Kirk Bane: Review of Pete Fornatale's Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s Bookends, along with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, stands as one of the great concept records of the Sixties. Released in April, 1968, it reached number one on the album chart. Simon called Bookends “the quintessential Simon and Garfunkel album.” In Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (New York: Rodale, 2007), legendary New York disc jockey Pete Fornatale provides an insightful account of the duo and their brilliant fourth LP. Fornatale first met Simon and Garfunkel in December, 1966, after a Fordham University concert. Over the years, he continued to interview the singers.
Fornatale fills his book with a host of fascinating nuggets. For instance, readers learn that Simon was a passionate New York Yankees fan; that the songwriter purchased a red Chevrolet Impala convertible with his early royalty money; that Garfunkel studied architecture at Columbia while Simon majored in English at Queens College; that noted photographer Richard Avedon took the striking portrait of Simon and Garfunkel which appeared on the cover of Bookends; and that, in the waning days of their career, Garfunkel refused to record the Simon-penned political tune, “Cuba Si, Nixon No.”
Fornatale lauds Simon and Garfunkel. The young artists from Queens, New York, played “clever…intricate…literate…intelligent rock and roll.” They had “ideas…vision…(and) talent” to spare, and significantly “raised the IQ of rock.” In “a musical form better known for its primitivism and raw sensuality,” Fornatale contends, “these two wrote and sang as if they had brains as well as balls.” Simon, he continues, was “the premier American songwriter of his generation.” Bookends followed Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964), Sounds of Silence (1966), and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966). Bridge Over Troubled Water, issued in 1970, was their final statement. Fornatale avers that these five studio albums comprise “a truly exceptional and exhilarating body of work.”
Fornatale places the album in its historical context. Columbia released Bookends on April 3, 1968, just twenty-four hours before the assassination of Martin Luther King; “Mrs. Robinson” topped the American singles chart the day Bobby Kennedy was murdered. Bookends, Fornatale declares, “served as a kind of comfort food—a security blanket to wrap yourself up in when the…news became too much to bear.”
Fornatale adeptly analyzes the album. Side One, he observes, was “a fully conceived and executed concept. It is a suite of songs…about the life cycle, from birth to death…from innocence through disillusionment to resignation.” On this “singular…electrifying” record, Simon explores such themes as “alienation, desperation, friendship, loneliness, mortality, and relationships.” Five unforgettable songs, previously released as 45 rpm singles, made up the LP’s second side. Among these tunes were “Fakin’ It,” “Mrs. Robinson” (from Mike Nichols’s stunning 1967 film, The Graduate), “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (remade by the Bangles in 1987), and “At the Zoo.”
Two shortcomings warrant discussion. First, Fornatale’s list of resources omits several standard works on the duo. Surely he consulted Simon and Garfunkel: Old Friends (1991) by Joe Morella and Patricia Barey, Victoria Kingston’s Simon & Garfunkel: The Biography (2000), and Laura Jackson’s Paul Simon (2004). Second, Fornatale’s book lacks an index, which is disappointing.
Still, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends is a fine little text (131 pages), clearly written, straightforward, informative, and entertaining. It is a worthy addition to Rodale’s popular “Rock of Ages” Series, which includes examinations of such milestone records as Barney Hoskyns’s Led Zeppelin IV, Dave Marsh’s The Beatles’ Second Album, and Jan Reid’s Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Students of Sixties pop culture, particularly those interested in rock music, will enjoy, and profit from, Fornatale’s commendable study. “Coo coo cachoo, Mrs. Robinson.”
Review by Kirk Bane, Blinn College
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