AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- "You need all these picks, Paul?" Art Garfunkel goaded Paul Simon, pointing to a half-dozen guitar picks taped to Simon's microphone stand.
"Don't talk to me while I'm working," said a sour-faced Simon, who had already started strumming the next song. "Now I'm distracted."
Picky Paul, glib Garfunkel. Pop's most celebrated duo are together again for the Old Friends Tour, their first trek in 20 years, which comes to St. Paul tonight and Monday.
The sounds were familiar and harmonious. But how is the relationship? Is this a permanently fractured friendship like comedy's Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin or rock's unfraternal Allman Brothers Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman?
"What we had was a friendship that was estranged," Simon, 62, said recently. "Whatever it was, the squabbles, as they're called -- that's pretty much what it was, just squabbles -- it was time to just say, 'Forgive; forget; move on.' It's not like you have forever in life."
Art Garfunkel and Paul SimonJohn F. MartinApThen, of course, there is the money. With tickets costing as much as $250 for the St. Paul shows, the S&G tour is the latest reunion cashing in on baby-boomer nostalgia. Ticket sales are expected to average more than $1.5 million a night, a figure rivaling the Eagles' current tour, although not Paul McCartney's record-setting 2002 trek. Most of the 40 shows, including those in St. Paul, are sold out.
As the tour opened last weekend in suburban Detroit, these friends of 50 years fell into familiar roles: the gleeful Garfunkel, with that heavenly high voice, and the serious Simon, playing his acoustic guitar, lost in the arrangements of his sophisticated songs.
Onstage, they exchanged an occasional smile and a couple of manly one-armed hugs. Paul patted Art's stomach and, at show's end on the first night, he grabbed Garfunkel's hand and raised their arms together triumphantly, like tag-team wrestling champions.
"Paul and Art are just doing wonderfully together," said Garfunkel's manager, John Scher, before the second of the two Michigan shows. "They've really rediscovered a friendship and a musical kinship."
That renewal was not apparent at the Grammy Awards in February, where the seeds for the reunion were planted. In an untelevised ceremony, Simon and Garfunkel received a lifetime achievement award. Garfunkel gave a conciliatory speech, saying he wouldn't have had this career if Simon wasn't such "a great rhythm guitar player." Then, he turned serious and compared Simon with Irving Berlin, Lerner & Loewe and other songwriting greats.
Simon simply said: "Everyone knows [that] as friends, we haven't always been the best of friends. Because actually we're family. That's forever."
The next night, Simon and Garfunkel opened the Grammy Awards singing "The Sounds of Silence," their first public performance since a series of New York shows in 1993. Simon didn't look enthusiastic, and backstage afterward, Garfunkel said it was too soon to talk about a reunion.
Even though the two singers have divergent solo careers and separate managers and agents, they didn't need Henry Kissinger -- or accountants Ernst & Young -- to negotiate the reunion.
"Before the Grammys, they were getting together socially," said Scher, who has worked with Garfunkel for nine years. "After the Grammys, they had lunches and dinners on their own and, without management prodding, came to the conclusion that, 'Hey, we can do this reunion.' "
There is no new music for the tour, but Simon and Garfunkel's timeless tunes have been making a comeback, in the current Coen Brothers movie "Intolerable Cruelty" and in the hit musical "The Graduate," which comes to Minneapolis next month.
First fight at 14
Paul and Artie met as sixth graders in 1953 in Queens, N.Y. Each loved baseball and doo-wop singing.
"We met at 11," Simon said onstage in Michigan. "We started to sing at 13, and started to argue at 14."
At 16, billed as Tom and Jerry, they had their first hit: "Hey, Schoolgirl." In college -- Garfunkel majored in math and architecture at Columbia University while Simon studied English at Queens College -- they individually recorded singles. Then they regrouped as folkies Simon and Garfunkel, signing with Columbia Records in 1964.
Without telling them, their producer added drums and electric guitar to an acoustic folk version of "The Sounds of Silence," and the song sped to No. 1. The hits kept coming for five more albums plus the soundtrack to "The Graduate." After 1970's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the duo broke up because Simon, the songwriter, wanted to pursue other styles of music.
Simon has had a spectacular, Grammy-decorated solo career, peaking with the Afro-pop masterwork "Graceland" in 1986, while Garfunkel's work as an actor ("Carnal Knowledge," "Catch 22") has been more noteworthy than his solo albums.
In 1981, Simon and Garfunkel did a concert in front of 400,000 people in New York's Central Park.
"It was the thrill of my life to see that many people show up," Garfunkel said at a recent press conference.
Simon said it was a disaster because vocally they didn't phrase alike.
Nonetheless, Central Park led to a well-received albeit tense 1983 reunion tour by the neurotic New Yorkers. But the planned reunion album, "Think Too Much" -- a phrase that could be a mantra for Simon's method of creating art -- never materialized; the songs ended up on a Simon solo disc, "Hearts and Bones," his least-distinguished effort.
In '90, Simon and Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their '93 reunion was limited to 21 concerts in a New York theater.
While Simon was given Kennedy Center honors and named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock Hall of Fame as a solo artist, Garfunkel got attention for literally walking across America and a reputation for resenting the prominence and dominance of Simon. His second-fiddle role has become legend in the music business, like Tommy Smothers' chronic complaint that Mom always liked brother Dickie best.
Two weeks ago in concert in St. Paul, Mary Chapin Carpenter broke into an unrehearsed rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "April Comes She Will" and her partners, Dar Williams and Patty Griffin, fought over who would sing Garfunkel's high harmony part. As S&G fan Williams pouffed out her hair, Carpenter assumed the Simon role, uttering, "You're fired." The crowd howled.
A study in contrasts
After opening with "Old Friends" in Detroit, Garfunkel bowed, basking in the spotlight and Simon slipped away to change guitars. Now as then, while their voices harmonize gloriously, the two are a study in contrasts: The tall one with the frizzy blond hair and beatific smile; the short one with the thinning black hair and stoic face.
Garfunkel carries on like a kid who relishes the pure joy of singing. Simon seems lost in the music, making sure every instrument is right, conducting the sidemen with the neck of his guitar or a free hand.
Garfunkel wears blue jeans; Simon wears black. Garfunkel wears a loosened necktie with an untucked dress shirt. Simon wears a T-shirt under an unbuttoned sport shirt. (At least the color of his shirt matched Garfunkel's cranberry necktie.)
"The Everly Brothers wear sport jackets; they dress up," Garfunkel told his partner after they were joined onstage by the Everlys, hitmaking heroes from their high-school days.
"They get more money than we do," deadpanned Simon, who had invited the Everlys to a tour warmup show in Wilkes Barre, Pa., and then signed them on for the rest of the tour.
Keep the customer satisfied
Wayne Chapman, 46, of Fort Wayne, Ind., said the concert was worth the money and the four-hour drive.
"It was the thrill of my life," he said. "With their voices together, if you believe in God, you know he put them together for a reason."
Bailey Scieszka, 14, of Birmingham, Mich., discovered her parents' S&G albums in the basement and got hooked.
"This was better than I expected," she said after the Detroit concert. "It was fun to be with people who really appreciate music. This was better than Christina Aguilera. She's like a fad. These people are still singing 30 years later, and people still love their music."
For now, the Old Friends Tour is limited to 40 concerts. Garfunkel has a 12-year-old son with his wife, Kim Cermak, of Minnetonka. Simon has three children under 10 with his third wife, singer Edie Brickell, as well as an adult son from his first marriage. Moreover, he has another solo album in the works. Scher said a live CD and DVD of this tour is possible, but it won't be discussed until midway through the trek.
For beaming front-row fan Bill Neaton, 46, of Farmington Hills, Mich., the tour was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them one more time."
Maybe not. Before walking off stage, Simon promised the audience: "See you in 10 -- or 20 -- years."
-Written by Jon Bream