The Story Behind Simon & Garfunkel's Concert At Central Park

Simon & Garfunkel are two names that go together, but the duo has had a surprisingly rocky relationship over the years, according to Biography. The musical pair first came onto the scene in 1957, when, at only 15 years of age, they released their first single, "Hey Schoolgirl," performing as Tom & Jerry, according to Simon & Garfunkel. Their subsequent attempts to release more popular singles failed, and soon, the duo split up for the first time, with Art Garfunkel heading off to Columbia University to study Art History and Mathematics Education, while Paul Simon studied at Queens College and then got a job in music publishing.

However, though Simon & Garfunkel reunited in the early 1960s to work on new music, animosity lingered between them for years, eventually splitting the pair up again. Still, even after they were broken up, they knew when to come together for a good cause, and that's just what happened in 1981 when the duo reunited for a free concert in Central Park which benefited the park itself, according to My Radio Link.

Simon & Garfunkel's contentious relationship

In the early 1960s, after Simon graduated college, he and Garfunkel reunited and were signed by Columbia Records, according to Biography. Shortly thereafter, the duo released their debut album, "Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." The album, which is described by the Simon & Garfunkel website as "an unselfconscious pastiche of Everlys-schooled vocal/rhythmic interaction, folk-pop staples, esoterica, English lit-inspired metaphors, and poetic imagery," wasn't exactly a smash hit. It wasn't until an overdubbed version of the single "The Sound of Silence" was released that listeners caught on to their music. That track inspired the title of Simon & Garfunkel's next album, "Sounds of Silence," which was released in 1966. Afterwards, they would go on to create three more albums together: "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" in 1966, "Bookends" in 1968, and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in 1970.

But Simon & Garfunkel were not meant to work together forever, and in 1970, the pair split up again. Their breakup was primarily motivated by differences in their career goals, with Garfunkel, who wanted to pursue a career in acting, having been cast in two films, according to Biography. Simon found it unfair that Garfunkel expected him to take all the songwriting duties in the meantime, and eventually, the pair decided to go their separate ways.

Why Simon and Garfunkel reunited in 1981

Still, though they had officially broken things off, the pair would come back together for multiple concerts and performances over the years. In 1972, for instance, the duo reunited for a performance at a fundraiser for George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee who would go on to lose the race against incumbent, President Richard Nixon (via My Radio Link).

Then, in 1981, the pair had another opportunity to reconnect when they were invited to perform at a free concert in New York City's famous Central Park, according to Biography. At the time, the local city government was working to put together a free concert which would benefit the park itself, according to Groovy History. Central Park was in desperate need of funding to help with upkeep, and a concert was seen as a great way to bring in donations, with organizers aiming to raise some of the more than $3 million they needed to service the park.

Details about the concert

Simon & Garfunkel, native New Yorkers who attended colleges in the city, were approached by organizers to headline the concert, according to Groovy History. They agreed, and the concert was scheduled for September 19, 1981 at 6:30 p.m., according to The New York Times. The show ended up drawing larger crowds than anticipated, with police estimating around 400,000 people attended the show, according to another New York Times report. Hours before the concert began, there were already long lines outside of the bathroom facilities and merchandising carts were running out of t-shirts.

When Simon & Garfunkel finally came onstage, they were introduced by New York Mayor Ed Koch, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. The set list for the concert included classics like "Mrs. Robinson," "The Late Great Johnny Ace," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," according to NYS Music. Included in their first encore were songs like "The Sound of Silence." The second encore was a reprise of a tune played earlier in the show, "Late in the Evening."

Outcome of the concert

Concert organizers were able to achieve their goal of raising money for Central Park, with some estimates saying the concert brought in around $51,000, or around $161,305 today, according to NYS Music. This figure wasn't quite the $100,000 that Mayor Koch was reportedly hoping for, according to The New York Times, but it still represented a significant amount that was able to be invested in the park.

But though the concert had a positive impact for the park itself, it wasn't necessarily as good for the relationship between Simon & Garfunkel. Simon and Garfunkel fought often during rehearsals for the event, according to Groovy History, and they ended up having to compromise on the type of songs they were playing and on the involvement of a band. The show was such a hit with fans that the duo decided to reunite the following year for a world tour, but this reunion, too, ended up being short-lived, and after a "torturous" attempt at creating an album together, the pair once again went their separate ways, according to Biography.

Simon & Garfunkel today

Now, both Simon & Garfunkel are in a much more settled spot than they were in the early 1980s, with Garfunkel sharing positive words about Simon in his 2017 memoir, according to Biography. Simon confirmed in a 2016 interview with NPR that he and Garfunkel don't get along and will never reunite again. But both he and Garfunkel have thriving music careers outside of their relationships with each other, and have had since their split 50 years ago.

Central Park itself has grown, too. Though the park remains the same size as it was in 1981, it's become a much safer and cleaner place to be, according to Insider. Whereas in the 1980s, Central Park was covered in graffiti, dirty, crumbling, and dangerous, the Central Park Conservancy, which was founded in 1980, has since shaped the area into an iconic sanctuary. Now, the Conservancy employs over 300 employees to help care for the space, which sees 42 million annual visitors. Over the years, the Conservancy has raised $700 million for the park, which means future concerts to benefit the space probably aren't on the horizon — featuring Simon & Garfunkel, or anyone else.