It's been decades since Simon & Garfunkel breakup, and still, each reunion since 1970 has been tinged with tension as fans of the folk duo hold their breath to see how long their partnership will last this time around.
As it turns out, theres' a culprit to the split. Revealed during a special screening of their controversial 1969 documentary Songs of America at New York's Paley Center for Media on Wednesday, Art Garfunkel and doc producer Charlie Grodin point the finger at director Mike Nichols.
Grodin traced the roots of the rift to when Nichols first cast both singers for Orson Welles satirical film adaptation of Catch-22, and then cut Paul Simon’s role. “That was the beginning of their split-up,” Grodin explained. “I just think this is outrageous -- you don’t take Simon & Garfunkel and ask them to be in a movie and then drop one of their roles on them. You just don’t do that.”
Garfunkel, who made his acting debut in the film, agreed, and also attributed the film’s production to Simon’s motivation for penning one of their top hits.
“Yes, Chuck’s gone right to the heart of the difficulty in Simon and Garfunkel when he says, ‘Artie and Paul were cast for Catch-22 and Paul’s part was dropped.’ That of course, is an irritant of the first order. So I had Paul sort of waiting: ‘Alright, I can take this for three months, I’ll write the songs, but what’s the fourth month? And why is Artie in Rome a fifth month? What’s Mike doing to Simon & Garfunkel?’ And so there’s Paul in the third month, still with a lot of heart, writing about, ‘I’m the only living boy in [New York]. You used to be the other one.’” (Q&A moderator Bruce Fretts, Articles Editor for TV Guide, then jokingly added: “Mike Nichols is the Yoko [Ono] of Simon& Garfunkel!”)
The duo’s last reunion tour was canceled in 2010 due to Garfunkel’s vocal cord paresis. The singer admitted he has yet to fully recover.
"In January of 2010, I started having some vocal troubles in my mid-range, and my ability to finesse the notes -- which is my stock in trade -- went south on me. I don’t know what it is. I saw doctors; they were not helpful. I just hoped that it was in capacity that was visiting me and would pass on. Now, it’s three years, it’s getting mostly better, I’m pretty much there. I’m starting to book small shows -- warm-up things, workout places. So I’m back to 14 years-old with the vulnerability of an audience and the nervous energy of, ‘Will the voice be there?’”
Throughout the panel, Garfunkel also answered questions from the audience about persuading his son to fully pursue the music business, being naturally influenced by his roots in the synagogue, and how he felt when “Hey, Schoolgirl” first became a hit in 1957.
“I look at it as pop formula confection -- we were fans of the Everly Brothers and this was our rockabilly song that we wrote together,” Garfunkel said of creating the Tom and Jerry song with Simon as a teen. “The fact that it sold and made us high school seniors who had some credibility in school set me off in life, that was the big kick! We did a couple of years of that, we stopped having hits, and then we stopped being friends for a few years.”
Footage of their time just before their second breakup (just after Catch-22) was featured in the 1969 documentary Songs of America, which also chronicled the nation’s state after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. Presented by Sony Legacy at the Paley Center for its first public screening, the film followed Simon & Garfunkel as they toured and recorded their final album, Bridge over Troubled Water.
“I didn’t realize how political we were -- I didn’t realize how we were being seen as Democrats; I thought we were being seen as having a heart and being universal in humanism,” said Garfunkel of advertising sponsors refusing to support the film. Clips capture Garfunkel showcasing his stance against the Vietnam War. “Now I’m older; I look at [my comments in the film] as somewhat naive. Well, don’t you have to face up to put your ass on the line with people who don’t like America and force our hand? I act as if, if we can only stay clean and keep our hands clean, that would be preferable. It seems naive to me now.”
Yet more than 40 years after it unsuccessfully aired on CBS, the anti-war sentiments still sting for Grodin.
“What’s really depressing and upsetting to me about seeing this now is nothing’s changed -- in fact, I think it’s gotten worse,” the actor and news commentator said. “I think we’ve gone downhill, we’re in more countries, fighting more people for more reasons that have to be explained better to me… somebody will have to explain to me why kids are getting killed in the paper every day: young men, young women getting killed… I don’t know what the kids are doing over there now and it’s very upsetting to see that’s nothing changed.”