Class reunion: It looks like a lasting thing
By Stephen Holden
It may be an idea whose time has come — again. Two men, one guitar, a body of beautifully-crafted songs.
Sounds retrograde, you say? Well, until six months ago, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel probably would have agreed. But then, last September 19th, Simon and Garfunkel played a free concert in New York’s Central Park. It was their first full performance together in eleven years, and nearly half a million people flocked to see it.
In the aftermath of that unexpectedly successful event, as they worked on a live album and video, Simon and Garfunkel talked seriously about getting back together again. Now, they’re considering a tour of Europe in May, and possibly some US dates this summer. And if things go well, there may even be a new Simon and Garfunkel studio album.
If things go well. In all their years as a singing team, these two boyhood buddies somehow never learned how to talk to each other. Personal tics caused tension, and quibbles accumulated into quarrels. Nothing major, but unpleasant memories lingered. In fact, the Central Park show almost didn’t come off.
Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park
“The weeks before the concert were so tense that there were times I really regretted having agreed to do it,” said Simon, sitting in the palatial study of his apartment, which overlooks Central Park. “It was very rushed. Artie had to learn a lot of material very quickly. Basically, the show combined old Simon and Garfunkel arrangements with expanded orchestrations of arrangements I used on my One-Trick Pony tour. We didn’t have time to make new arrangements.”
It didn’t matter — the concert was a spontaneous smash. And in the postconcert projects that followed — polishing the tapes for the recently released live double album, The Concert in Central Park; editing videotapes for a February 21st airing on Home Box Office; and planning a videocassette for commercial release — Simon and Garfunkel discovered that they could work together again. Better yet, they wanted to work together again. With their music as the focus, the old disputes fell away. As Garfunkel said, “We had a rapprochement.”
Video: Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Water (from 1981 – The Concert in Central Park)
“It got easy again,” Simon explained. “Artie and I had some heart-to-heart talks — which, amazingly, we had never had — and we just settled some things. I said, ‘Look, I can do this, but I can’t do that. I can offer this, but I can’t offer that.’ And vice versa.
“And as we started to figure it out, we found ourselves talking about what would work, instead of what the other person did that was wrong. And that sort of dialogue made us open to the idea of re-forming as a duo.”
You can almost hear cynics snorting about this particular reunion — a shrewd, desperate move to sock some life back into two sagging solo careers, n’est-ce pas? But Simon and Garfunkel insist that’s not the case.
“The truth is, neither Artie nor I feel our lives rise and fall on hit albums or flop albums,” said Simon. “Of course, it’s great when you have a hit and a disappointment when you don’t. But I don’t think we’d get together if the potential for a joyous reunion weren’t there. We’d never decide to grit our teeth just to make a couple million dollars.”
The 1981 reunion of Simon and Garfunkel
Of course, the reunion of Simon and Garfunkel certainly has all the potential to become a financial windfall for the duo, especially given what seems like an intense interest on the part of the public. In Europe, for example, a recent Simon and Garfunkel greatest-hits anthology sold 1.5 million copies in two weeks; it seems likely that The Concert in Central Park will fare at least as well. And Home Box Office won bidding rights to the cable-TV special, reportedly paying in the neighborhood of $1 million.
HEAR THEM AGAIN: Stream or buy their music at Amazon
Simon and Garfunkel do, nonetheless, seem genuinely pleased about all the new possibilities of working together again. Garfunkel, for example, has wanted to add his voice to Simon’s “American Tune” (“I always thought of it as Simon and Garfunkel,” Paul admitted), and he finally did in Central Park. “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” is another Simon number that Garfunkel looks forward to putting his personal stamp on. As for Paul, he seems equally excited about writing for a duo again.
“It’s well known that Artie’s a great ballad singer,” Simon explained. “Working with him will give me the opportunity to write that big ballad that I wouldn’t write for myself. Artie’s worried that he can’t sing rhythm, but I know that he can, because that’s how we grew up. We started with rock & roll when we were thirteen years old.”
Those kinds of ties tend to bind, beyond all disputes and distances. “I was in Europe when Paul called and told me about the concert,” Garfunkel recalled as we sat in the kitchen of his triplex apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, just across the park and a few blocks north from Paul Simon’s place.
“Instead of the usual guest shot of two or three tunes, his idea was for us to do a full second half of ten tunes,” he said. “After I got back to New York and we went into rehearsal, some friends of ours said, why not a full Simon and Garfunkel concert? That would give the crowd the biggest kick. It also didn’t seem right to either of us that Paul should be the opening act for Simon and Garfunkel. And for him to follow Simon and Garfunkel didn’t make show-business sense.”
Video: Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound (from The Concert in Central Park – 1981)
Throwback! Young Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon as Tom & Jerry
Simon and Garfunkel: A showbiz reunion
A full-scale reunion, of course, made perfect show-business sense. But it was not an easy undertaking.
According to former Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, whose Broadway Video company taped the event, Simon made the decision to videotape the concert once he and Garfunkel agreed to make it a reunion show.
“We had to build a hundred-by-sixty-foot stage,” said James Signorelli, who produced the video. “We also built the rooftop set, which was designed by Eugene Lee. It took a week to put it up.” It also cost a lot — roughly $750,000 to stage and tape the show — and Simon himself put up the bulk of the money.
But the Central Park concert was logical in another light, too — coming as it did just when the two men’s solo careers had each taken a downturn. Both are forty now, and it’s been painful for them to watch the public’s declining interest in their various solo projects.
“Even though forty is only a symbolic number,” said Garfunkel, “somehow, when you reach that age, you can’t fool yourself into thinking you’re still a kid. I know that if I tried to be a kid, I’d feel more than a little foolish.”