When it comes to Simon and Garfunkel, three things stand out in my memory: hearing “Homeward Bound” for the first time in a soundproof studio, waiting hours for them to arrive at the airport, and attending their 1968 concert in Honolulu.
I was a big S&G fan back in the day, belonged to a fan club whose sole purpose was to meet every rock group that performed in Hawai’i. We haunted airports and hotel lobbies, camped out overnight to score concert tickets, and sometimes got to meet our idols up close and personal at special events.
The Simon and Garfunkel concert remains in the top 5 of all shows attended in my lifetime. It still stands up against today’s large-venue extravaganzas with the big screens, sophisticated sound systems and light shows. There was just something pure, pristine and utterly transformative about those two voices and acoustic guitar. No need for any high tech razzle dazzle when you have good songs and soul-stirring, transcendent harmony.
When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel, a fab new picture book biography for middle grade readers by G. Neri and David Litchfield (Candlewick, 2018), opens with the famous Central Park reunion concert in September 1981.
Neri describes what it was like for the 500,000 people there to hear those voices live for the first time in ten years:
autumn and spring
rolled into one,
falling on barren trees,
or the joyous dance
of summer in the park.
Two voices intertwining,
birds soaring in flight,
Two voices for the city
of New York.
In a series of free verse poem vignettes (all but one titled after a Simon and Garfunkel song), Neri then chronicles their formative years and early phases of their musical career, starting with their childhood friendship during the 50’s in Queens, New York, to when “The Sound of Silence” hit No. 1 in the Billboard Top 10 countdown in January 1966.
Paul and Artie grew up within a few blocks of each other in the same Jewish neighborhood, but did not befriend each other until they participated in a sixth grade production of Alice in Wonderland (Paul had heard Artie’s amazing voice in a fourth grade talent show). Up until then, they seemed “opposites in every way.”
One was tall with light, curly hair, while the other was short with dark, straight hair. Artie was a math geek who mostly kept to himself. He knew his perfect-pitch voice was a gift, and enjoyed singing in school stairwells and while walking along neighborhood streets. Paul, the class clown, lived for baseball, taking the lead when it came to organizing neighborhood and schoolyard games.
When they met in sixth grade, they quickly bonded over girls, baseball and music. They got hooked on rock ‘n roll after hearing Elvis in junior high, and listened to the radio for hours on end, singing together in Artie’s basement. They tape recorded themselves to listen for flaws. They experimented with their voices, trying to perfect every sound until they found their “harmonic sweet spot.”
We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’
When Paul turned 13, his father gave him a guitar and he became obsessed, teaching himself new songs till his fingers were raw. At the last junior high dance, Paul and Artie wowed the crowd with their rendition of “Sh-Boom.” Once in high school, they formed (with three other friends) a doo-wop vocal group, the Peptones, joining the wave of neighborhood crooners singing “on street corners, in tunnels and stairwells, parks and playgrounds.”
They soon wrote their first song, “The Girl for Me,” that quickly caught on all over Queens. Heartened by its popularity, they tried to sell the song to music producers in Manhattan with no success.
Rejected but not defeated, they came up with another song after hearing the Everly Brothers. They knew it was something different and special, so they scraped together seven dollars to make a demo in a professional studio. By chance, a record producer heard them singing from a hallway and signed them on the spot. Just 15, they called themselves “Tom and Jerry,” and within a few months, their song, “Hey Schoolgirl,” was on the radio and skyrocketed to the top ten in New York. They were rockabilly stars with a hit record!
Their appearance on American Bandstand gave them national exposure. They rode high during their senior year, playing record hops and dances, selling more and more copies of “Hey Schoolgirl.” Paul felt like everything was turning to gold, as he bought a fancy new electric guitar and red convertible. But still wanting to pursue his old dream of becoming the “Elvis of Queens,” Paul recorded a solo record without telling Artie, causing a rift in their friendship.
After his solo record flopped, Paul tried to mend fences with Artie by working with him on new music. But their second, third, and fourth records failed. Has-beens at age 18, they went their separate ways, attending college and doing solo music projects. But neither was very successful on his own as the rock ‘n roll craze went into a slump.
With the renewed interest in folk music and social activism during the 60’s, Paul begins to frequent the clubs in Greenwich Village. After hearing Bob Dylan, he decides to broaden his horizons by moving to Europe. Meanwhile, Artie starts singing in poetry coffee shops in the Bay Area after being inspired by Joan Baez. Paul eventually returns home, bowing to pressure from his parents to enroll in law school.
Years pass, with the two of them totally out of contact — until one fateful day, when Paul and Artie just happen to run into each other on the Queensboro Bridge. They share stories about what they’ve been up to, agreeing that New York is the place to be. In his kitchen, Paul plays a few of his new songs for Artie. One in particular, “He Was My Brother,” about the death of a civil rights activist, impresses Artie, who naturally starts “singing the harmony to Paul’s haunting melody.” And just like that, they are making music together again.
But the assassination of John F. Kennedy throws Paul into a deep depression. He quits law school and retreats to his room to wrestle with his feelings of melancholy. He writes another song that knocks Artie out with “its visions of loneliness and a crumbling society numb to despair.” Artie knows “The Sound of Silence” will change everything.
Columbia Records is also impressed and signs them on. This time, they go by their real names, “Simon and Garfunkel.” But their album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.,” tanks.
Bearing the familiar weight of failure, Paul returns to England, so he can be a busker and play “for the love of music, not money.” Artie goes back to school — maybe to become an architect or math teacher.
But a year later, something surprising happens. A college radio station in Florida keeps getting requests for “The Sound of Silence.” Same thing happens in Boston. Columbia record producer Tom Wilson gets wind of it and decides to re-release the song by overdubbing it with drums, bass and electric guitar.
Fifteen months after their album failed, “The Sound of Silence” is the No. 1 song in the country. They were well on their way to becoming “one of the most successful and influential music duos in history,” iconic voices of their generation who sold over 100 million records and earned 10 Grammys.
Neri’s free verse narrative is compelling and well researched, and as he states in his Afterword, much of the material was extracted from hundreds of S&G interviews and articles. Interesting to note that although Neri was a fan of S&G’s music for many years, he didn’t know the duo had met in grade school until a friend shared a video of Paul performing with his “doppelganger.”
This doppelganger turned out to be Paul’s brother Eddie, who looked EXACTLY like him. After googling Ed Simon, Neri learned how Paul and Artie initially met and felt theirs was a story worth telling: despite a rocky partnership marked by numerous failures, their persistence, talent, and mutual love of music ultimately enabled them to succeed.
David Litchfield’s vibrant illustrations enhance and extend the narrative, beautifully capturing the spirit of the times as well as illuminating key moments in S&G’s evolution from hopeful wannabes to chart-topping stars.
His use of light, in particular, is brilliant. We see not only the bright lights of the big city, but the spotlights on the performers, street lamps, the glare from a television set, bridge lights, car headlights, starlight. There are golden rays of sunlight illuminating the facade of NYC’s Brill Building, the “Mecca of music” where Paul and Artie tried to sell their song. And there’s that all important studio scene, where Paul and Artie stand under one bare light bulb, recording the song that would make them teen rockabilly stars. For that brief moment, lost in their music, they are the only ones in the world.
I especially love the pictures for “Homeward Bound”: On the left side, Artie is shown walking down a moonlit street in New York, while on the opposite page, Paul walks down a London street at sunrise. A wonderful way to depict their separateness, a recurring theme in this story of two people whom we are told at the beginning were “opposites in every way.” (These same two illustrations also appear on the front and back covers of the book under the dust jacket.)
And of course, I love Litchfield’s caricature of Dylan and his acoustic guitar, surrounded by signs and symbols of the sixties. 🙂
When Paul Met Artie is a wonderful way to introduce a new generation of music lovers to these singular artists, and a nice keepsake for Simon and Garfunkel fans of any age. Set against a tuneful backdrop of doo-wop, rock ‘n roll, folk, and folk-rock, this bit of music history, viewed through the lens of two boys from Queens, reinforces the importance of following your passions and never giving up.
Young readers will enjoy reading the story of two musicians who first became stars when they were just teenagers and about what influenced and motivated them. They might find it interesting to learn about a time when radio was king, predating music videos, iTunes, Spotify and all the rest. The life-changing new music Paul and Artie heard on the radio, “something different,/something alive, something rebellious,” made them want to be on the radio too.
The book’s impressive back matter includes An Afterword, Discography, Bibliography and very cool Musical Connections (did you know that hearing a recording of Caruso when Artie was five made him want to sing like a tenor?).
This was a nostalgic read for me, as I remembered my childhood self becoming excited about Elvis and my teen musical obsessions of the 60’s, including both the British invasion and folk music with a social conscience.
I enjoyed recalling the fun I had as a member of that fan club, and I’m glad I got to see Simon and Garfunkel perform when they were at the peak of their popularity. I smiled when I read about Paul playing the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, because my friends and I had nicknamed him “Bunny Boy.” Ready with Instamatic cameras and flower lei at the airport, we were beyond thrilled when S&G finally deplaned, only to have our hearts broken when the two of them rushed right past us, totally ignoring all their adoring fans. Maybe Bunny Boy was late for an important date. 🙂
Song for the Asking
After all this talk, of course we need to hear a few tunes. Do you have a favorite Simon and Garfunkel song? For me, it might be “America,” “April Come She Will,” “Old Friends,” “Kathy’s Song” — no, too hard to pick a favorite.
But, relevant to the book, here’s “Hey Schoolgirl” (1957) by Tom and Jerry, S&G’s first record and the one that made them teen sensations:
“The Sound of Silence” from the Concert in Central Park (1981):
“America,” because I love it, but also because it makes me feel sad and wistful. We’re all looking for America now, aren’t we?
Finally, to end on a light note: “The 59th Street Bridge Song/Feelin’ Groovy” — in their faces, I can still see two young school chums singing in the basement:
WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel
written by G. Neri
illustrated by David Litchfield
published by Candlewick, March 2018
Picture Book Biography for ages 8 – 12, 48 pp.
*A Junior Library Guild Selection
**Includes Afterword, Discography, Bibliography, and Musical Connections
***On shelves March 20, 2018
♥️ Click here for more pics, videos and an interview with author G. Neri.
♥️ Read this recent interview with illustrator David Litchfield at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog.
🐰 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🦊
The publisher is generously providing a copy of WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what your favorite Simon and Garfunkel song is and why, no later than midnight (EDT) March 21, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with PAUL & ARTIE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
MR. CRUM’S POTATO PREDICAMENT GIVEAWAY WINNER!
Thanks to all who dropped by to munch and share their favorite kind of potato chips last week. Though you had my mouth watering, I exercised admirable restraint by not rushing out for Dill Pickle, Maui Sweet Onion, or Jalapeno Ranch Chips.
Pleased to announce that the winner of a brand new copy of Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament is:
🥔 JILL AT RHAPSODY IN BOOKS! 🥔
🎉 CONGRATULATIONS, JILL! 🎈
Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book.
(On second thought, maybe I need a little trip to the store for some Cape Cod chips . . . )
2018 POETRY MONTH KIDLIT EVENTS ROUNDUP
I will be posting a roundup of kidlit events again this April. If you’re doing something special on your blog and you’d like to be included in the roundup, please send your info and links to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Would appreciate your helping to spread the word, too. Thanks!
La la la Lovely Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance. Sashay on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend!
WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE. Text copyright © 2018 by G. Neri. Illustrations © 2018 by David Litchfield. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Note: Black and white photos in this post are not included in the book.
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**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.