The untold truth of Simon and Garfunkel

They never really looked like rock stars, but Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are certified music legends, helping to popularize folk rock and enriching millions with their iconic harmonies. But if all you know about the duo is their music and that Simon is shockingly short for a rock 'n' roll guy, you've got a lot to learn. Here are some fascinating tidbits about the pair, both together and apart. 

They didn't intend to become folk rock

Thanks to the success of rock standards like "The Sound of Silence," Simon and Garfunkel will forever be credited with inventing folk rock, or at least helping to make it as popular as it was in the '60s and '70s. But if the pair had their way, it never would've happened.

As Allmusic explains, when Simon and Garfunkel recorded "Silence," it was just like the rest of their 1964 debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.: entirely acoustic. For the most part, the album was just acoustic guitars and the duo's vocals, which struck a chord with basically nobody. The album initially flopped, prompting the pair to briefly split up. Then, in 1965, producer Tom Wilson noticed some radio stations were beginning to pay attention to "Silence," and he immediately took advantage. Without telling either Simon or Garfunkel, he remixed the song by adding electric guitars, electric bass, and drums, turning it into the version most people (unless they're Disturbed or Nevermore fans) think of today.

The "Silence" rock remix proved super-successful, prompting the duo to reunite and record a new album, which officially launched their careers as music megastars. And this is why producers exist.

Garfunkel lost his voice for four years

Garfunkel didn't write many S&G songs, but he earned his keep with his incredible, hauntingly angelic voice. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" simply wouldn't have been the same had Simon sang lead. Sadly, for years that voice was gone, and it seemed like it was never coming back.

As Garfunkel recapped in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview, starting in early 2010, his voice began to fade after he ate lobster and choked on a big piece. Days later, he started having trouble swallowing, and a doctor visit revealed one of his vocal chords was "stiffer and fatter than the other one." This meant, in short, he couldn't sing. He could still hit high and low notes, but couldn't go mid-level, making him — in his words — "crude instead of fine." After all, people listen to "Bridge" for the whole thing, not just "I will ease your MIIIIIIIINNNNNDDDD."

Onstage with Paul Simon during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Garfunkel could barely sing a note. Shortly thereafter, the pair's tour was postponed, then canceled. In 2011, Garfunkel began retraining his voice at a rented concert hall, putting on "real show[s] without the people." The following year, he began performing super-tiny, private shows at a New York art gallery, basically rehearsing in front of 90 or fewer people, still fighting to get the kinks out of his timeless voice. As he grew stronger and more confident, he would play increasingly bigger shows until, after four years of fighting, he could finally sing all his songs, including "Bridge," once again. Avoid the lobster, man.

Garfunkel is a walking machine

It's great to exercise and move, but Garfunkel takes it to a whole other level. The man, to put it mildly, walks literally everywhere, and the longer the distance the better.

According to his website, he first began long-distance walking in the early '80s, when he was touring Japan and decided it'd be a great idea to walk from one end of it to the other. He enjoyed that excursion so much, he soon set his sights on a way bigger country: the United States. In 1983, he began his "Walk Across America," where he literally walked from one end of the U.S. to the other. He didn't do it in one go, which would've taken him roughly six months, but rather in various chunks (averaging about three treks a year) over a 14-year span. In 1997, he finally reached his goal: South Jetty, Oregon, on the edge of the Pacific. Why do something so objectively insane? Clearly, taking the long way is in his blood.

Garfunkel celebrated his gigantic walk by almost immediately starting up another gigantic walk. In 1994, he began walking across Europe, planning to stroll from Ireland to Istanbul. In 2014, he finally completed his venture, and immediately followed it up with a concert tour because the man can't stop, won't stop. Next walk: to the Moon, probably.

Garfunkel lists every book he's read (including the dictionary) on his website

Art Garfunkel really loves to read, and also loves to tell you how much he loves it. So though it's highly likely no one asked, Garfunkel's website contains a list of every single book he's read over the past 50 years or so.

He doesn't review the books, or talk about them in any way. He just lists the title, author, year of publication, month and year he read it, and the page count. Did you know he read John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World in December 1979? You do now! You still don't know if he liked it, or if it spoke to him in any way, but he sure spent part of that month poring through it. He does offer a separate page listing his favorite books ever, but even then it's just a list of books he really enjoyed.

Perhaps the most curious entry in his list comes from March 1993, when he read the dictionary. That's no joke: he literally read all 1,664 pages of the Random House dictionary, which is technically like reading every book ever written, just all scrambled up. Still though, why not just read an actual book? He seems to be pretty good at that. In fact, as of November 2016, he's read 1,246 books. He hasn't posted any new books since then. Perhaps his eyes are simply getting old, or perhaps he started A Song of Ice and Fire and can't make heads or tails of it.

They started as a pop duo called 'Tom and Jerry'

It's hard to imagine Simon or Garfunkel feeling they had to hide behind pseudonyms once, but that's exactly how they started their careers. Simon, in particular, went through several fake names before finally settling on his real name as his favorite.

When the pair started writing and playing together, they weren't crafting folk songs, but rather '50s sock-hop teen pop. Emulating their idols, the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel would perform corny bubblegum songs like "Hey Schoolgirl," their first hit. "Schoolgirl" scored them a record deal, but not as Simon and Garfunkel. According to Rolling Stone, the label feared their actual names were "too ethnic" and would alienate the Middle America crowd. (It was a different time.) So Art became Tom Graph and Paul became Jerry Landis, or "Tom and Jerry." Sadly, Art didn't chase Paul around the house only to take a mousetrap to the tail.

Simon quickly decided he liked hiding his cheesy, unsophisticated music behind a pretend name, and crafted several more over his pre-S&G career. Variously, he was Jerry Landis, True Taylor, and Paul Kane. He also joined various bands (The Mystics, Tico and the Triumphs), usually under the Jerry Landis name. Garfunkel, meanwhile, was Tom until the pair got good enough that he could stop being Tom. Too bad they didn't record a song or two as "Bugs and Daffy," just for the laughs.

'Mrs. Robinson' was almost 'Mrs. Roosevelt'

"Mrs. Robinson" is one of the most famous movie songs ever, though it wasn't originally conceived that way. Originally it was just another song, and the title character had a very different name.

Tony Dunsbee's book Gathered From Coincidence quotes Garfunkel's explanation. He and Simon were approached by CBS's Mike Nichols to contribute songs to The Graduate — one wound up being "Mrs. Robinson." But at the time, according to Garfunkel, they hadn't settled on a name: "any three-syllable name" worked as a placeholder. Mostly, she was "Mrs. Roosevelt," though once the movie became a thing, they'd occasionally sing "Mrs. Robinson." Somehow, neither Simon nor Garfunkel concluded, "you know what, that's the name." It took Nichols to do that.

During a meeting with the group, Nichols asked if they had any other songs for the film. Garfunkel suggested "Mrs. Robinson," and Nichols immediately snapped to attention. He asked the world's most obvious question: "you have a song called 'Mrs. Robinson' and you haven't even shown it to me?" Garfunkel replied, according to Bill Flanagan's book Written in My Soul, "Well, I don't know if it's 'Mrs. Robinson' or 'Mrs. Roosevelt,'" because you can lead an Art to answers, but you can't make him think. Nichols responded, "Don't be ridiculous! We're making a movie here! It's 'Mrs. Robinson'!" Somehow, he managed to not end that line with "duuuuuhhhhhhh." But the duo got the point, and the song permanently became about Mrs. Robinson. And Joe DiMaggio, for some reason.

Their '80s reunion album became a Paul Simon solo album (that flopped)

The '80s almost saw a Simon and Garfunkel reunion that extended beyond the stage and into the studio. We would finally get a new S&G album, and the world was stoked. Then, nothing happened, and the world was less stoked.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, after the pair successfully reunited in 1981, their attention turned to crafting their first new album since 1970, called Think Too Much. But sadly for those who thought too much about the album, it never happened, thanks to mean old Mr. Creative Differences. As Simon explained in a 1984 Playboy interview, "I wanted to be there when [Garfunkel's vocal sessions] happened because I knew that if what he did wasn't all right with me, I wasn't going to let it go." Garfunkel wanted to sing alone, and wasn't at all happy when Simon refused his request.

Rhymin' Simon's attempts to assert himself as the group's boss prompted Garfunkel to quit, leaving Simon with a bunch of songs and no album. He recorded them anyway, releasing them in 1983 as Heart and Bones, his latest solo effort. But being promised a Simon and Garfunkel reunion and just getting Simon is like surf-and-turf without the steak, and the album flopped commercially. It's since gained a reputation as one of his better, more mature albums, but that still doesn't change how we lost out on new Simon and Garfunkel because Paul wouldn't leave Artie alone for even a day.

They played outside the Roman Colosseum for 600,000 people

It's awesome enough to perform in Rome. It gets cooler when you perform at the Roman Colosseum. To have 600,000 fans watch you do it, as Simon and Garfunkel experienced in 2004, must be downright surreal.

During one of their many brief reunion shows, Simon and Garfunkel hit Rome to perform. According to Yahoo Music, their music regularly gets translated into Italian and performed by local bands, so they had more than a small following. Also, the pair didn't just play some modern arena: they played the actual Roman Colosseum. Kind of. They didn't actually perform inside the Colosseum, since it's super-ancient and the inside is basically ruins. Also, you couldn't fit more than 50,000 people in there on its best day, and far more folks were interested in a S&G reunion than that. So instead, they set up a stage just outside the Colosseum and, like the world's most successful buskers, played on the streets for their adoring fans.

All in all, over 600,000 fans showed up to partake, and only partially because the show was free. They legitimately loved the band and wanted to be there to see them play, even if it meant dealing with a Colosseum crowd that dwarfed even the busiest tourist season.

Simon was briefly on a United Nations boycott list

Paul Simon's never been the most outrageous or controversial of musicians, and yet he still managed to get the United Nations peeved at him, simply for performing.

According to the New York Times, in 1987 Simon found himself on the UN's boycott list. Apparently, they were angry that, in 1985, Simon had recorded some songs for his Graceland album in South Africa. In 1980, the UN officially began a "cultural boycott" of the nation because it embraced apartheid and the UN wasn't too cool with that. So when Simon hit South Africa to create his album, the UN saw that as him breaking the boycott, putting him on their no-no list.

Being on the UN no-no list is bad publicity, so Simon worked fast to put a stop to it. Despite feeling he didn't break the UN boycott since he only recorded in South Africa and didn't perform, he wrote the group a letter, promising he wouldn't actually perform in South Africa. That was apparently enough for the UN, which promptly removed him from its list and officially made it okay to enjoy "Still Crazy After All These Years" without implicitly thumbing your nose at the entire global assembly.

Garfunkel taught geometry for nine months in 1971

When Simon and Garfunkel separated in 1970, Simon predictably launched a super-successful solo career. Garfunkel, meanwhile, defied all expectations and became a math teacher, which is exactly what you do when you have one of the sweetest golden throats in music history.

During an interview with The Guardian, the academically inclined Garfunkel (who had gone back to school when he and Simon first split in 1964) elaborated on his abrupt career change. In 1971, he took a gig teaching geometry at a Connecticut private school, which had to have been quite the first-day perk for any student of his. But Artie immediately cut the "my teacher's famous" thing off at the knees, telling the kids, "Yeah, I've had 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' but we're not going to talk about that, we're going to talk about geometry, and at the end of the year I'll deal with the fame trip." According to him, it worked, as the kids seemed pleasantly shocked he was taking the job seriously, and not just doing research for a new song called "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Cosine."

The gig didn't last long, as Garfunkel was back on the road touring within nine months. Perhaps he just needed some time to clear his head post-breakup and chose to do it around a blackboard. Whatever the reason, he clearly has a lucrative career in academia waiting for him if he so desires. But he'll likely just choose to walk somewhere really far away instead.