It is one of the enduring mysteries in pop history: why did one of the most popular and impactful musical partnerships of modern times break up after just five years?
Now Paul Simon, the songwriting maestro behind the 1960s duo Simon & Garfunkel, is opening up about his breakup with Art Garfunkel, his boyhood friend from Queens, New York, and vocalist with whom he vaulted to the top of the charts.
“We had a period from 1968 to 1970 - like from ‘The Graduate’ to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ - where we were probably as big as the Beatles,” Simon told David Axelrod during a special episode of “The Axe Files” podcast, produced by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
During the conversation, recorded this week in Philadelphia, where he was on hand to perform at the Democratic National Convention, Simon said the “imbalance” he felt as the songwriter and guitarist, combined with Garfunkel’s interest in pursuing an acting career, created tensions and led him to pull the plug on their partnership after five of the best-selling albums in history.
“You get on each other’s nerves. People, you know, they want to go one direction, [but] somebody wants to go in another direction. In our case, what we had was a real unbalance in that I wrote all the songs and played guitar and then we sang, so we weren’t balanced,” he said.
But Simon said his resentment grew when Garfunkel began to pursue a separate career in movies.
“Art went down for long periods of time to Mexico to shoot [“Catch-22”] and he wanted to be in the movies, as well as do [music],” Simon said. “So he said, ‘Well OK, the way I see it is I’ll do movies for six months and you’ll write songs and then I’ll come back and then I’ll sing, you know for six months.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, the hell with that. That’s not going to happen.’”
The last straw, Simon said, was when Garfunkel accepted a role in the film “Carnal Knowledge” and never told him about it.
“I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ And he said, ‘I was afraid that you’d stop working on this [music] if I told you.’ So that really pissed me off and I just decided that’s the end of that. I don’t want to do this anymore,” Simon said.
He recalled that Clive Davis, the legendary president of Columbia Records, told him that dissolving his partnership with Garfunkel would be “the biggest mistake of [his] life.” But Simon went on to achieve enormous success as a solo artist, winning Album of the Year Grammy Awards for “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Graceland” and releasing a string of hit songs such as “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Kodachrome,” “Loves Me Like a Rock,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and “You Can Call Me Al.”
With this year’s release of his 13th solo studio album, “Stranger to Stranger,” which debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, Simon has another critically acclaimed record. Even as he approaches his 75th birthday this fall - and contrary to what was suggested in a recent New York Times article entitled “Could This Be the End of Paul Simon’s Rhymin’?” - Simon said he is not retiring just yet.
“The truth is I didn’t say that I was going to stop,” Simon said of the story. “I said, ‘I think it would be interesting to stop for a period time.’ If I denied the normal course of my creative impulses, if I denied them their destination in the form of a song or music, I thought this could be interesting to see what will I think of.”
During their hour-long conversation, Axelrod said to Simon, “What’s remarkable is you’re still sort of at the top of your game.”
“I feel like I am actually at the top,” Simon replied.
To hear more of the conversation with Simon, which also touched on his childhood in Queens, the 2016 presidential election, and much more, click on http://podcast.cnn.com. To get “The Axe Files” podcast every week, subscribe at http://itunes.com/theaxefiles.