8/13/12 - simon and garfunkel get started

In today's excerpt - New York City high schoolers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel—later among the most successful recording artists in history—get their start as the singing duo Tom and Jerry:

"They'd been friends and competitors as long as anyone could recall. One day in the fall of 1957, when they were both sixteen, they'd gone shopping together for sweaters. Even though they were mere Queens high-school students, they'd actually placed a song on the charts, 'Hey, Schoolgirl,' and needed to spruce up their wardrobes. In the store, they began argu­ing: Simon wanted one type of sweater, Garfunkel another. In the end, they couldn't agree on what to wear and wound up leaving with nothing. A few hours later, they laughed about it, and the cycle began again.

"As children, they'd lived within three blocks of each other, in the mid­dle-class section of Queens, New York, and went to the same elementary school, P.S. 164 in Flushing. Simon had migrated from nearby Newark, New Jersey, where his father, a bass player and bandleader named Louis Simon, had been born. The family—which also included Louis' wife Belle, who taught school, and a younger son, Eddie—moved to Kew Gardens Hills, a largely Jewish section of the borough. Garfunkel was al­ready living there with his parents, Jack and Rose, and his two brothers, Jules and Jerry. Simon had taken note of Garfunkel's singing during a school talent show. 'I saw you on that stage and I thought, "That's how you get popular,"' Simon told him after they'd become friends. Gar­funkel took note of Simon's sense of humor, and they finally met during a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland.

"From the start, rock and roll drew them together. Inheriting his fa­ther's love of music, Simon began learning guitar and playing his own type of music. At a ninth-grade dance, he and Garfunkel joined up to sing Big Joe Turner's recent hit 'Flip, Flop and Fly'—'I'm a Mississippi bullfrog, sittin' on a hollow stump,' went part of its rollicking lyrics. By the time they were attending Forest Hills High School, they were singing songs by the Crew Cuts and their heroes, the Everly Brothers. Once, when they were trying to learn the Everlys' 'Hey Doll Baby' from memory, they inadvertently came up with a song of their own, 'Hey, Schoolgirl,' in half an hour.

"While they were putting it on tape in a Manhattan studio, Sid Prosen, owner of a local indie label with the presumptuous name of Big Records, overheard them. In the immediate way in which the early rock and roll business worked, he offered to make a record out of it on the spot. Prosen spoke with their parents, cut a deal, and, two days later, shipped fifty thousand copies of 'Hey, Schoolgirl' to record stores and jukeboxes. One obstacle remained to assimilating themselves into the culture: their names. They rechristened themselves Tom and Jerry: Garfunkel was now Tom Graph, a nod to his love of math and charting pop hits on graphs, while Simon rechristened himself Jerry Landis.

"With its 'who-bop-alook-chi-bop' hook and its tale of a smitten teen who eventually lands the girl, 'Hey, Schoolgirl' recalled the Everlys enough to peak at a respectable number 49 on the charts. Before they knew it, Tom and Jerry were wearing white bucks and singing the song on Dick Clark's American Bandstand around Thanksgiving 1956. They were rock stars—but, it turned out, only for a moment. Tom and Jerry's second single, the less confident 'Our Song,' recycled the 'Hey, School­girl' chords and died quickly. A third single, 'That's My Story,' amounted to banal white doo-wop and also withered. By the time they graduated from Forest Hills High School, their career was finished."


David Browne


Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970


First Da Capo Press


Copyright 2011 by David Browne


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