Biographies & Memoirs

PART ONE

WINTER INTO SPRING

A Song That They Sing When They Take to the Highway

CHAPTER 1

Smack in the middle of a workweek—Wednesday, February 11—Mort Lewis took the type of call any music business manager longed to receive. A friend at Columbia Records informed him that the company had officially shipped one million copies of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. At a time when the bar for success was the gold album for sales of half a million, the figure was especially remarkable. Days later, Lewis, a tall, toothy World War II veteran who’d become Simon and Garfunkel’s manager in 1965, received an honorary souvenir from Columbia commemorating the conversation: a dime mounted on a wooden plaque with the inscription, “To Mort Lewis—For Posterity.”

Lewis chuckled, as he would for years afterward whenever he saw the plaque, but he was also relieved. Between the creation of the album, the constant interruptions, and that damn television special, the previous year had been a trying one for his clients.

Not that they hadn’t asked for it, to some degree. Like everyone who worked with them, from Columbia president Clive Davis to the session musicians who had to repeatedly replay their parts in the studio, Lewis was painfully aware of how exacting Simon and Garfunkel could be. The creation of their fifth album stretched back to January 1969, when the duo went to Nashville to record—or, it turned out, start recording—one of Simon’s new songs, “The Boxer.” The track began simply, with Simon and session guitarist Fred Carter Jr. fingerpicking the gentle sway of Simon’s melody on Martin guitars. Then Simon, Garfunkel, and their coproducer and recording engineer, Roy Halee—a Columbia staffer and native New Yorker who had become an intrinsic member of their tightly knit team—began layering the track to enrich the sound. Only later did Simon add lyrics—the story-song of a worn-down prizefighter meant to be a metaphor for Simon and the criticism sometimes leveled at his work.

In the end, “The Boxer” incorporated a tuba, harmonica, drums, and a mournful, otherworldly solo that combined a pedal steel guitar cut in Nashville with a piccolo overdubbed in New York. For the “lie lie lie” finale that never completely satisfied Simon, Garfunkel suggested they record at a chapel at Columbia University; the echo would be just what the song needed. Columbia Records balked at spending so much money on one song, but they had little choice in the matter. The duo’s track record of hit singles gave them the latitude to take however long they wanted, and however much money it would take.

A few months later, in the summer of 1969, Simon and Garfunkel left their hometown and decamped to Los Angeles. Simon rented a house on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills, a home previously occupied by George Harrison, who’d immortalized it in a drony piece of psychedelia of the same name on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. With the Beatles still on his mind, Simon brought with him a new song he’d begun in New York. His lawyer Michael Tannen had first heard it when Simon showed up late at Tannen’s birthday party on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I’ve just written my ‘Yesterday,’” said Simon, who, despite fending off a cold, sang it for the partygoers.

As with “The Boxer,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” as it was first called, was no painless undertaking. Starting with the simple strum of an acoustic guitar, Simon’s demo of the song was understated and gentle. “When peace is all you seek, I will be there,” he sang, almost as if he were back in the British folk clubs he’d played earlier in the decade. Then, reflecting one of his newfound musical passions, his voice glided up into a falsetto inspired by Claude Jeter of the Southern gospel group the Swan Silvertones. (It was the Silvertones’ “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep,” with its line “I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust my name,” that inspired Simon to write his own variation.) At the Blue Jay Way house, Simon sang it for Lewis and Garfunkel. Lewis loved it right away, and Simon suggested it as a showcase for his partner. Surprisingly, Garfunkel initially demurred, not feeling the song was a perfect fit for his voice. Simon persisted, and Garfunkel eventually agreed.

To begin the process of capturing the song on tape, Simon called in Larry Knechtel. Born in southern California, the twenty-nine-year-old Knechtel had worked with them on their previous album, Bookends; his extensive résumé also included playing piano in the famed Wrecking Crew, a group of renowned Los Angeles session musicians featured on more hits (by the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys, the Fifth Dimension, and many others) than an AM radio could handle. Knechtel, a taciturn professional with shaggy sandy-brown hair, had seen it all—or so he thought. Starting August 1, 1969, he clocked in at Columbia’s basketball-court-size studio on Sunset Boulevard, joining Simon, Garfunkel, and Halee. Simon played Knechtel the new song on guitar and told him he wanted to center it around a piano instead. Once the chords were transposed with the help of arranger Jimmie Haskell, Knechtel devised an introduction and an outro, and the rehearsals began. Knechtel took a seat at the piano, and Garfunkel stood next to him, both donning headphones, microphones dangling from the ceiling to capture as full a piano sound as possible.

As Simon watched with hawkish intensity from behind the controlbooth glass, Knechtel and Garfunkel began performing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” That day alone, Knechtel worked from 10 P.M. to 4:30 A.M., with a half-hour break. Knechtel knew his bosses could be exacting, but over the days ahead, he didn’t expect to play the song—two verses, totaling just under three minutes—as many times as he did. His own estimate was seventy-two takes. “Paul wanted it to be gospel, but not gospel,” Knechtel recalled. “That was the hard part, since Art couldn’t sing that stuff.” Knechtel admitted he probably screwed up a few times; he wasn’t used to so many replays. Meanwhile, Simon rewrote some of the verses and changed “waters” to the singular “water” in the title phrase.

Once Simon decided on a take he liked—the second, it turned out—it was then to stage two: a muted drum part by Hal Blaine, another member of the Wrecking Crew; two bass parts by Joe Osborn, also a veteran of Simon and Garfunkel sessions; vibes; drums recorded in an echo chamber; a string section. Realizing the song was too short, Simon told everyone to leave space for a third verse he’d write later. Inspired by the sight of his girlfriend Peggy Harper looking in the mirror at the Blue Jay Way house and seeing a gray hair—“silver girl” was the phrase that came to mind—Simon finished the new words, and Garfunkel sang an early draft of them on August 13.

And yet work on the song was only just beginning. When they returned to New York, Garfunkel began two painstaking weeks of vocal work at a Columbia studio. Garfunkel could be as exacting as Simon, but during the session, Simon would nonetheless get visibly angry if his partner sang a note Simon hadn’t planned out beforehand. Although he’d known his collaborator for nearly fifteen years, Garfunkel was still taken aback. He’d been gone most of the previous few months, on a movie set, and had to readjust to Simon’s demanding ways.

Tensions between them were nothing new; if anything, they were as much a part of their lives as their shared borough backgrounds. In Nashville during initial work on “The Boxer,” the two were driving around one day with Halee and arguing about who could run the fastest. Right then, Simon demanded a race. Halee pulled over into an empty parking lot, and all three jumped out and bolted across it. Simon finished first, Halee second, and Garfunkel last. Nothing about the incident—the impromptu contest, the sprint, the results—surprised anyone who knew them.

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They’d been friends and competitors as long as anyone could recall. One day in the fall of 1957, when they were both sixteen, they’d gone shopping together for sweaters. Even though they were mere Queens high-school students, they’d actually placed a song on the charts, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” and needed to spruce up their wardrobes. In the store, they began arguing: Simon wanted one type of sweater, Garfunkel another. In the end, they couldn’t agree on what to wear and wound up leaving with nothing. A few hours later, they laughed about it, and the cycle began again.

As children, they’d lived within three blocks of each other, in the middle-class section of Queens, New York, and went to the same elementary school, P.S. 164 in Flushing. Simon had migrated from nearby Newark, New Jersey, where his father, a bass player and bandleader named Louis Simon, had been born. The family—which also included Louis’ wife Belle, who taught school, and a younger son, Eddie—moved to Kew Gardens Hills, a largely Jewish section of the borough. Garfunkel was already living there with his parents, Jack and Rose, and his two brothers, Jules and Jerry. Simon had taken note of Garfunkel’s singing during a school talent show. “I saw you on that stage and I thought, ‘That’s how you get popular,’” Simon told him after they’d become friends. Garfunkel took note of Simon’s sense of humor, and they finally met during a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland.

From the start, rock and roll drew them together. Inheriting his father’s love of music, Simon began learning guitar and playing his own type of music. At a ninth-grade dance, he and Garfunkel joined up to sing Big Joe Turner’s recent hit “Flip, Flop and Fly”—“I’m a Mississippi bullfrog, sittin’ on a hollow stump,” went part of its rollicking lyrics. By the time they were attending Forest Hills High School, they were singing songs by the Crew Cuts and their heroes, the Everly Brothers. Once, when they were trying to learn the Everlys’ “Hey Doll Baby” from memory, they inadvertently came up with a song of their own, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” in half an hour.

While they were putting it on tape in a Manhattan studio, Sid Prosen, owner of a local indie label with the presumptuous name of Big Records, overheard them. In the immediate way in which the early rock and roll business worked, he offered to make a record out of it on the spot. Prosen spoke with their parents, cut a deal, and, two days later, shipped fifty thousand copies of “Hey, Schoolgirl” to record stores and jukeboxes. One obstacle remained to assimilating themselves into the culture: their names. They rechristened themselves Tom and Jerry: Garfunkel was now Tom Graph, a nod to his love of math and charting pop hits on graphs, while Simon rechristened himself Jerry Landis.

With its “who-bop-alook-chi-bop” hook and its tale of a smitten teen who eventually lands the girl, “Hey, Schoolgirl” recalled the Everlys enough to peak at a respectable number 49 on the charts. Before they knew it, Tom and Jerry were wearing white bucks and singing the song on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand around Thanksgiving 1956. They were rock stars—but, it turned out, only for a moment. Tom and Jerry’s second single, the less confident “Our Song,” recycled the “Hey, Schoolgirl” chords and died quickly. A third single, “That’s My Story,” amounted to banal white doo-wop and also withered. By the time they graduated from Forest Hills High School, their career was finished.

For the next few years, they barely spoke. Mere months after “Hey, Schoolgirl,” Simon had cut a single on his own—a hiccupy slice of Queens rockabilly called “True or False,” under the name True Taylor. The secretive recording signaled that Simon was intent on a career in pop music—and that he suspected his partner wasn’t equally driven. Garfunkel, who had such a sharp, numbers-driven mind that he was already tutoring math in high school, was miffed by Simon’s side project. They went off to different colleges—Garfunkel to Columbia to study architecture, Simon to Queens College, right near his parents’ home—and fell out of touch.

As “Hey, Schoolgirl” proved, Simon was a quick, savvy study when it came to pop music trends. Those skills were only sharpened in the early ’60s, when he took jobs at song publishing companies during his noncollege hours, where he’d sing on demos of songs being pitched to stars. In the process, he learned about record-making—and, just as important, which pop styles were in vogue at what moment. Cutting records on his own with various pseudonyms, he tried his hand at sweet ballads with pitter-patter beats (“Just a Boy,” “Shy”) and Elvis imitations (“Teenage Fool”). A savvy bid at airplay, “Play Me a Sad Song,” implored a disc jockey to spin something woeful to ease his angst. In “It Means a Lot to Them,” he was the archetypal nice Jewish boy, concerned about receiving the consent of his girlfriend’s parents. The tracks were polished and au courant, but the arrangements—syrupy backing vocals and clip-clop rhythms—sank them. His sense of humor and developing sense of rhythm only poked through on “The Lone Teen Ranger,” a novelty record with a honking sax solo that tapped into the Lone Ranger TV show frenzy.

Like many of his peers, Simon glommed onto the folk music boom that arrived after the Kingston Trio and then Peter, Paul and Mary brought strums and hearty harmonies to the masses. Before long, he’d ditched the doo-wop affectations and was transforming himself into a socially conscious singer-songwriter, just like Bob Dylan and all the newgeneration balladeers playing in nearby Greenwich Village. One night in his parents’ bathroom—either 1962 or early 1964, depending on the source—he began writing a new song about the alienation his generation was starting to feel. (The opening reference to “darkness” referred to the way he’d sing in the bathroom with the lights off.) During his part-time song-plugger job, Simon would often drag along his guitar and play his own songs for publishers. One day, he played “The Sound of Silence” for Tom Wilson, a Columbia Records executive. Wilson liked the song and decided to cut it, so Simon brought along Garfunkel, with whom he’d reconciled after a chance meeting on the streets of Manhattan. Wilson, a young black producer, was impressed with Garfunkel’s white Afro—it was the first he’d ever seen—and before long, the former Tom and Jerry had been signed to the same label as Dylan.

With the contract, they finally reverted to their actual names. Goddard Lieberson, Columbia’s distinguished and erudite president, first thought “Simon and Garfunkel” sounded too much like a department store, and a few Columbia executives considered their moniker too Jewish-sounding. Club-goers at their earliest Village folk-club shows would approach them at intermission and ask when the jokes were coming; they assumed “Simon and Garfunkel” was a comedy duo. But the time called for authenticity over artifice, so they were, finally, Simon and Garfunkel.

Released in October 1964, their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, showcased what they could bring to the folk music table. Their harmonies—Simon on the low end, Garfunkel on the high—were altogether different from the rousing three- or four-part vocal blends heard on the majority of folk records; Simon’s lyrics were pensive and scholarly. “The Sound of Silence” was a snapshot of a generation colliding with conformity, mass media, and “neon gods.” With its images of the homeless, poets reading by themselves, and early morning fog, “Bleecker Street” evoked Greenwich Village’s main thoroughfare after the music had faded for the night. The careful intertwining of the two men’s voices only added to the song’s mood of predawn, empty-streets fragility. But the bare-boned production throughout the album was overly wan, and the two men weren’t altogether convincing in the sturdy–sing-along department (“You Can Tell the World” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” weren’t as rousing as they wanted to be). Columbia spent all of $3,000 recording it and only sold a depressing 1,500 copies. By the end of the year, Simon had relocated to London and was singing in folk clubs and train stations, and Garfunkel was back in school. Simon and Garfunkel had capsized as quickly as they’d launched.

In the middle of 1965, with folk-rock the industry rage thanks to the Byrds’ cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” the strangest thing happened: Without Simon or Garfunkel’s knowledge, Wilson overdubbed electric guitar, bass and drums onto the original “The Sounds of Silence.” The transformation made all the difference: The electric guitar made the song spooky and spectral, as if listeners were walking into a long, darkened tunnel. Simon was in England when he heard the news, and from London, he read each week, stunned, as the song began climbing the charts.

In need of a manager, the duo reached out to Lewis, then overseeing the Brothers Four, a blatantly commercial folk group. Lewis freely admitted that jazz was his preferred genre; after the war, he’d stumbled into a job in the office of a press agent for one of his heroes, jazz pianist Stan Kenton, and eventually managed Kenton and pianist Dave Brubeck. Lewis first met Simon and Garfunkel at his Manhattan apartment around Thanksgiving 1965, where Simon was visibly impressed with Lewis’ personally autographed copy of a Lenny Bruce LP. (“You know Lenny Bruce?” Simon asked in amazement.) Still, Simon was skeptical. At a subsequent meeting with Simon and a lawyer, Lewis declared he could get Simon and Garfunkel $10,000 a week in concert earnings. Simon asked Lewis to step outside for a few minutes. When Lewis returned, Simon said they would sign with him, but only if the contract could be terminated in six months. At twenty-four, Simon had already devoured the lessons, good and bad, of the music business and didn’t fully trust Lewis.

Lewis wasn’t kidding; within two months, they were playing colleges on weekends and taking home thousands of dollars a night. They quickly capitalized on the hit with an album, Sounds of Silence, largely comprised of dour melodies Simon had written in London: songs about recluses and suicides (“Richard Cory,” “A Most Peculiar Man”), isolation (“I Am a Rock”), failed romance (“April Come She Will”), and premature nostalgia (“Leaves That Are Green,” in which Simon looked back wistfully at his life of a few years before). For all its rainy-day ambience, the album was meatier, in both production and material, than their debut. From the second it began, with Simon’s doleful opening guitar lick, “I Am a Rock” found a middle patch between cranky isolation and record-making smarts and became their next hit.

By early 1969, when work on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album commenced, the two could look back on an astonishing three years. Each album had sold better than the one before and, just as important, advanced their art as well. Sounds of Silence gave way to late 1966’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. The album was more precious than Sounds of Silence: “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” and “Cloudy” twinkled like stars, and “The Dangling Conversation” worked in references to Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost amidst its pointed sketch of an erudite couple on the rocks. Simon’s “A Simple Desultory Phillipic” couldn’t decide whether it was a mockery of protest songs or an attempt to copy Dylan. (Likewise, bleating organs throughout Sounds of Silence were directly lifted from a Dylan record of the period.) But the duo’s creative balance—Garfunkel’s tendency toward the opulent and grand, Simon’s toward reflection and sheltered intimacy—played out beautifully in “Homeward Bound,” “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall,” and a cascading Garfunkel showpiece called “To Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.” Simon was loosening up as well: Featuring members of Dave Brubeck’s band, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” added a slice of jaunty bounce to their repertoire.

The following year, director Mike Nichols used some of their older songs—and a new, unfinished one originally called “Mrs. Roosevelt” but renamed “Mrs. Robinson”—for his film The Graduate. When the movie became a smash by capturing post–Kennedy assassination disaffection, complete with a Jewish leading man in Dustin Hoffman, Simon and Garfunkel were embedded even further into the mass consciousness. Bookends , from 1968, was half devoted to a suite of songs that looked at life from childhood to old age, from the urban chaos of “Save the Life of My Child” to the young couple on the road in the luminous “America” to the graying couple on a park bench in “Old Friends.” The album’s flip side collected a random assortment of unconnected but equally thrilling singles and B-sides like “Fakin’ It” and a more polished version of “Mrs. Robinson.” The often affected quality of their first records—heard even in the poetry-student tone in Simon’s between-song comments during early shows—burned away, replaced by songs and singing more conversational, more direct, and less mannered; they could also be whimsical in the best way.

As rock stars, they didn’t always fit the bill. Their private lives were secretive; neither Simon’s London girlfriends nor he and Garfunkel’s dabblings in pot and acid ever made the tabloids. (Writing to a friend from London, Garfunkel joked about not using the postal service to send them hash.) They were precise and orderly, taking vacations every December and January. After concerts, their dressing rooms would be visited not by groupies yearning to sleep with them but by girls eager to share their poetry. At one Detroit concert, a security guard stopped Simon and Garfunkel at the backstage door, thinking they were audience members. “Well, we work here,” Simon said, calmly. Their hipness, or lack of it, was far less important than their considerable craft.

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By late 1969, Simon’s musical sojourns continued pressing onward. In the same way gospel had inspired “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a love for South American music drew him to “El Condor Pasa,” a gently floating ballad he’d heard performed in Paris by the Peruvian band Los Incas. Another day on Blue Jay Way, his younger brother Eddie—an equally skilled guitarist as well as the eerily spitting image of Paul, down to their identical fresh-from-the-Army-barber haircuts of the mid ’60s—began banging a rhythm on a piano bench. Simon and Garfunkel soon joined in, and Simon taped it for fun. It wasn’t much beyond a clanky, bustling rhythm track, but Simon kept returning to it, drawn in by its mesmerizing polyrhythmic pull. Eventually he pulled out a guitar and began playing along, and out came a new, rollicking song, “Cecilia.”

Simon’s fastidiousness and musical-explorer tendencies weren’t the only reason for the delay in completing Bridge Over Troubled Water. Just as the sessions were getting underway, Mike Nichols reentered their lives. After The Graduate, Nichols had decided to adapt Joseph Heller’s absurdist World War II novel Catch-22 to the screen. Since filming would take place in Mexico and Rome, Paramount gave Nichols a sizable budget of $15 million. Having grown friendly with both men, especially Garfunkel, Nichols offered Garfunkel a role as the naïve, idealistic Captain Nately.

From the start, Garfunkel’s participation in the film was a sensitive issue. Lewis tried to talk him out of it; he and Simon both felt it would take Garfunkel out of action on the album for too long. But Nichols convinced Garfunkel, and Garfunkel himself thought the timing—a threemonth shoot—would work out: While he would be filming, Simon could be working on new material. In January 1969, Garfunkel, who was paid $75,000 for the role, departed for Guaymas, a town in northwest Mexico so remote that it could only be reached from Mexico City by way of a thirty-hour train ride.

Catch-22, which entailed a fully operative airfield, freshly constructed roads, and working B-52 bombers, didn’t promise to be an even remotely trouble-free production. Cast and crew were stranded in Mexico for almost five months. In order to rehearse their new songs, Simon had no choice but to fly down to Mexico himself at least once. Sequestered in Garfunkel’s hotel room, the two worked on their harmonies and arrangement of “The Boxer” into the night, keeping at least one cast member, a young New York-based actor named Bob Balaban (later to find wider fame appearing in most of Christopher Guest’s satirical, improvised films), awake in his room next door. Filming of Catch-22 continued in Los Angeles in June, followed by scenes in Rome in the fall.

Returning to Los Angeles, Simon was now on his own. His central collaborator would now be Halee, a stocky, patient, and equally fastidious studio technician several years older than Simon. (His short, partedon-the-side haircut and shirts and ties worn in the studio made his age even more aparent.) Simon began to grumble to some of his studio musicians about Garfunkel’s absence or, other times, that Garfunkel was holding him back creatively. During film breaks, Garfunkel popped in when he could, Simon presenting him with new songs he thought his partner should sing or with largely completed tracks. An early point of contention became “Cuba Sí, Nixon No.” Reflecting his ongoing love of early rock and roll, Simon had written a mocking song about the thennew president, set to a frisky stomp that recalled Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” The song’s recording became a barometer of each man’s diverging musical tastes. During one early rehearsal, Simon, reveling in a groove and rhythm unlike anything the two had done on their first four albums, sang and played the half-finished song with a smile. Leaning in to harmonize, Garfunkel struggled to find the right vocal blend to match the song’s tone.

When a near-complete take was ready, they and Halee gathered in the Columbia control room for a playback. As the song boomed out of the speakers, Simon was animated, playing air guitar and bouncing on his heels. Garfunkel, hands tucked into pockets, stood silently, nodding ever so slightly. As much as Simon loved it, Garfunkel wasn’t feeling it, and later they argued over whether or not it fit in with the rest of the album. The song was ultimately dropped.

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Although the album should have been wrapped up by fall, other commitments intruded. In October, Simon and Garfunkel went on the road for the first time in over a year, playing ten concerts between New York and Los Angeles. To beef up their sound onstage, they brought along a band—Knechtel, Blaine, Osborn, and Carter—who joined them for several songs each night. Also along for a good portion of the tour was a two-man film crew.

With an incomplete album hanging over their heads and Columbia growing more impatient with each week—a Christmas release was now out of the question—the last thing Simon and Garfunkel needed was an additional project. But earlier in the year, they’d committed to a television special sponsored by AT&T, a company so desperate to appear hip that it doled out over $600,000 for the rights to the show. Hired to oversee the project was Robert Drew, a former Life magazine correspondent who’d produced well-regarded documentaries (or “candid films,” as he called them) on JFK, firefighters, farmhands, and heroin addicts.

On the set of Catch-22, Garfunkel had befriended Charles Grodin, a thirty-four-year-old Pittsburgh-born actor with a slew of TV and Broadway credits to his name. Grodin had blandly handsome features that disguised a subversive side and a dry, off-kilter sense of humor (and his Orthodox Jewish background as well). Before long, Grodin began joining Garfunkel on visits to Simon’s Blue Jay Way house. After Simon had had unsatisfying meetings with potential directors for the film, he asked Grodin, who had some stage directorial experience on his résumé. Grodin helped Simon flesh out the framework for the special and agreed to direct and work with Drew.

Shortly before the scheduled airdate of November 30, 1969, executives from AT&T gathered in a screening room at Drew’s Fifth Avenue offices to watch the finished product, Songs of America, for the first time. They expected to see a music special and did—half the time, anyway. Cameras caught Simon and Garfunkel onstage and in hotel rooms, arriving at airports, and rehearsing for their tour. The concert footage made it clear that all they needed was Simon’s resonant, agile guitar chords as accompaniment; despite the caliber of their musicianship, the rock band behind them often felt intrusive. The AT&T types watched as one hit after another—“America,” “Homeward Bound,” “The Boxer”—tumbled out. As always, Garfunkel stood rigidly as he sang, as if preparing to read a term paper in front of a class, while Simon had a tendency to casually gyrate in time with the rhythm.

During the first half of the hour-long special, though, the phone executives began shifting in their seats. In preliminary meetings, Simon told Drew he wanted to make “a home movie about where he thought the nation was,” as Drew recalled. In Simon’s mind, the country was split in two and unraveling at every turn. (He’d broken down in tears the night Nixon had been elected.) To the discomfort of the AT&T executives, half of the hour-long special adhered unwaveringly to Simon’s vision. As their music played in the background, the phone company reps watched footage of decaying housing projects, burning buildings, and bloodied antiwar protesters hurling rocks at police. A montage of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy was set to the just-finished but still-unreleased “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which never sounded more mournful. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” accompanied a pastiche of Vietnam soldiers and hand-holding hippies. “Punky’s Dilemma,” a slice of subtly anxious draft-dodger whimsy from Bookends, was heard over footage of congressional hearings and Lyndon Johnson. Both Simon and Garfunkel were seen questioning the country’s role in Vietnam (“It’s . . . crap,” said Garfunkel, disgustedly). In one outtake, the duo sang a birthday song to the country, on the verge of its bicentennial, then broke into an imitation of an exploding atomic bomb.

The AT&T men watched in silence and left. Later, an executive from its ad agency called Grodin and yelled at him: “You’re using our money to sell your ideology,” he barked. Someone else from AT&T told Drew they’d never air it. At the very least, the company demanded that Coretta Scott King’s speech during footage of a civil rights rally be lowered in volume. “This is not what we contracted for,” an AT&T executive told Advertising Age. “We bought an entertainment show, and they delivered their own personal social and political views.” The Washington Post devoted an op-ed to the controversy, but AT&T wasn’t swayed: The company dumped the special, selling the rights to Alberto-Culver, maker of hair products like VO5 and Noxzema, for $50,000 and taking a considerable financial loss in the process.

When the show eventually aired on CBS, it was massacred in the ratings by its competition, a Peggy Fleming dancing-on-ice special. By then, it hardly mattered to its two stars. Taken aback by AT&T’s qualms, Simon and Garfunkel wound up spending most of their earnings on lawyers who fought to keep the show on the air. Little about the partnership felt effortless anymore.

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Arriving at Columbia’s studio on East 52nd Street in early January, Clive Davis was both elated and curious. After a year of waiting, he was finally going to hear a new Simon and Garfunkel album. Davis, who’d taken the reins at Columbia in 1967 after rising from a job in the label’s legal department, was both old and new school. With his thinning head of hair and omnipresent suits and ties, Davis looked his thirty-seven years. Yet his fan-boy enthusiasm for pop—even the corporate-psychedelic patterns of his suits—set him apart from previous label heads. With his ingratiating manner (if not his own formidable ego), Davis knew how to relate to bands like Santana and Big Brother and the Holding Company, both of whom he’d signed to Columbia early in his tenure.

Simon and Garfunkel were another matter, and Davis knew it. By the time he became head of Columbia, they were already stars unafraid to demonstrate their clout—by, among other things, negotiating a higher royalty rate (an inordinately high fifty cents an album and two cents per side on singles) and demanding an extension of their contract. He also realized they were complicated men: When Davis wanted to price Bookends higher than their previous albums, they resisted, not wanting to gouge fans.

Yet Davis knew how to work with and flatter his acts. He knew that bohemians like Janis Joplin would claim not to care about sales figures, then call him after-hours to ask how their records were doing. Simon initially nixed the idea of using their music on a soundtrack album for The Graduate, thinking it would be asking fans too much to buy a collection recycling older material—until Davis went to a screening of the film, heard the judicious use of their music in it, and called Simon directly. He told Simon he’d make their name smaller on the cover to avoid any whiff of exploitation, and Simon eventually agreed

Davis’ power of persuasion came in handy when he arrived at the studio, where Simon and Garfunkel had been joined by members of their families. When the album playback finished, Davis announced that he loved what he’d heard, and the duo asked him to pick the album’s all-important first single. They were expecting him to say “Cecilia,” but instead he told them it had to be “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Simon and Garfunkel balked—a nearly five-minute ballad wouldn’t have a chance on the radio, they argued. Yet Davis pressed his case: “You can’t play everything according to the book,” he told them. The fans who’d heard a preview of it onstage during their fall tour—and often gave it a standing ovation—were also a reliable gauge. After much discussion, they agreed.

Davis’ populist instincts—his love for the big ballad aimed at the heart of middle America—were again proven right. When “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was released in late January, Billboard was nothing less than ecstatic: “They are going straight to the top with this beautiful, almost religious-oriented ballad,” wrote their unnamed reviewer. “Performance and arrangement are perfect.” Almost as soon as their version was out, the Ray Conniff Singers, the Beatles of elevator music, covered it. “Not just a number one record, but an instant classic,” read Columbia’s trade ads for “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” True to the hype, the song became the best-selling single in the States within weeks. Without meaning to, Simon had finally managed to do something he’d never done before: write a song, like “Yesterday,” that wasn’t merely a hit but a standard.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” sounded like nothing he and Garfunkel had done before. Knechtel’s comforting opening chords—as florid as a Vegas lounge player yet grounded in the gospel feel Simon required—set the tone, followed by Garfunkel’s muted vocal entrance and lyrics about a devout friendship that built on Simon’s original opening lines. The arrangement was mathematically precise; strings and other instruments arrived gradually, in calm waves. As the last verse built to a crescendo, Blaine’s drums crashed in the distance and the orchestra surged to match Garfunkel’s shiver-inducing climactic high note. Given that the musicians on it had once worked with Phil Spector, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” felt like a distant cousin of one of Spector’s Wall of Sound productions.

In this case, though, the song was nothing less than a Wall of Balm. The two years leading up to its release had been brutalizing ones: a succession of Vietnam bombings and casualties, urban riots, and assassinations of beloved political figures like King and both Kennedys. Had it been released earlier, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” might not have had the same impact. But arriving after a numbing period in the country’s history, it became a much-needed respite from one piece of bad news after another. It was a perfectly written and produced song that had arrived at exactly the right time.

The song became the leadoff track on the most eclectic and expansive album of their career. The most immediately striking aspect of Bridge Over Troubled Water was its sonic warmth and richness. Although Simon and Garfunkel records had always had their share of aural beauty, the album took that aspect to often breathtaking new levels. The haunting Andean quena flutes that engulfed “El Condor Pasa” were the genuine article: Rather than copy the original Los Incas arrangement, Simon chose to license the group’s original recording, over which he and Garfunkel added new vocals. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” couched one of Garfunkel’s sweetest performances in crisp bossa nova guitar and congas. With its honking saxophones and layers of street-corner harmonies, “Baby Driver” evoked the hamburger stands of post-Elvis America. For all the hard labor that went into its creation, “The Boxer” flowed like the gentlest winding river. The sonorous, strummed guitar chords that opened “The Only Living Boy in New York” were merely the start of one of their most magnificent creations. The music—a sustained, hushed murmur, with Knechtel’s organ and Osborn’s bass adding the occasional splash of color—evoked send-offs and loneliness, as did Simon’s unusually melancholy solo vocal. When he and Garfunkel’s voices converged in the song’s coda—with the help of an echo chamber at Columbia’s studio—the melancholy burned away, as if the sun had finally, gloriously, risen over the city.

Beneath its crisp surface, the album told two separate, if converging, stories. The first was the tale of one person, Simon, following his newfound world-music muse, whether to South America or Jamaica (a gawky crack at reggae, “Why Don’t You Write Me”). Its stately title ballad aside, Bridge Over Troubled Water was looser and more playful than anything the two had done since their Tom and Jerry days. Whether “Cecilia” was about a particular girl or possibly Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music from ancient Rome, the frisky sexuality of its lyrics and rhythms was hard to deny or resist. Even as a teenager, Simon hadn’t written a line as bluntly sexy as “making love in the afternoon,” and the song’s thwacking, thumping battery of percussion felt like an ad-hoc group of street-musician drummers pounding away in Central Park. The pageantry blare of horns that concluded “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” Simon’s intentionally overstated lament about the rigors of the road, was also rare for a Simon and Garfunkel album.

In terms both personal and veiled, the album also laid out another story, nothing less than the rise and fall of a friendship. The two men’s shared mutual love of the Everly Brothers emerged in a version of “Bye Bye Love.” (In another sign of the way Simon was toying with record-making rules, they turned the ebullient clapping of an audience at one of their 1969 shows into a rhythm track, which was tacked onto a studiosung cover of the oldie.) “The Only Living Boy in New York” described Simon’s ambivalent feelings about Garfunkel leaving for Mexico to film Catch-22. (Calling Garfunkel “Tom” was a furtive nod to their Tom and Jerry days, but few made the connection, since the duo excluded any references to those days and records from press releases.) “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” referred to another of Garfunkel’s outside-music passions, architecture. In a telling moment, Simon and Halee were heard shouting “So long, Artie!” during the song’s fade-out.

Throughout the album, the two were heard together as often as not. “Baby Driver” was all Simon, as was almost all of “The Only Living Boy in New York.” When the two men performed “Song for the Asking” during their fall 1969 tour, Garfunkel harmonized along with Simon’s lead vocal. But on the record, the song—an exquisite lullaby that found Simon at his most vulnerable and conciliatory—was sung by Simon alone.

On March 7, Bridge Over Troubled Water became the best-selling album in America, overtaking the Beatles’ Abbey Road. It was the number one seller from the student record store at UCLA to a Sam Goody in Stony Brook, New York. Although it was impossible to verify, Columbia claimed it had moved 1.7 million copies of the album in its first three weeks. The fact that as much as a third of it didn’t feature the voices of Simon and Garfunkel in tandem was barely noticed by anyone other than Simon, Garfunkel, and Halee.

010

On a chilly late-winter afternoon, Maggie Roche clutched her guitar and watched nervously as one stranger after another strode in and out of the NYU arts building. Finally, after three hours, the person she’d been patiently scoping for—Paul Simon—walked in.

An eighteen-year-old Bard College student, Roche was already an accomplished songwriter and guitarist. On weekends, her father would drive her and her younger sister Terre, who was still in high school, from their home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, into Manhattan. Working the Village folk clubs, they’d met local legend Dave Van Ronk and his thenwife Terry Thal, who mentioned that Simon, one of Roche’s songwriting heroes, would be teaching a songwriting class nearby. Although she was small and shy, Roche was confident in her abilities and determined to join Simon’s class.

To her surprise, Simon was alone—no entourage, no handlers—and even more surprisingly, he didn’t brush her off when she approached him. She told him she and her sister were singers and songwriters, and he replied by saying she should come back a week later—which she did, this time with Terre, the most conventionally pretty of the Roche sisters. Simon led them into an empty classroom upstairs. “Go ahead—play something,” he said.

The two started on Maggie’s “War Song”: “Set your eyes upon the greatest soldier in the war/His battlefield is strewn with corpses of his dreams,” went part of it, complete with counterpart harmonies. Halfway through the first verse, Simon stopped them. “Okay, play something else,” he said.

The two were jarred by his response: Did that mean he liked it or not? Although momentarily discombobulated, they sang another of Maggie’s songs, and Simon again halted them midway through and asked them to move on. Finally, several half-sung songs later, he said, “Okay, you can come to the class.” They wouldn’t even have to pay.

The two sisters followed him upstairs to another classroom, where they saw for themselves what a Paul Simon songwriting course looked like. Desks were askew, papers piled high in one corner, a large, eraser-faded blackboard on the wall. Astounded that they were actually in the room with their hero, along with a dozen or so other students, the Roche sisters were in such a daze that the night was a blur. The evening grew even more surreal when class broke and Simon asked if the two needed a ride home. When they said they had to get to the George Washington Bridge to catch a bus to New Jersey, Simon offered them a ride, and all three piled into his blue sports car parked outside: Maggie upfront with Simon, Terre scrunched into the small backseat with her guitar case.

As Garfunkel had learned many years before, his partner was a particularly exacting taskmaster. Tonight it would be the Roche sisters’ turn. As Simon navigated the Manhattan streets uptown, the sisters thought his generous offer to join the class, for free, was a sign: Maybe he was so impressed with them that he was about to offer to help them land a record deal or produce their music. At one point, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” came on the radio, but Simon paid it little mind. Instead, he took them to task: They had a gift, maybe enough to win local talent shows in their hometown, he told them, but they weren’t ready for a professional career.

“Do you think you’re as good a songwriter as Paul McCartney?” he asked Maggie. Confident in her abilities, she replied yes; Simon was silent.

After he’d deposited them at their stop, Simon told them he’d see them again next week. Awaiting their bus home, the sisters tried to make sense of the encounter. Simon had clearly been generous in offering them a free slot in an NYU class, alongside students who seemed more technically advanced than they were. Yet his blunt assessment shocked them. “It was such a powerful experience, that ride,” Terre Roche recalled. “On one hand, we’d be coming back next week. But on the other hand, we’d been dealt with rather harshly. He was very critical. He was like a surgeon.”

Returning the following Tuesday, the Roche sisters took their seats. A fellow student announced he’d just seen an impressive new singer and songwriter at a Village club. He asked Simon if he’d heard of him—someone named James Taylor. Simon replied no, he hadn’t.

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