It can simply be stated that Art Garfunkel is one of the most recognizable names in the lexicon of popular music. With a solo musical career that has yielded 12 albums, a Top-10 hit, three Top-20 hits, coupled with an acting career that landed him choice roles in two Mike Nichols’ films (Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge), it is his remarkable body of work with the legendary duo Simon & Garfunkel between 1963 and 1970 that created achievements of such grand beauty that it stands alone, in the same sense as the work of The Beatles stands tall and singular in a league all its own.
Possessing a voice that is as resonant and clear as the new morning sun sparkling its reflection off the ripples of a pristine lake, on the duo’s 4th studio album Bookends, Simon & Garfunkel plotted a far-ranging, mostly dark, beautifully written voyage that included both the epic America and introduced us to Mrs. Robinson, still a pop-radio staple. By the time of their final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, the duo were pulling away from each other. And from the release of Garfunkel’s first solo album Angel Clare in 1973 and up through 1981’s Scissors Cut, he worked with such luminaries as James Taylor, Graham Nash, David Crosby and Amy Grant.
In the 1980’s Art decided to truly breakaway, walking across America and Europe, reading hundreds of books, and honing the depth of his sensibilities to become a writer. Last September he released his autobiographic memoir, What Is It All But Luminous (Notes From an Underground Man), that stands as an equally distinct piece of work with parallel narratives threaded throughout the memoir, interspersed with poems he has written, lists of his favorite recordings, books he has read, and life-lessons he has learned.
In advance of his upcoming appearance at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre on Friday, September 28th, I had the good-fortune to interview Art Garfunkel via phone while he was having breakfast in his New York residence. An excellent and easy-going conversationalist, I found him to be much like his music: accessible, comfortable, with no shallow waters to still his divergent range of depth and emotion.
Review: Let’s start with the present. I’m amazed at the vigorous touring schedule you’ve set in 2018. Your former partner is out doing his Farewell Tour, yet you’re performing hundreds of shows this year and seem to be moving on stronger than ever. What can people here in Saginaw expect from your upcoming Temple appearance?
Garfunkel: It’s like the 1960s and watching a film by Truffaut with 30 scenes coming from nowhere. It’s a strange time we live in, but let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about a show that works. At my age touring is a conversation stopper. But I got to the point ten years ago where I embraced the fact that stage work is my life. I’m a singer and even though I am also an actor and have written prose poems and an autobiography, I’m primarily a singer and singers have two forms of expression: records and stage.
The record business is very confusing to me nowadays, I don’t get it. So that means I am left with the stage and very happily have warmed up to the nervous energy of being exposed for real. Performing really makes the blood circulate, so I find this brings balance in my life. The two things we have are our love life and our work life. My love life with my wife Kathryn and my two boys is going well and my work life is on the stage. To answer your question simply, what prompted this tour is that I am a singer.
Review: So does the show cover all aspects of your career?
Garfunkel: Yes, I don’t leave out Simon & Garfunkel songs because that would be coy. I’m a singer that tries to get it right every time I do it, or at least perform the songs I select the best that I can. These things don’t get done in the past tense. When I do a song like Scarborough Fair, it is performed in the sense of the present tense. Half of the show consists of Homeward Bound and many other S&G classics; and the other half of the show focuses on my solo work, because I’ve recorded a dozen albums over the years. I also became a literary guy walking across Europe and the United States, which is when I became a writer, so I show off a few of my prose poems as well along the way and that’s my show.
Review: I have to ask you about the song ‘America’, seeing as apart from the fact that Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, the fact that my hometown was referenced in that song pretty much put us on the map of the collective popular consciousness. Do you remember much about your time here in Saginaw and know why Mrs. Wagner’s pies impacted Paul enough to include the name of our fair town in one of your most powerful recordings?
Garfunkel: No. I bet that’s the shortest answer to a question you’ve ever gotten. *laugher*
Seriously, I have nothing to say about this because I don’t remember anything about Saginaw. You can chalk the lyrical reference up to Paul Simon’s quirkiness. It’s about specificity, which is a trick of any good songwriter. He wants to be specific about the reference, so that you’ll see the hair on the mole on the back of her arm.
Review: In your autobiography you reference an analogy of how life is like mites waiting under the microscope - everything waits to be unnoticed. So with this in mind, when you look at the arc of your life both professionally and personally, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned in terms of how to best confront the most serious challenges that fate places on our doorstep?
Garfunkel: It’s what you don’t say that matters. That’s one. Apart from this, plain old courage is critical. Those are two things that come to mind.
Review: In reading your autobiography, I found it immensely interesting and equally ironic that you and Paul met acting when you were doing Alice in Wonderland in school, yet early in the book you also talk about being cast in Mike Nichol’s ‘Catch-22’ right after Bridge Over Troubled Water came out, and how that marked a pivotal moment in terms of the break-up of your partnership because of Paul’s jealousy. So it was acting that brought the two of you together; and acting that broke you up. Did the two of you ever discuss the dynamics behind this that led to your separation?
Garfunkel: No, we didn’t. Musicians don’t talk or believe it makes things better if you spell it out in words. Our whole friendship was based on understanding - we don’t need to spell things out. This is kind of stupid, but that’s musicians for you. He never came to me and said ‘What’s the problem? What did you think when I did that Artie, nor did I.”
Review: In your book you reference betrayal as a shorter name for unfulfilled expectations, as many times with divorces or separations, it isn’t necessarily a partner’s actions that create the chasm but our perceptions of those actions. In one of his last interviews John Lennon talked about how he felt Paul would subconsciously sabotage his best work - spending hours in the studio on detailed clean-up work of Paul’s own material, while this atmosphere of looseness and experimentation would crop in the studio with John’s best songs, which is why he felt many of them were never recorded properly. Did you experience similar scenarios working with your own Paul?
Garfunkel: No, not really. The music was the key focus, no matter who the author was. We might have been competitive in the sense of what each of us would take on in order to pull each other up to being stars, performing at higher levels; but one of the elements we were competing against was the notion that we were going to lose. I feel music always wins no matter who the author is. Life is all about cycles and the laws of relativity. Death follows life, life follows death, and all is vanity.
Review: You have an impressive roster of 12 solo albums that you’ve released, which represents some of your best achievements. I love your album ‘Breakaway’, which was produced by Richard Perry; yet you also had the song ‘My Little Town’, which marked your return to collaborating with Paul. And when the two of you received your Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, you asked if there was any writer in our time besides Paul Simon with such beauty and poignancy of heart & mind; and how you doubted anyone has received gifts to rival the songs he put through your singing voice. Do you miss the collaborative element and benefits of working with a partner?
Garfunkel: Breakaway is a creamy, sexy album. I’m glad you enjoy it. I have fond memories of creating and recording it. As for My Little Town, it’s called ‘going commercial’. It’s been six weeks since I’ve been onstage, so I’m going to come to your town with a big appetite.
As for working with a partner, I don’t really miss it. I prefer working solo. The collaborative element was not good for my dignity, which is so fundamental when it comes to enjoying life and feeling good about yourself. Collaborative work paid very well. It created a lot of music and lots of fun, but it also subverted my identity and sense of self, which is a very funny thing for collaborative work to do. But our friendship was formed that way many years ago, so I love being myself, as I have for these last 20 years, as a solo artist, controlling my repertoire and doing my own version of Sounds of Silence - showing my heart on stage and being myself.
Review: Flipping back to your film career, you also made a movie with the director Nicholas Roeg, who created some incredibly iconoclastic and experimental films with parallel narratives like ‘Performance’ with Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg, and ‘Don’t Look Now’ with Julie Christie & Donald Sutherland. Honestly, Roeg is one of my favorite directors because he’s steeped in semiology and how seemingly unrelated events are actually connected. Did you glean any insights working with him?
Garfunkel: Oh, yes - Roeg put life into each word that appeared in the script. He was making our film, Bad Timing, which is about love gone wrong. The element of time is so important. In the simplest way this film traces a love affair that several months later is in trouble; and months after that is suicidal. When you make movies you shoot scenes out of order, so with the Vienna scene he would sit there concentrating on the set, with his particularly handsome Oxford-type face, look at the script, concentrate - this has to be just right - his concentration was brilliant. He treated me very good. He owns that artistic element of ‘what’s going on’. When artists make art they need to possess a fundamental point of view. When I see that in a piece, I sign on.
Review: Are you still writing and recording any new projects that you have coming up?
Garfunkel: Stage work is the fun for me now. I love perfecting my show, so I’m continuously developing it and changing it and am moving things around in the band. My two kids fascinate me. My two boys kill me. They are my movie and I’m watching it. My youngest boy is only 12-years old, little Beau, is a wonder - he’s captivated me. My wife gives me stability, which isn’t easy. I’ve been fortunate for many years now. There’s a lot of love in my family. Can I ask how old you are?
Review: Sure, I’ll be turning 64 next month.
Garfunkel: Then you know how screwed up things have gotten. You know what I mean - we live in bitter times. All this social media like facebook cashing in on the privacy of everyone’s face they can get their computers around, like wieners on a grill for worldwide consumption. This all began with the music downloaders - taking individual achievements and making it people owned stuff. It’s definitely impacted all the creative arts - publishing, writing, films, music. Anyway, I have another interview I need to do, but you’re connected and seem to know me. It’s been a pleasure.
Art Garfunkel is performing at The Temple Theatre, 203 N. Washington Ave., in Saginaw on Friday, September 28th at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $80, $65 and $55 and available online at www.templetheatre.com or by phoning the box office at 989-754-7469.
16th November, 2023