They were unlikely rock stars, the antithesis of the traditional paradigm, who took the world by storm as 60’s folk heroes. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel spoke to generations as counterculture icons of the social revolution and were one of the best-selling artists of the era.
The Simon & Garfunkel Story comes to Jacksonville for one night only on October 26th at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. Presented by the FSCJ Artist Series, the production traces the history of the duo’s the storied career with projection photos, original film footage, and a full band performing such hits as ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ ‘Cecilia,’ ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ with Taylor Bloom as Paul Simon and Ben Cooley as Art Garfunkel.
A New York native and triple threat, Bloom was excited to audition for the role of Simon because, unlike his typical acting calls, he was able to stretch beyond a scripted play and occasional singing role and demonstrate his skills on guitar. He was a casual fan of Simon & Garfunkel, and because of growing up hearing artists like Cat Stephens and James Taylor, Bloom understood the context of the era.
“Before I got involved with the show, I liked them the way most people do. I knew a handful of their hits like ‘America,’ ‘Cecelia,’ ‘The Boxer’ and things like that. That’s one of the reasons I love this show so much, because, working on it, I discovered this whole other catalog that I grew to love so much,” he says.
“I performed with this show last year, so this is my second tour. I’m able to focus more when I’m playing to get the sound right, trying to emulate vocally what Paul Simon sounds like when he sings. I can focus more on the beauty of the music and less on the technical aspects and trying to stay in tempo with the band. I’ve performed the songs so many times, and I love them. You’d think I’d get tired of them, but, at home after the tour, I listen to the music just to listen to it.”
Bloom says learning the history of Simon & Garfunkel from the early days, performing as the duo Tom & Jerry, to the architects of the songs that defined a generation helped inform his delivery of the music, but also offered a fresh perspective for writing and performing music.
“I recently read the biography of Paul Simon and his process, not necessarily how he writes the songs but the mentality that goes into songwriting. It made me think a lot about my own songwriting and performing of music. It also got me into listening to Paul Simon’s solo records which are awesome. I just feel so comfortable with the music now, so I feel that I can add something more to it.”
While ‘Sounds of Silence’ is his favorite Simon & Garfunkel song, Bloom admits it’s not always his favorite number to perform in the show. The energy of the audience helps to influence the energy of the band and the performers.
“It’s funny because I feel like it changes. Some nights I’ll really enjoy playing a song like ‘Keep the Customer Satisfied.’ When the band really digs into it, it’s so much fun. On the other hand, sometimes when we play ‘The Boxer,’ you can just see the way it reaches out and touches the audience,” he says.
“Everyone brings in so much of themselves. The music means something very specific to them, so, if we play a song, like when Ben sings ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ which he does beautifully, it’s amazing because everyone in the audience heard that song, and it brings back memories of something they’ve gone through in their life. It’s such an incredible opportunity, and we’re so fortunate to be able to enjoy that.”
The Simon & Garfunkel Story is a retrospective of their career together, but it also touches briefly on the pair’s acrimonious split. It would be hard to ignore the sad elephant in the room, but the production is a designed as a celebration and not as a dramatic retrospective of the dissolution of one of the most beloved songwriting teams in popular music.
“You can’t have a show about Simon & Garfunkel without addressing the fact that they had kind of a rocky relationship towards the end, and they eventually decided to part ways. We do definitely address that, but the show is primarily a celebration of the music they made when they were together,” Bloom says. “We try to capture them in stages of partnership. We do it sort of chronologically. As the show goes along, the musicianship gets a little better. Obviously, the songwriting takes on a whole new life, so there’s a real progression that happens throughout the show.”
The afterglow of Paul Simon’s final show of his farewell tour performed in the same space as the famous 1981 reunion Concert in Central Park serves to perfectly bookend the career of a man who devoted so much of his life to sharing his gift. Bloom is grateful for the opportunity to play a part in sharing that legacy.
“It gives a deeper meaning to what we’re doing, because it takes our show from being a celebration of Simon & Garfunkel’s amazing years together to almost the continuation of the legacy of their music because Paul Simon is not going to be playing it anymore,” he says. “Obviously, I will never be Paul Simon, but I just want to continue celebrating what he did. Sharing his music with another generation of listeners is sort of like the passing of the baton. It’s a total gift.”