Do not allow Art Garfunkel to be written out of history

There was a magical time for modern music, loosely between 1955 and the end of the 20th century, yet a very small percentage of it will survive the test of time.

I don’t expect The Turtles or Herman’s Hermits (who I’m seeing tonight) to be remembered and listened to beyond the next decade.

But if one had to select an elite group of five or ten acts that will achieve immortality, Simon & Garfunkel is certainly in the top five, and completely different from everyone else in the running. If you don’t already know the sound of Art Garfunkel’s unparalleled voice, either singing lead or harmonizing in the most subtly perfect way, usually to Paul Simon’s brilliant compositions and lyrics, you are a very poor person. Go enrich yourself – it’s free.

About four years ago I was listening to Sirius XM satellite radio while I worked. I was tuned to Channel 21, listening to Chris Carter’s show on the Underground Garage, when I heard the host commit a most egregious error. Having just played a Simon & Garfunkel song, he described it as an early Paul Simon song. I knew the host to be a knowledgeable fellow who was in the music industry, so I was baffled. But as my wife always says, “Let it go,” so I did… until a month or two later when I heard a similar slight, but this time over the FM airwaves. I knew something was amiss. There was something bigger in the air.

My fear was confirmed when I saw a live concert with the all-female all-star lineup -- Elle King, Joan Jett, and headlined by Heart.

We can skip all the “first female hard rock band” accolades. Heart (the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy) are just a very talented solid rock band and, as is the case with a lot bands from the second and third generation of rock who are on tour these days, they now have the freedom to cover the songs that influenced them when they were growing up.

So my ears perked up as I heard a familiar chord set being strummed, while Ann Wilson told a story of singing around the campfire to this Paul Simon song, “The Boxer.”

I just about spontaneously combusted. The Wilson sisters are a lot of things -- stupid not being one of them. She heard that song the same way I did on the SIMON & GARFUNKEL album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Or she heard it on the radio where it charted at #7, always introduced as Simon & Garfunkel.

Now I knew some kind of conspiracy was afoot.

Final confirmation came via Susanna Hoffs, a founding member, lead singer, and guitar player for the wildly successful all-female eighties band, The Bangles.

I listen to most of my music on YouTube now. I pay for the commercial-free subscription, and any and everything I want, wanted, or could conceive of wanting can be found there.

That’s where I discovered that Susanna Hoffs had never stopped performing, so I caught up with many of her post-Bangles performances. She truly is a goddess, and it is proof of the unfairness of the world that some man (other than me) actually got to marry her. So there she is, performing and talking about the Bangles and their breakout song that put them on the map, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” and she describes it as an early Paul Simon song. Shot through the heart by a goddess. Can you even recover from that?

I can hear the rebuttals forming in the minds of other aficionados, so let’s cover them.

The first most obvious retort is that Paul Simon wrote every Simon & Garfunkel song of note that was not a cover, and therefore they are Paul Simon songs. In a court of law, the songs did indeed belong to Paul Simon (though he sold the whole catalog to Sony in 2021).

But the world is not a court of law. We do not refer to Beatles songs as early Paul McCartney songs or early George Harrison songs. They are Beatles songs, and for any of you FM DJs out there, a Wings song and a Beatles song do not constitute a twofer on Twofer Tuesday.

Rolling Stones songs are not referred to as Jagger's or Richards’s songs. Ray Davies wrote most of the Kinks’ songs but we do not call them early Ray Davies songs. The songs of Simon & Garfunkel were a collaborative effort, and are distinctly different from Paul Simon’s successful solo career. The works of Simon & Garfunkel have won many awards in the name of Simon & Garfunkel. They are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the name of Simon & Garfunkel. So what gives?

I do not know who or what forces are orchestrating this. It is not possible that three music industry figures as diverse as Ann Wilson, Susanna Hoffs, and Chris Carter all decided to start referring to Simon & Garfunkel songs as Paul Simon songs. The most likely suspect is Paul Simon, but I have no proof of this other than the fact that they (Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel) have an intense distrust of each other since their earliest years together, which seems to have grown into a full-blown blood feud.

If I am wrong and Paul Simon has not orchestrated this attempt to airbrush Garfunkel out of history, then I apologize to Paul Simon and call upon him to right this wrong. Paul Simon was always going to succeed. He is too talented a songwriter and too good a guitar player not to. But there is a difference between a run-of-the-mill rock career and the superstardom that Simon & Garfunkel achieved.

As curious adolescents, my friends and I often tried to make gunpowder, but the authorities were too smart. There was always one chemical you couldn’t purchase. We tried to improvise. We made impressive smoke bombs, but no explosions (thank God). Art Garfunkel was Paul Simon’s missing ingredient. Without him you’ve got smoke but not the explosion that was Simon & Garfunkel.

Image: Joost Evers / Anefo, via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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