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Simon & Garfunkel's Concert In Central Park Couldn't Make Them Friends Again

Music | September 21, 2019

Charles Ruppmann/NY Daily News via Getty Images

On September 19, 1981, Simon and Garfunkel reunited for the Concert in Central Park after years of acrimony. Had they really put their hurt feelings behind them to work together? Were they about to usher in a new era of ‘60s folkie love? Not really. The concert was amazing for the fans, but Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were never going to get back together, not in a personal sense. The show actually put them more at odds than they were when they weren’t speaking. While the concert helped revitalize Central Park and Paul Simon’s career, it pretty much ruined their friendship.

Simon and Garfunkel were the sound of New York City and the folk scene in the late ‘60s, and after their split, they had both pursued solo musical careers and explored film acting, with Garfunkel finding more success than Simon on the big screen. Though Simon's solo musical career had been successful -- with early- and mid-'70s hits like "Kodachrome," "Loves Me Like A Rock," and "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" -- he was in a downswing in the early ‘80s. His last project had been One Trick Pony, a 1980 movie he wrote and starred in, which had flopped; the album by the same name was moderately successful.

Simon, Garfunkel, And Central Park Were All In Decline In The Early ‘80s

source: HBO

At the same time, Central Park was hardly the “green lung” that it had once been. The park was deteriorating and abandoned, as the city lacked funding to give it the upkeep it sorely needed. Park Commissioner Gordon Davis hit on the idea of throwing a concert to raise the $3,000,000 needed to restore the park. The city could negotiate the rights to a television special, merchandise, and the whole lot of filthy lucre while giving the people of New York something to remember.

Promoters turned to Simon and Garfunkel, two New York boys who never left the city -- they weren’t on the best of terms with one another but were professional enough to work together from time to time. They inked the deal and the concert was set in motion. 

Simon And Garfunkel Weren’t Exactly Pleased To Be Working Together Again

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Everything was going great for all parties involved with the Concert in Central Park except for Simon and Garfunkel. The two friends had done more than grown apart, their friendship was fractured so heavily that it needed a whole new foundation. The duo initially planned to perform solo sets before coming together at the end, but after that was deemed too obtuse they decided to play the entire set as Simon and Garfunkel. Garfunkel wanted the show to be nothing but the duo for two hours, but due to an injury, Simon couldn’t perform a two-hour set and wanted to play with a band. In 1984 Simon explained the predicament to Playboy

I was on a real roll with my writing by then, but I stopped to go into rehearsal for the concert. And at that time, we were all in very good spirits. Well, the rehearsals were just miserable. Artie and I fought all the time. He didn't want to do the show with my band; he just wanted me on acoustic guitar. I said, ‘I can't do that anymore. I can't just play the guitar for two hours.’

Rather than perform as a duo for two hours Simon wrote new arrangements for an 11 piece band. He threw in Latin arrangements, jazzy breaks, and the African rhythms that he’d become obsessed within the recent years. Garfunkel just wanted to play the songs as they were, and he made his dissatisfaction about learning new arrangements known to anyone in earshot. 

The Concert For Central Park Was A Massive Success

Source: (Warner Bros.)

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where Simon and Garfunkel were in terms of their friendship, they played magnificently together. Fans were so happy to see them share the stage again that they didn’t notice any hiccups that occurred onstage, even when the show was interrupted by a fan during “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” the band was cool.

The band played in front of a backdrop depicting an urban rooftop with water tank and an air outlet, a visual that brings to mind the New York skyline. When the duo entered the stage they shook hands and went straight into “Mrs. Robinson” from 1968. The rest of the set was comprised of 21 songs that spanned the duo’s career as well as their personal projects; the night crescendoed with “The Sound of Silence.”

When the live version of The Concert in Central Park was released on February 16, 1982, it was a huge hit. Fans were still rabid for what Simon and Garfunkel had to offer and they gobbled up the album so fast that it went to number 6 on the Billboard chart in America before going double platinum. The album spent the rest of ’82 and much of ’83 in the top 10 charts around the world. The album sold so well that it just made sense for Simon and Garfunkel to get back together. 

A Simon And Garfunkel World Tour, What Could Go Wrong?

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In 1982 Simon and Garfunkel embarked on a world tour that snake through Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. The fans were happy but all was not well in the inner sanctum. Neither singer spoke to one another on the tour, and they were both dreading the planned studio album that they felt was necessary to capitalize on their surprise success. While speaking with Playboy in 1984 Paul Simon said that he and “Artie” hardly spoke on tour; whenever he asked his longtime partner about the distance between them he was told not to take it personally. Simon told Playboy

When I asked, he'd say, ‘Oh, look, don't be hurt by my behavior. Don't think that I don't like you.’ Of course; on a certain level, not too far from the surface, he doesn't like me. I don't even know if Arthur admits that. The same goes for me. And then, of course, you have to remember that there's something quite powerful between us. This is a friendship that is now 30 years old. And the feeling of understanding and love parallels the feeling of abuse. I think Artie's a very powerful and autonomous person until he comes into contact with me on a professional level. Then he loses a great degree of power. And it makes him very angry - at me.

The Duo Tried To Make Another Studio Album, But It Fell Apart Pretty Much Immediately

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Warner Brothers Records practically begged Simon and Garfunkel to make an album. To hear the singers tell it, neither of them were interested in getting together in the studio, but if it was going to make everyone a bunch of money there was no harm. Simon wrote a handful of songs and hit the studio. While speaking with Playboy in 1984 he said that he didn’t really want Garfunkel to sing on the slate of super personal songs that he was working on, many about his relationship with actress Carrie Fisher, but Garfunkel convinced him that it would be cool. Simon said:

At first I thought, I really can't do it: These new songs are too much about my life - about Carrie - to have anybody else sing them. [Garfunkel] said, ‘Look, these aren't the events of my life, but I understand the emotions you're dealing with. I understand what it is to be in love, to be in pain, to feel joy. I'm a singer. I'm able to interpret. That's what I do.’ I said, ‘All right. Let's try. However, I have to produce this because it's not like it was in the Sixties. I know what I want to say musically. So if that's all right with you, and I can have the decision on how to produce the tracks, then we can try.’ He said, ‘Well, you're dampening my enthusiasm because of your ambivalence.’

Is that dialogue from a Wes Anderson movie or fightin’ words between Simon and Garfunkel? Simon wanted to work fast and produce a new album, but Garfunkel wanted to take his time working on vocal melodies while he went on a “walk through Switzerland.” Simon finally had enough with his longtime partner trying to figure out how to work himself into the songs and told Garfunkel that the songs would be a Paul Simon solo album. 

Paul Simon Knew That The Two Couldn’t Stay Together

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Paul Simon has called Simon and Garfunkel “the partnership that wasn’t,” which may be the most damning thing that anyone could say about the duo. He knows that everyone was rooting for them, but the older it got the more impossible it was for them to get together on a personal level and really do the work. He explained:

It's too bad, because everybody wanted to have two guys who had their differences and split up and then came back together and resolved them and lived happily ever after. It was really a b*tch to say, ‘Well, we didn't' really get back together.’ The truth is, we were always able to sing and blend well together; that's our gift. And that was always a turn-on for both of us. But aside from that, we're really two different guys. As much as we wanted to be a partnership, we're not.

Tags: Art Garfunkel | Paul Simon | Simon & Garfunkel

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.