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History Blog

Posted: March 7, 2019

Queens’ Own Simon & Garfunkel: A Timeless Duo at Forest Hills Stadium

Composed by: Michael Perlman, Forest Hills, NY

Art Garfunkel & Paul Simon in 1964, Courtesy of Queens Community Board 6

A definitive folk-rock sound began to sweep Queens and the nation in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to singer and guitarist Paul Simon (born October 13, 1941) and singer Art Garfunkel (born November 5, 1941), who graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1958. As part of the annual Forest Hills Music Festival, the duo took the stage of the legendary Forest Hills Stadium on August 6, 1966, August 12, 1967, August 17, 1968, and July 17 and 18, 1970. Now pursuing careers as solo artists, Paul Simon made a Stadium comeback on June 30, 2016, adding a new chapter of memories without losing his spark. In February 2018, he announced a farewell tour, “Homeward Bound,” with shows throughout North America and Europe, and performed in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on September 22, close to his native residence. Art Garfunkel continued touring throughout 2018, and concerts are lined up nationally and in the U.K. through this spring.

It is no surprise that their high school yearbook, The Forester, featured Paul F. Simon’s passion as chorus (alongside law) and Arthur Garfunkel’s passion as music. At 15, they composed their earliest party tune sensation “Hey Schoolgirl” in less than an hour, and it can be considered a spinoff of the Everly Brothers’ lyrics and harmonies of “Hey Doll Baby.” It was performed throughout Queens. “I saw them in the Forest Hills High School auditorium when they were nicknamed ‘Tom and Jerry,’ and they sang their first record, Hey Schoolgirl,” said classmate Helen Goldbeck Hughes. “I have the 45 rpm record of that song, and also a CD of their greatest hits, which I play in my car all the time.” She continued, “Paul and my brother were friends and in the same fraternity at Queens College, and even attended Brooklyn Law School at the same time, but Paul didn’t last very long. He had much bigger fish to fry! Art Garfunkel was a graduate student at Columbia University.

Simon & Garfunkel in The Forester, Class of 1958 Forest Hills High School yearbook, Courtesy of Larry Gross

Besides entertaining and pursuing their early schooling at PS 164 and Parsons JHS, they were practically neighbors nearby in Kew Gardens Hills. Paul Simon lived at 137-62 70th Road, a circa 1946 Colonial rowhouse with casement windows, whereas Art Garfunkel was raised at 136-58 72nd Avenue, a circa 1940 brick house.

In early 1968, Paul Simon told the Union-Sun and Journal, “We’re not trying to alter anything, but pop music has become a prime medium for making some comment about the world for a large audience,” in response to their music’s theme comprised of alienation, loneliness, and lack of communication. Simon & Garfunkel are often referred to as folk-rock artists, but in a mutual statement, they expressed “We just sing about the things we see going on around us. There are really no labels for it.” Paul Simon would write the music and lyrics, and Art Garfunkel would focus on vocal arrangements. Referring back to when they were 13, Paul Simon said, “We used to play stickball together, and then we were both interested in music, so we began singing.”

During their teen years, they began writing music and scored a Top 50 hit. Under Columbia Records in 1964, their first album was “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM.” Their signature folk-rock song, “The Sound of Silence,” became the No. 1 song in America, and they were en route to stardom! It was followed by the release of their 1966 album, “Sounds of Silence.” That same year, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” was released, featuring “Scarborough Fair,” and in 1968, their album “Bookends” featured hits such as “Mrs. Robinson” and “A Hazy Shade of Winter.” Their 1970 album “Bridge Over Troubled Water” featured the title track, in addition to other memorable tunes including “Cecilia” and “El Condor Pasa.”

Simon & Garfunkel and The Doors, August 12, 1967 newspaper ad, Courtesy of Evan Ross

Simon & Garfunkel are recipients of 10 Grammy Awards. In 1968, “Mrs. Robinson” earned two Grammys, including Record of the Year, and “The Graduate” won Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. Success continued with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” scoring five Grammys including Song of the Year, as well as Album of the Year in 1970. The duo was the 2003 recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1990, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other iconic sites where Simon & Garfunkel performed include Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Hall, and Manchester’s Odeon Theatre.

In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel were a second billing to The Mamas & The Papas, and Dan Daniel, the WMCA “Good Guy” was the host. In addition to visiting or calling the Festival box office in Station Square at BO 1-0600, fans could purchase tickets at all Alexander’s department stores such as the Rego Park branch, as well as all Gertz stores. “For my 15th birthday, my brother David took me to see Simon & Garfunkel at the Stadium, and they were great, of course,” said Sandy Goldbeck King. She reminisced, In the midst of their set, they revealed that Paul wrote ‘Red Rubber Ball,’ a hit song recorded by The Cyrkle. My brother and Paul were good friends in high school and college, so after the concert, we attended a party at Paul’s parents’ home. I got their autographs, and before we left, Paul played for us a tape recording of a song they had just recorded, ‘Scarborough Fair,’ and the rest is history.” David passed away last year. “Among my many cherished memories of my brother, that night will forever burn bright,” she continued.

In August 1967, The Doors opened, but started late due to their loss of instruments on their flight. They borrowed instruments and made an impact upon many concertgoers with wildly excited solos with an intense sound as a group. However, after some booing, a main attraction was Simon & Garfunkel who promised “to do them all” as they made an entrance. Nevertheless, as the concert was underway, fans belted out song titles in need of reassurance. A review read, “Introduced as ‘the most literate, articulate’ act in the world, theirs is certainly an unusual style in a time of garbled lyrics and slurred speech. From the Paul Simon songbook, each of the tunes features a phrasing, imagery and statement that could be shelved with poetic classics of literature – and the twosome’s clear and almost too pure pronunciation is unique among present trends.” Their over an hour act featured two encores. Program numbers from their best-seller “Sounds of Silence” included “Fakin’ It” and “Dangling Conversation.”Other titles were “Blessed” and “Poem On The Underground Wall.” Although dominated by the theme of loneliness, the program featured a satirical “At The Zoo” and comic relief in Punky’s Dilemma.

Art Garfunkel & Paul Simon in front of Paul’s childhood home, 137-62 70th Rd, Kew Gardens Hills in spring 1975, Courtesy of Historian Ron Marzlock

South Florida resident Elliot Pollack was raised in the Rego Park Crescents and was a 1967 Forest Hills High School graduate, who attended the 1967 concert with fellow graduate and girlfriend at the time, Marilyn Leider. He reminisced, “The Doors opened the concert by playing the long version with instrumentals of Light My Fire, which we would hear over and over on WABC and WMCA. They were booed by the crowd because those there were mostly folk music fans. Simon and Garfunkel were local heroes, and the conservative attitude of Forest Hills definitely did shine through. People wanted to mellow out and not listen to hard rock head music. They were delighted when Simon and Garfunkel finally came on.”  

Wayne Brown, who once resided locally in the Anita Apartments and Saxon Hall and later in Las Vegas, has been musically inclined from early on. He was in a band with John Cummings, later of the Ramones, and won “The Battle of The Bands” at Forest Hills High School.  He reminisced, “I attended the 1967 concert at 16. I was a Forest Hills type of hippie at the time, possibly wearing bell bottoms and Beatle boots. The Doors had a song called ‘The End,’ and that was when everyone applauded, since they couldn’t wait to hear Simon & Garfunkel. Their music is original and they have beautiful harmonies. Their music speaks for itself. Today I own all their albums.

Official poster for Simon & Garfunkel and The Doors at Leonard Ruskin’s 1967 Forest Hills Music Festival, Courtesy of Evan Ross

Raised in Forest Hills and currently a resident of Hillcrest, concertgoer Judith Mermelstein attended the 1967 concert with her friends Jennifer, Joan, and Lyn. She recalled, “At one point, Simon broke a guitar string and had to tune his substitute guitar, causing the amazingly rude audience to get restless, so he said ‘We tune because we care!’ She especially remembers their music for the great harmonies. “Despite the audience, they played very well. Artie had the voice of an angel.” On another intriguing note, she said, “They managed to have a career using their real Jewish names.” Memories continued to surface. “I probably wore hip-huggers and a poor-boy sweater, and sneakers or moccasins without socks.”  

Class of 1967 Forest Hills High School graduate Liz Lacob lived around the corner at 68-43 Clyde Street, and currently resides on the Upper East Side. In 1967, her boyfriend treated her to tickets, but did not consider it to be a “big show” while thinking of further established artists such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who appeared on the same stage. She said, “My feelings changed during that show, and it was one of the first times that I was ever being moved by the words they were singing. Of course ‘The Sound of Silence’ was their big radio hit, but when they sang ‘April Come She Will,’ you could have heard a pin drop, and perhaps right there a different kind of folk-rock was born.”

Until that point, Lacob’s experience with folk-rock in Forest Hills encompassed Peter, Paul & Mary and Trini Lopez. She explained, “When they talk about Bob Dylan with his electric guitar and backed by The Band, they often don’t realize that the sound was very rough and not at all what we think of as folk-rock today. The idea that words could be more important than the beat became really clear that night, as we sat transfixed listening to them. We were used to bands with loud electric sounds and drums, and not to two guys with a guitar. Their sound was pure, the guitar soft, their voices harmonized, and there was no need to clap along and no audience members were singing. Everyone was quiet and listening to the words; so different from what anyone else was doing at the time. They were incredible!”  

After the concert, her boyfriend and a neighborhood friend George Pressman returned to her home to reflect upon their experience. She recalled, “George said ‘Let’s go back and meet them, and I replied ‘George, don’t be ridiculous! We walked back to the main entrance which by now was quiet and empty, and sure enough, Simon & Garfunkel were standing right there like two guys from the neighborhood! No crowds, no agents, no security, so we walked up, and started talking about how wonderful the show was and shaking hand. Paul Simon was sort of aloof and looking away, while Art Garfunkel was just as enthusiastic as we were.”

One attendee of the 1968 concert was Jay B. Silverstein who attended with his Karen C. Silverstein, his wife. “It was the second time we had seen them and enjoyed both concerts. A real standout was when Garfunkel said, ‘When I heard we were playing Forest Hills, my first thought was, who can I ask for a date?’ It went over big!”

April 13, 1968 edition of Cash Box magazine featuring Simon & Garfunkel, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

That same year, Vickie Berlin Klinger, who was raised in the Crescents and remains in Forest Hills, attended with local friends and likely wore her bell-bottom jeans and a hippie-style blouse. She recalled a center stage, unlike today’s more formal stage setting.I remember Paul Simon saying ‘This is Forest Hills, and we are going to play as long as we could. There were no 10 PM curfews then, and they played just about every successful song they recorded, and there were many. I also have the distinct memory of Paul Simon returning to Forest Hills High School in the late 1960s for the first ball of the Rangers baseball season, and the school was in an uproar!” Decades later, Klinger feels they have been fantastic on every occasion. “Their harmonies are the best, and their words are deep and poetic. ‘Homeward Bound’ is one of the best songs during that era, and ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song’ is light and fun. They are one of my all-time favorites, possibly since they are hometown boys.” In 2016, she attended Paul Simon’s return engagement at the Stadium. “It certainly brought back memories of their earlier performance!”

It was my first real concert, there were over 14,000 people in attendance, and it was mesmerizing,” said John Klopotowski, who was raised in Paterson, NJ and later relocated to Oakland, CA. Some of his most memorable titles from the 1968 program were “Fakin’ It” (which he called a surprise),   “Mrs. Robinson” (another surprise that was a major hit), “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” “April Come She Will,” and “The Dangling Conversation. He also recalled the incredibly powerful song, “The Sound of Silence,” and a sing-along tune, “The 59th Street Bridge Song.” As a birthday gift, he was treated by his older brother, who also brought along his girlfriend. “At the time, I was playing guitar for nearly one and a half years, and idolized Paul Simon. I wondered if there would there be backup musicians, would it sound like the records, or would it be more like the first album featuring both of them alone. Well, it was just the two of them for approximately two and a half hours with four encores. Their voices were pure, and Paul played beautifully.He gave the duo credit for calling out their engineer in the audience, Roy Halee.

He continued, “When we got back to the car, I said ‘I promise to practice the guitar diligently until I’m as good as Paul Simon!’ I’m not sure if I accomplished it, but I’m still playing. They were both amazing singers. Paul was a superb guitarist and is better now, and their writing showed real depth. They gave a young man just turning 13 a sense of real artistic quality that persists to this day.

Photos taken by fans must have been a novelty in 1968.Going to a concert back then was about the pure experience of the event and the musicand then reliving incredible memories,” he said.

In a July 1970 concert, Paul Simon wore a striped shirt, blue jeans, and a New York Yankees cap, and Art Garfunkel sported a matching pair of blue jeans and a worn button-down shirt in the spirit of Forest Hills. The first half consisted of numbers such as the opening number, “The Boxer,” “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, “America,” “El Condor Pasa, “Fakin’ It,” and “Homeward Bound.” As for the opener, Cash Box magazine read: “I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told… I have squandered my resistance, for a pocket full of mumbles…” It then went on to say, “With a little imagination, you can see the similarity of the song and their childhood beginnings in that very same Forest Hills. So that was just the start of one of the finest concerts nine dollars could buy.” The main emphasis of the second half was solo numbers was a top seller that was considered Art Garfunkel’s finest solo, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which resulted in a standing ovation. The review read, “After a set of encores, the show ended just as strangely as it had started, with the boys just walking off. They came back to take bows, with sheepish grins on their faces as if uncertain as to whether the crowd enjoyed them. They are unequaled by any other act around and they know it!”

Matchbook featuring Simon & Garfunkel at Forest Hills Stadium, August 12, 1967, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council & Michael Perlman

“Since first experiencing Simon & Garfunkel on my first date watching ‘The Graduate’ in 1967, I felt that I was hearing musical poetry. The music probably saved my life, but it was also part of a gestalt energy that included other singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and The Beatles,” said concertgoer David Evan Karasek, who attended in 1970 with his foster roommate Steve Silverman. At the time, his clothes consisted of all-blue denim, including bell bottoms and a vest covered in anti-war buttons. He lived nearby in a Rego Park foster group home, The Residence from 1967 to 1970. Then he relocated to the East Village, launching a commune that performed original world music on eighty instruments. He attended Newtown HS and the High School of Music & Art.

Karasek explained, “Listening to Simon & Garfunkel was like having older, thoughtful siblings that offered great advice about life, and amplified common experiences. At Forest Hills Stadium, it was like a giant family gathering in this way. In the 1990s, I played ‘Sounds of Silence’ for my son who was the same age I was when I first heard them, and he shouted ‘No one writes music like that anymore!’”

Some of his favorite program numbers include “The Only Living Boy in New York,” “The Boxer,” and Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He said, I’ve come to love Paul Simon’s later work too, including everything on Graceland and beyond. As a performer of world music, I especially relate to how he has explored different cultures. I also attended their shows in Central Park, and thought their performances were amazingly flawless for live shows. Today he is writing a book on various past experiences such as this one.    

Another fan, Elliott Lercher, who was raised in Rego Park, attended with Forest Hills High School classmate Harvey Hirsh in 1970. “Their lyrics and harmony made the duo a success, and the audience was electrified. For their final number, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ they told the audience to light a light, and everyone took out lighters.”