Does the Simon & Garfunkel Story really tell us everything?

Tom Peeters

With more than 100 million records sold, Simon & Garfunkel are among the most iconic duos in the history of popular music, but that never meant that they became best friends.

On the contrary, they often aired their internal squabbles in public. That is the main reason why they hardly every responded to requests from concert promoters to cash in on their endless string of Sixties hits. Thus, the way was open for tribute bands, certainly after Paul Simon said goodbye to his live audience in 2018. Of these, the Simon & Garfunkel Story proved to be the most successful. Having toured in America, the production that lies midway between concert and theatre show has now touched down in continental Europe. They invariably do so with two vocalists who approximate the timbre and looks of the original singers. Their “story” focuses on the road to the top and the highlights. Because the split in 1970 was about more than the protagonists simply “growing apart” let’s remind ourselves.

Simon and Art Garfunkel met as 11-year-olds in primary school in Queens, New York. They started playing music together, shared their first cigarette, a starring role in the school musical Alice in Wonderland, and a love for The Everly Brothers. For a while it seemed they would become BFFs but in fact, the first cracks in their friendship appeared already in their teens. At 82, those cracks still are not fixed. In the wake of their debut single “Hey, Schoolgirl”, released at the age of 16 as Tom & Jerry, their then record boss asked Simon to record two solo singles too, but he “forgot” to tell his partner. Even before the duo’s career really took off in 1963 under the moniker Simon & Garfunkel, Garfunkel, who was just the singer, already considered Simon, the songwriter, a traitor.

Two years after its release, “The Sound of Silence” would become their first number one. Spurred by the film The Graduate, “Mrs. Robinson” became an even bigger hit and their album Bridge over Troubled Water was yet to be released. But internally, things went from bad to worse. Being short and failing at relationships made Simon depressed and Garfunkel exploited these doubts. In a 2017 biography, Simon looks back at a photo shoot in which Garfunkel said to him: “Whatever happens, I will always be bigger than you.”

Both were jealous of the other’s role in the duo. Garfunkel said in his memoirs that Simon’s betrayal at 16 has always stayed with him, adding delicately: “Paul won the royalties, I won the girls.” In turn, Simon gave the duo the death knell by realising that he did not need “Artie” to make a career at all. After the split, the two occasionally got together, including for their acclaimed Central Park concert in 1981 and an Old Friends tour in 2003 and 2004, but trust was never restored. After a final tour had to be cancelled in 2010 due to Garfunkel’s problems with his voice, Simon blamed him for not being honest, the final end of the collaboration.

In the tribute version, the frictions have been polished away. The emphasis is on a skilful, if rather well-behaved performance of the harmonies of “Homeward Bound” and “Cecilia”, among others. “Public school kids,” one online reviewer called the musicians. The singer-actors were cast by director Dean Elliott to sound like the originals. In Brussels, James William Pattison and Charles Blyth are the Simon & Garfunkel on duty. Goosebumps are not included in the price, a trip down memory lane is.

The Simon & Garfunkel Story will be told on 3/4 at the Koninklijk Circus/Cirque Royal,

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