The neck of my Guitar
Heroes of the karaoke machine Irish times, 26 Mar 1996

Brian Boyd
Irish Times Mar26 1996
IN the prologue of this book, Victoria Kingston writes: ´Ask anyone and they will be able to tell you where they were when they first heard Bridge over Troubled Water´. At the risk of sounding old fashioned, I don´t think a mawkish, over orchestrated pop song carries the same weight as JFK´s assassination or Neil Armstrong´s walk on the moon. Had she mentioned The Only Living Boy in New York - one of Simon and Garfunkel´s lesser known, but far superior, songs - it would have been a different story.

It´s probably not Simon and Garfunkel´s fault that they are remembered best because of their inclusion on every karaoke machine in existence and not as sensitive, poetic troubadours who provided a soundtrack for a generation. This biography will not rectify matters. Although it is competent enough, if you like your biographies on the perfunctory side, all that emerges is a shallow tale of two cold, almost calculating individuals who plod through the book either being ´very happy´ or ´very sad´.

It´s quite clear from the acknowledgments that while Art Garfunkel co operated with the author, Paul Simon didn´t, but this doesn´t appear to have any real effect on the veracity of the text.

Kingston begins, promisingly enough, with tales of the duo´s shared childhood in the Queens area of New York where they began their quest for the perfect blend of vocal harmony. ´We would sit nose to nose, looking right each into each other´s mouth to copy diction,´ remembers Garfunkel. ´I´d want to know exactly where his tongue would hit the top of his palate when he´d say a `T´, to know exactly how to get that `T´ sound right.´

The pace drops to a crawl as we follow them through their schooldays and eventually on to the nascent New York folk scene. With contemporaries like Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton, and evocatively named coffee folk houses springing up all over Greenwich Village, a lot more could have been made of this time (see any Dylan biography for its crucial import). Similarly, the duo´s sense of Jewish identity is somewhat brushed over - unlike Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel persisted with their real names at a time when anti Semitism was a standard middle class prejudice. ´It´s no fluke that Berlin, Gershwin and Kern are all Jewish guys from New York,´ Simon is quoted as saying, but no elucidation follows.

Kingston is obviously playing to her strengths in her account of Paul Simon´s solo ´tour of one night stands´ in the folk clubs of North England in the mid Sixties (it seems´s if she interviewed anybody who as much as saw him, on this tour). While she reconstructs his itinerary and his set lists, there is little here of interest to all but the most recondite fan.

When the duo broke big with the massive international success of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album (1970), we learn that Simon´s jealousy of Garfunkel´s near perfect voice and Garfunkel´s jealousy of Simon´s songwriting ability (Simon wrote all their songs) led to the end of the partnership. According to the author, Simon would sit in the wings while Garfunkel sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, despising the fact that the audience were responding more to Art´s voice than to his songwriting.

When they split in the early, 1970s, each went on to enjoy marginally less success - Simon as a solo artist and Garfunkel as an actor (Catch 22) and occasional voice for the songs of Jimmy Webb. Nothing much seemed to happen over the following years; they just seem to be ´busy recording´ or ´busy acting´, and there is little attempt to treat of their failures (Simon´s film One Trick Pony, almost all of Garfunkel´s solo albums) with the same attention that the author affords their successes.

The inevitable reunion tour followed in the 1980s, as did the second break up, but the questions why? where? and how? are left unanswered. Strictly for fans. {CORRECTION} 96032000086

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