution — a sense of, ‘Let’s make sure we know what we’re doing.’ And that’s a bit of a brake. There’s a bit of that — that is ten percent. Ninety percent is not looking at the repercussions, but responding. Just based on feelings. The feeling of, ‘Will I enjoy this, will this be fun?’ ”
Simon had similar thoughts when he and Garfunkel returned to the recording studio after half a decade.
“It was pleasant,” he said. “Nervous and tense at first. I wondered if it would be good. It fell back into something I had done for so many years.
It’s easy to sing with Artie. It’s something I’d done all my life.”
Neither Simon nor Garfunkel privately expresses anything like the seeming hostility they play on in public.
“To a degree, it’s a setup,” said Simon. “When groups break up people always assume they break up in bitterness. So we play on the comic possibilities. Once you have a lot of people thinking something is true, it’s easy to make a joke about it.”
While Simon is more direct and businesslike in response to such a question, Garfunkel becomes more theoretical: “At this point, you leave me embarrassed. That the subject of the vibes between us is such an issue. It’s all embarrassing. It caters to the immature.
“I grant there’s a curiosity. But to make that the source of … entertainment? It would drag the whole thing down, we’d all feel like … it’s 16 Magazine after all. I could put it to rest by saying, ‘Yeah, I’ve always been Paul’s friend and I suppose I always will be.’ That should discharge anything to do with curiosity about, ah, underlying vibes, you know.”
Presuming friendship, we are offered the reunion song of “My Little Town,” which is a rather angry look at the past of the songwriter.
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