Forty years ago around this time, Art Garfunkel was enjoying the pleasures of a successful comeback.
And his first single hit, a gorgeous version of Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know,” had already reached the national Top Ten. (Two additional hits from the album would follow.)
Not a bad placement, all in all, for a guy who was surely perceived in some circles as Paul Simon’s second banana.
Garfunkel didn’t write S&G’s songs, after all, and songwriting was one of the keys to hipness in the late ’60s and early ’70s. And, while Simon had forged ahead with a successful solo album in 1972, Garfunkel had been off the pop-music radar, making movies and exploring other directions.
But the anniversary we’re writing about tonight took place two years before our man Art’s big chart comeback.
According to various sources, Garfunkel spent the fall of 1971 and early 1972 teaching mathematics at a boys’ private school in Connecticut.
(According to Wiki, the singer earned a master’s degree in mathematics from Columbia University in 1967, then took courses toward a doctorate in math from Columbia. So he would have been qualified enough for such a position.)
I have always wondered what Garfunkel’s sojourn in the tweedy world of boarding schools was like.
Did the school have any hesitation about hiring him? What was his job interview like?
How did his year as a teacher go? The kids must have known who he was; how did they respond to having a well-known pop star as a math teacher?
What was his classroom manner like? Was he a tough grader? (I suppose there is less room for being a “tough grader” in math than there is in English lit. In math, either you’re right or you’re wrong.)
Was there any point when he thought teaching, not music, might be his lasting career path? What pushed him in the direction of music, instead of teaching?
All this stuff is probably on record somewhere; Rolling Stone probably grilled him about it in 1975 or something. But I’ve not read it. So I wonder.
The story gains additional tang and appeal, I suppose, because it took place at a boys’ private school.
Like most American public-school boys, I have a romanticized view of private schools — all ivy, and 19th-century architecture, and wealth, and lessons in the classics, and old-growth oaks, and squabbles for position on the football field.
(Perhaps I read too much John Knowles. Still, it is interesting to toss a pop star into that milieu and imagine where he fit in.)
Garfunkel has taken part in enough memorable pop moments since 1970 to make me appreciate that he chose music over teaching. (To list a few: The Concert in Central Park; his late-’70s appearances on “Saturday Night Live;” and his participation in the S&G reunion single “My Little Town.”)
Still, there’s an alternate universe somewhere where a gray-haired Art Garfunkel is strolling the grounds of a New England boarding school at this very moment, greeting Old Boys who are in town for the weekend, and only distantly remembering that he used to put his face up to a microphone and give forth in a beautiful countertenor.