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Memphis Flyer Old Friends

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are together again -- well, kind of.

By Mark Jordan

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999:  In 1969, as the duo was working on songs for what would become their last album of new material together, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon wrote a mellow little lament called "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," a thinly veiled reference to his partner Art Garfunkel, a onetime architecture student at Columbia

As Simon penned the lyrics -- I remember Frank Lloyd Wright/All of the nights we'd harmonize 'til dawn/I never loved someone so long -- it's difficult to imagine that either man didn't realize he was facing the end of a partnership, one that reached back to 1952 when the two sixth graders, appearing in a school production of Alice In Wonderland, discovered the magic of their harmonizing, evident even at that age. And sure enough, a year later Simon & Garfunkel -- if not pop music's most commercially successful duo, almost certainly its most artistically -- had indeed gone their separate ways.

It's now been six years since Simon and Garfunkel (notice the lack of an ampersand) last took the stage together. That occasion was a Simon career retrospective tour that featured Garfunkel on only a few numbers. Before that, there had been scattered reunions -- the 1975 collaboration "My Little Town," which appeared on both Simon and Garfunkel solo records, and the triumphant Central Park concert in 1981. But for most of the subsequent 19 years, Simon and Garfunkel have remained content to be forever disjoined together, like the bundled aged men sharing a park bench in "Old Friends/Bookends," forever separate yet ever a part of the same tableaux. (Simon has attributed the duo's "break-ups" to "personality conflicts"; Garfunkel still refers to his former partner as "Mr. Simon.")

It seems no matter what, the pair can't escape the linking of their names, at least in memory if not reality. It's a point made more strongly by a pair of shows in town this weekend. By sheer coincidence, the former partners found themselves performing in the same city within a night of each other. Garfunkel inaugurated the 350-seat Brother Auditorium at the new Bartlett Performing Arts Center one evening. The next night found Simon at the 20,000-seat Pyramid downtown with fellow '60s songwriting legend Bob Dylan.

Since the duo's break-up in 1970, Simon has shined brightest, with a string of successful solo records and world tours. (In the early '80s Simon produced two "flops," One Trick Pony, the soundtrack to his admittedly disappointing film of the same name, and the understated Hearts & Bones. Though both met with disappointing sales, in retrospect they feature some of the songwriter's best work, suggesting their failures were more the fault of the market place than the artist.) Simon's finest moment perhaps came with his 1986 album, Graceland, which found him collaborating with South African musicians despite a United Nations cultural ban on that country for its racist policies. Controversial at the time, it now is clear that by ignoring the ban and exposing the world to the music of South African Afrikaners, Graceland raised awareness and was an important blow in the PR war that eventually tumbled apartheid.

Simon followed Graceland in 1990 with Rhythm of the Saints, a conceptually similar album that explored the music of Brazil. Most recently, Simon collaborated with Nobel laureate Derek Walcott on The Capeman, a poorly received musical about a '50s New York murder trial.

On this new tour, Simon, who refutes the political songwriter tag, teams with one of rock's most political tunesmiths. Though they are both icons of the '60s, Simon and Dylan didn't meet until 1993 at a birthday party for Willie Nelson. And this tour, less the result of two legends' inspiration, was actually proposed by the concert conglomerate SFX.

The show features Simon and Dylan in solo sets as well as a short mid-show collaboration. Dylan, still benefitting from the artistic reinvigoration of his Grammy-winning Time out of Mind and now fronting a lean Band-esque ensemble, has been the critics' darling on the tour, while Simon's sets have been described as disappointing. In particular, when the two join forces mid-show, Simon has seemed lost with the harmony challenged Dylan instead of his old partner.

For his part, Garfunkel has played out his career on a much more modest scale. After the break-up, Garfunkel continued to flirt with a film career. (It's been speculated that Garfunkel's first role in Mike Nichols' film version of Catch-22 added to the tensions that fractured Simon & Garfunkel; making matters worse, Simon's role in the film, as the doomed Dunbar, had been cut.) Eventually, Garfunkel returned to music. While Simon trotted around the world, however, Garfunkel remained close to his roots, recording the kind of folk-inspired music that best showcases his angelic voice. He scored hits in the '70s with "All I Know" and "Break Away." In 1978, he teamed with Simon and James Taylor on a cover of "(What a) Wonderful World."

But Garfunkel has never been too tempted by the world of the rock star. He disappeared from the public eye for much of the '80s. And in 1984 he started walking across the country in stages, an eccentric project he completed in 1996. The next year he released the Grammy-nominated children's album Songs From a Parent to a Child.

Of course, there's no reason to suppose that since they will be in the same town at the same time, Simon and Garfunkel will reunite on stage once more. That would be asking a lot. But you've got to hold out hope. It must be tough being forever linked with someone else, as if you are merely a cog in some greater machine. But when fans go to either show this weekend their enjoyment will be blunted by the knowledge that someone within reach is missing. As each man launches into a familiar favorite, such as "Homeward Bound" or "Mrs. Robinson," where there should be the pitch-perfect voice of an old friend singing in harmony, there will be instead just the sound of silence.


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