CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 37 . . . . May 25, 2018
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were huge folk/pop music icons of the 1960s and '70s. They make for a rather unusual choice for this picture book biography.
Each page in When Paul Met Artie is headed with the title of one of the songs that they made famous, and the text is set out in columns like a poem. However, it is not poetry but a melodic prose account of their backgrounds, how they met and how they collaborated in the success that was to become theirs. (The quotations in this review are reproduced showing the line breaks used in the book.)
Simon is shown to be the bolder of the two, the class clown, but Artie charms with his pure singing voice, "a human jukebox". Both are drawn to the world of the new popular music, listening to the revolutionary sounds of rock and roll together on the radio. But as they sing along, they realize their voices are different from those of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. When they discover how to harmonize and Paul brings his guitar into the mix, they begin to develop a signature style.
Their first public performance is at a junior high school dance.
They go on to bring together an informal doo-wop group, then appear on American Bandstand singing an original composition and calling themselves Tom and Jerry. But the end of high school seems to bring an end to their dream of being a duo, and they go their own ways to pursue academics and a few attempts at solo performing.
It is the sound of musicians like Bob Dylan and the anti-establishment spirit of the 1960s that brings them together again in the orbit of the New York music scene. They score a contract with Columbia Records on the strength of their demo, The Sound of Silence. The ensuing album, however, is a flop.
Again they separate, travelling and attempting to find themselves as individuals. When college radio stations in Gainesville, Florida and Boston start to play The Sound of Silence at request of listeners, excitement builds. And Simon and Garfunkel end up at the top of mainstream radio play in January, 1966.
Back matter to the book includes a summary of the careers of Simon and Garfunkel following their first number-one recording; a discography; and a bibliography. The final three pages are headed "Musical Connections" which gives a detailed chronicle of the music and musicians who influenced the pair.
Digitally-produced illustrations in colour with sepia overtones give the appearance of rich watercolours. Pictures range from intimate vignettes, such as the two boys' heads on an old cabinet television in a dimly-lit living room, to streetscapes and concert crowds. The artist has a number of picture books (Miss Muffet, or What Came After; The Marvelous Moon Map) to his credit.
The story of friendship and musical achievement is intimately told, and the reader is invited to truly understand the early arc of this artistic partnership. Author G. (for Greg) Neri, known for his graphic novels and young adult fiction, lives in Vancouver, BC.
Despite its format, When Paul Met Artie is not a book for primary collections. It would probably be most useful when offered to middle school or junior high students interested in 20th century popular music. Because of the book's limited audience, When Paul Met Artie is…
Recommended with Reservations.
Ellen Heaney, a retired children's librarian, lives in Coquitlam, BC.
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