The sound of success

Tribute duo Larry Fogel and Moni Arnon are pulling in the crowds in Israel and overseas with their Simon and Garfunkel show.

Gray-haired couples swayed in their seats at Beit Shmuel's Hirsch Theater on Sunday night while teenagers swayed with their phones, and fiftysomethings danced in the aisles. If differing musical tastes are often cited as an example of the disconnect between generations, this audience demonstrated that when it comes to Simon and Garfunkel, the reverse is true. And it wasn't just the age gap that tribute duo Larry Fogel and Moni Arnon penetrated with their renditions of the legendary double act's creations. This performance marked their first to an overwhelmingly French audience and, according to Fogel, the crowd, which sang along, clapped enthusiastically and appealed for encores, proved just as easily seduced by Simon and Garfunkel as their Anglo and Israeli counterparts. "In the five years that we've been performing, we've been lucky enough to receive predominantly positive reactions from audiences," says American-born Fogel. "People really connect to Simon and Garfunkel's music." While Fogel may attribute the duo's success solely to Simon and Garfunkel's talents, it's clear that their own talent for musical performance, as well as their knack for setting the scene with both humorous and poignant tales of Simon and Garfunkel's experiences, enabled them to draw in their audiences. Sunday's crowd chorused the lyrics to "Homeward Bound" at the top of their lungs as if reaffirming Paul Simon's appeals for his home comforts, after Arnon poignantly recounted his own experience of loneliness in a British railway station which, he said, spring to mind whenever he plays "Homeward Bound." Simon penned the song at a station while traveling from town to town as a little-known performer on the British folk circuit. The pair interspersed light-hearted numbers such as "Cecilia" and "Bye Bye Love" with comic anecdotes of Simon and Garfunkel's sometimes difficult working relationship, and the audience responded to the jovial mood accordingly, dancing in the aisles and singing along. Fogel and Arnon first met at a mutual friend's in 2003. "We performed together at a friend's house, and there was an instant chemistry," recalls Fogel. "A couple of weeks later Moni called me and asked if I would consider collaborating with him on a permanent basis." The offer came at an opportune time for Fogel, who after many years working in retail had decided to turn his passion for music into a full-time career. Arnon admits to being more cautious. He, too, had recently returned to full-time music performance after 15 years of working as a recording engineer. "I knew straight away that I wanted to work with Larry," he recalls, "but it took me a couple of weeks to approach him. "I think as a young person if you have an idea you go with it straight away, but at that point in my life I understood the importance of ensuring that this was a viable idea before I initiated contact with Larry. I considered how we would market ourselves and if we had a chance of really making this an economically viable venture before I approached him." Despite Arnon's forward planning, neither envisaged how successful their collaboration would be. "I remember at one of early gigs at a bar, we were convinced we'd performed badly because the acoustics were bad and the crowd was disinterested," recalls Fogel. "But at the end, the security guard who is there every night told us it was one of the best performances he'd seen in months. That gave us some indication that we might be going somewhere." Since those early days, the duo has been invited to perform in the UK, the US and Canada, as well as throughout Israel. They publicize themselves through a combination of advertising and word of mouth. "Many of our performances, including those abroad, came about because people saw us perform and invited us to perform for them," says Fogel. While traveling is one perk of the job, another says Fogel, is the opportunity to meet diverse and interesting people. "Through our work, we meet a lot of people, people who have a connection to Simon and Garfunkel and who want to share stories with us," he says. One such story, which Fogel recounted at the performance, was that of Art Garfunkel's cousin who lives in Ra'anana and approached the duo at the end of one of their performances. "She told us that Garfunkel was very modest and would pretend to be an unknown whenever he was recognized. One time someone was convinced they knew him from somewhere and wouldn't let up until Garfunkel finally admitted who he was, to which the man responded, 'No, you're not." While the pair aspire to the continued success of their collaboration, both are also busy with other projects. Arnon performs with a folk band called Country Roads and with his recently re-formed Israeli band Brothers and Sisters, which enjoyed chart success during the 1970's. Meanwhile, Fogel and his wife, Mindy Burns, perform regularly as Larry and Mindy '60s and '70s Music Unplugged. The couple have Simon and Garfunkel to thank for more than just Fogel's livelihood. They met after Burns saw Fogel perform at a Simon and Garfunkel gig. She e-mailed him to see if he was available. He was - and the rest, as they say, is history.