Simon and Garfunkel, a couple of nice Jewish boys who made good!!
By Arlene Stolnitz
Back in the 60’s, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and the escalation of the war in Viet Nam, Simon & Garfunkel came up with a hit song that expressed the despair that was prevalent in our country. The song, America, was a metaphor for “America’s sense of restlessness and confusion”, according to Rolling Stone Magazine. In a 2014 poll of Rolling Stone readers, it was voted one of the duos greatest songs.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, one of the bestselling music combos of the 60’s, were friends from grade school and from their teenage years in Forest Hills, Queens. Musically talented, with Paul as songwriter and Artie as singer and musical arranger, in their early career they called themselves Tom and Jerry (Tom Landis and Jerry Graph) fearing their given names sounded too Jewish. Later they used their own names, Simon & Garfunkel, and became famous for their legendary songs The Sound of Silence, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Scarborough Fair, Mrs.Robinson, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and many others.
Paul and Art were born in 1941, just a month apart. They met in a grade school play. Garfunkel had already been singing in synagogue where his soulful renditions of the prayers drew standing-room-only crowds. In junior high they started working together, modeling their music after their idols, the Everly Brothers. As 16 year olds, they cut their first record, which came out (coincidentally) during the birth of rock and roll. It caused a sensation with their demo song Hey Schoolgirl, eventually selling 150,000 copies.
Art’s 2018 book, What is All But Luminous, tells of his life before, during, and after Simon & Garfunkel and the folk-rock music that was their groundbreaking sound. He writes about growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, the son of a traveling salesman, a lower middle class Jewish boy from Kew Gardens, Queens. His partner, Paul, was born in Newark, New Jersey later moving to Queens. Paul’s parents were Hungarian Jews. His father was a college professor and dance band leader who went under the name Lee Sims; his mother an elementary school teacher. Paul’s childhood has been described as a “stereotypical Jewish upbringing” with interests mainly in baseball and music, influenced primarily by his parents.
Their career as a duo lasted from 1964 through 1970 and has had many ups and downs since their partnership dissolved in 1970 at the height of their popularity. Artie describes the conflict of the rivalry between them, yet the brotherly love that characterizes their relationship. Speaking candidly about his relationship with Paul, Artie states “We are indescribable; it’s an ingrown deep friendship.” Through the years, since their split-up, they have attempted to work together on occasion with several highly anticipated and well received concerts, only to realize they are better off working solo.
In his book, Artie states, “For two-thirds of a century his (Paul’s) arm has been around my shoulder. He dazzled me with gifts. I nurtured him in his youth. He brought me into prominence. I taught him to sing. He connected my voice to the world. I made us stand tall. All of our personal belongings are intertwined. We say it’s exhausting to compete, but we shine for each other.”
According to an article in Moment magazine “Despite their solo careers, they will remain conjoined to the very end….their recent joke, asking each other who will write whose eulogy.”