2008-05-30 / Community

Iconic DJ's 'Bookends'Stand Up Through Generations

By Nicholas Briano

Legendary New York radio personality Pete Fornatale's new book chronicles the relationship between Simon and Garfunkel.
Most aging baby boomers know Pete Fornatale from his time as a disk jockey at 102.7 WNEW during the 1970s.

For those who don't, it is time to meet the veteran disc jockey who, many experts say, helped to define the progressive rock movement through the radio airwaves.

What those baby boomers probably do not know is that Fornatale is an author as well. His new book, which had its genesis in his love for the folkrock duo Simon and Garfunkel, is titled "Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends."

Fornatale relates the fascinating story of one of the most talented yet tumultuous relationships in rock and roll history. The book is centered on the significance of the classic 1968 album "Bookends," in which, Fornatale says, their abilities as songwriters and musicians reached a peak.

Simon and Garfunkel, a couple of middle class kids from Queens who met in high school, were only together from 1964-1970, yet managed to put out five historic albums.

"Their first hit, you could almost consider being a big mistake," Fornatale said. "Because the album failed and Paul went to England to perform as a solo artist and Art stayed home in Forest Hills to go to college."

Fornatale says the turning point for Simon and Garfunkel came in 1965 when folk rock exploded onto the music scene.

It was during that year that the acoustic "Sound of Silence," from their first album, was remade with electric bass and 12 string guitars and immediately turned a failure of a song into a huge mainstream radio hit.

By October 1965, "Sound of Silence" was a number one hit. Fornatale describes the duo sitting in a car in Queens one night listening to the AM radio when the DJ announces the number one song of the week as "Sound of Silence."

"On the strength of that song a career was built," he said.

A career that Fornatale says stands the test of time and is part of the reason for his love of the group.

Fornatale says that his editor, who also happens to be his son, initially wanted him to chronicle the last Simon and Garfunkel album, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as part of a book series focusing on milestone rock and roll albums of that era.

Fornatale liked the idea but didn't feel "Bridge Over Troubled Water" did the band any justice.

"They were in the middle of breaking up during that album," he said. "That album is the group falling apart, "Bookends" was the group really coming together and taking control of their own destiny."

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" Fornatale says, marks the end of their failing relationship.

"There are songs in there where you can almost hear Paul thinking about a solo career," he said.

"So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" is a prime example in which, Fornatale says, Paul Simon symbolizes, through this song, the end of the road for the duo.

"Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous architect, Artie was going to school to study architecture, so in some ways he is saying, so long pal!"

Fornatale says this album came out while so many significant events in American history were occurring; events like the Vietnam War, the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King Jr. The significance of the album, therefore, lies in the fact that these songs, written during this time turned out to have considerable meaning to the era.

"Paul could not have known that those were going to be the events that year but there are lines on the songs in this album that relates to everything going on," he said.

He explains, songs like "America" and "Mrs. Robinson" have a universal meaning and tapped into the social consciousness of the era.

The book also talks about the bitter end to the historic musical partnership.

"They are not blood relatives, but it is really a classic sibling rivalry and a real love, hate relationship," he said.

Fornatale compared radio of the past to now. He says the business has changed and much of the creativity of has been lost and stripped.

"For 20 years I was allowed to pick my own music for my shows," he said. "That is unheard of now; everything is strictly researched and pre-defined.

The fun of the job comes with the creativity of picking your own songs. If I was in a different stage of my life maybe I would reconsider going back to a station like WNEW," he said.

Fornatale grew up in the Bronx and attended Forham University, where he got his start on radio at the school's 90.7 WFUV station. After obtaining considerable notoriety, he landed a spot on 102.7 WNEW and later found a brief home on 92.3 K - Rock.

Fornatale, now living in Rockaway Park, has come full circle in his discjockey career by returning to where it all started in 1964 at WFUV. He hosts a Saturday show from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. called "Mixed Bag" which is a rock variety show for which he gets to pick the tunes. His show also comes on XM satellite radio, where he interviews bands and hosts live performances once a week.

For the most part Fornatale loves life and is doing what he truly enjoys. He will be discussing "Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends" at this year's RMAC Literary Arts and Film Festival at Fort Tilden on June 8.

"I am very excited about the RMAC festival," he said.

He will entertain the crowd with his historical knowledge of music and his experiences as an author.

This is his seventh book and feels it has been the most successful.

"It was a pleasure to do. My son was my boss," he laughed. "It could have been a disaster but everything turned out well and it was a great experience."

Fornatale will be inducting Simon and Garfunkel into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in October. He is also working on a Woodstock 40th anniversary compilation book due out sometime next year.

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