In the mid-1960s, as Bob Dylan embarked on his transition from folk to rock, tensions simmered between him and Paul Simon, one-half of the acclaimed duo Simon & Garfunkel. What seemed like a clash of musical styles and artistic egos culminated in a biting satire from Simon and an apparent indifference from Dylan. Unraveling the truth behind their feud reveals a complex dynamic between two folk icons of their time.
The Mockery in ‘A Simple Desultory Philippic’
During the early stages of the third Simon & Garfunkel album, Paul Simon channeled his lingering resentment into the satirical song “A Simple Desultory Philippic.” Drawing inspiration from Dylan’s recent foray into electric rock ‘n’ roll, Simon incorporated elements of organ and psychedelic guitar into the music. He then proceeded to mock Dylan’s songwriting style, playfully deriding his obscure lines and numerous literary and pop culture references. In a Dylan-esque vocal affectation, Simon sang, “Not the same as you and me, he doesn’t dig poetry / He’s so unhip, when you say Dylan / He thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was.”
Simon’s Reflection and Shifting Perspectives
Paul Simon’s sentiments toward Dylan evolved over time. While he initially admired Dylan’s work, he confessed in a Rolling Stone interview, “I usually come in second (to Dylan), and I don’t like coming in second.” Simon’s admiration for Dylan waned, particularly as Simon & Garfunkel’s sound ventured away from their folk roots with songs like “The Graduate” and “Mrs. Robinson.” The underlying bitterness in “A Simple Desultory Philippic” reflected a deeper history between the two musicians.
The Frosty Encounter
Prior to Simon & Garfunkel’s inaugural performance at Gerde’s Folk City, Dylan and Simon had a notable encounter that set the stage for their strained relationship. The duo famously found themselves at a loss for words, their interaction marked by awkwardness and guardedness. When the duo took the stage, Dylan’s laughter disrupted what should have been a solemn moment, causing discomfort throughout the room. Although some attributed the laughter to bad timing, the previous meeting’s frosty atmosphere hinted at intentional scoffing on Dylan’s part.
New York Rivalries and Changing Perspectives
The encounter between Dylan and Simon exemplified the paranoia and instant rivalries often found in New York’s music scene. The subsequent song penned by Simon, ridiculing the “original vagabond,” solidified their status as adversaries. However, as time passed, even the fiercest New York rivalries could be buried. Simon eventually acknowledged Dylan’s influence and found him to be an inspiration, while Dylan, in his characteristic enigmatic manner, silently held a distant admiration for Simon.