The inimitable Garfunkel
sings the praises of family, teamwork
October 14, 2003
Art Garfunkel is a man of at least two minds—not surprising, maybe, for someone who studied to be a mathematician while simultaneously becoming a pop culture icon. At 62, after a lifetime of negotiating the uneasy truce between his private self and his public one, he seems, at last, to be at ease with both.
He is best known for his partnership with Paul Simon, with whom he recently embarked on a celebrated concert tour, their first together in 20 years. But the singer this year also celebrates his 30th anniversary as a solo artist. And on his latest CD, Everything Waits to Be Noticed, he not only sings but also serves for the first time as a songwriter. Garfunkel lives with wife Kim Cermak and their son, James, 12, in a three-story aerie overlooking Central Park, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. There's a coat rack filled to the toppling point; a wandering cat; and soft, squashy couches.
Garfunkel is less ethereal-looking than in the old days. His hair is thinner, and his eyes crinkle each time he smiles—which is often. His speaking voice is deeper than his trademark countertenor, and his stories reflect a notable depth as well.
Q. So, back in the days when you were half of one of the biggest musical acts in the world, did the idea of fatherhood ever cross your mind?
A. Plenty! I come from a middle-class Jewish family, where my two brothers and myself were well loved, and I knew I was destined to be a papa. But I was one of the generation of slow-maturing, American postwar, grand self-indulgers who enjoyed an extra decade of choices to stay silly. By my 40s, I finally got out of my own way, so I could become a life creator, a life giver. “Men end up in their bathrobes, eating cereal after midnight, thinking, Where are all my old friends?"
Q. How did such a major change in your life's course come about?
A. I met my wife, Kim, back in the mid-'80s. Well, actually, the story begins a little earlier than that. A woman I'd loved very much, Laurie Bird, died in 1979. I was a lonesome critter for a while—stunned, sad. I was being kind of an ivory-tower hurt fellow, staying out of trouble and giving mending some time. I'd come back from vacation and I was opening the mail, and there was a note from a photographer I knew, saying, "I've been working with this fantastic girl, and I just think you should know her." And so I called her (which was very unlike me). We married in 1988, James was born in 1990, and I moved into the second half of my life. I'm a lucky man; I've been to beautiful places and made some great albums. But there's nothing I'm prouder of than the life I have now.
Q. Besides forming a family, you've done a few other things since becoming a solo act, haven't you?
A. It's been a very busy few decades. Before this most recent CD, I made 11 solo albums, published a collection of prose poems (Still Water, E.P. Dutton, 1987), worked on some film scores, and did a little acting. I also did a television special in 1996 on the Disney Channel that marked the end of my U.S. walk.
Q. Ah yes, the walking. In the early '80s you began on an around-the-world hike, crossing a small portion of each continent every year. You've already walked across Japan and the U.S., and you're doing Europe now, correct?
A. I've done Ireland, Wales, and much of England. Right now, I'm in the Alps, a bit beyond Grenoble, France. I find a week or so every year, fly to wherever I left off, and start again. I average about 35 kilometers a day.
Q. Do you have moments of inspiration while walking?
A. While I'm walking, my thoughts might go to writing. Maybe I'll come up with a line or two to put in my notebook later, for a song or a prose poem. If I fall into a gait that's comfortable enough, I just groove out. By the third hour, your head is just levitating!
Q. How did the prose poems from Still Water become Everything Waits to Be Noticed? And how did your collaboration on that CD—with Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock—come about?
A. Billy Mann, a very talented songwriter and producer, said he had two partners whose voices would blend with mine, whose musicianship would work with mine. And that they'd be a perfect writing match, too. At which point I said, "No, wait, I already have words that I'm proud of, in these poems I've already published." And he said, "Let me try." A while later, I flew to Nashville to hear the result.
Q. Were you scared of what you were going to hear?
A. I'm always scared. Everything worth doing starts with being scared. But the minute Buddy Mondlock picked up his guitar, I wasn't scared anymore. He writes and plays from a deeply relaxed place, which is my stock-in-trade. Maia came in the next day—beautiful voice and a gifted clarinet and soprano sax player as well—and from then on, it was everything I'd dreamed.
Q. Creativity is usually considered something that comes from a solitary place. But you've created great work within partnerships.
A. I guess I'm essentially a team player. The greatest energy is what exists between you and another live human being. Maybe that's what made Simon & Garfunkel so powerful—to breathe together, to listen so closely to one another. It's a way to reverberate souls.
Q. Were you surprised at the emotional and critical response to this year's Grammy Awards, when you and Paul opened the show with "The Sound of Silence"?
A. It was all lovely, all authentic. We worked like maniacs all day on the sound—the kind of monitor he likes versus the kind I like, the old arguments—and then it all came together. Which it always does. We're a kind of public version of the question: Does affection last, or do we all travel roads that inevitably diverge? Men do this, you know—they end up in their bathrobes, eating cereal after midnight, thinking, Where are all my old friends? We need our old friends as we get old. The world can be tough on us these days.
Q. You played an interesting character in last season's NBC series American Dreams—Mr. Greenwood, who owns the record store. Want to do it again?
A. I hope so. We're talking. I like acting; it's similar to singing, in that little things are big things. You can play with characters, tinker with delivery. I think I'm better at it now than I was with, say, Carnal Knowledge. Same with the live performing; I have a real appetite for it now. I'm sharpening my intelligence. I feel like I've finally come into my own with it.
Q. And so, the future: more of the same?
A. Yes. I like that word. "More" is a prayer to God, isn't it? Gratitude and plea, all in one. Since I am so appreciative of this life, I want more. I want more family. More time with family. I want to play audiences that grow. So yes, my future is more, I hope.
Q. Wait, wait, step back a minute. Are you talking more children?
A. Yeah, sure, why not? We're happy, Kim's healthy, I'm healthy; in fact, I'm a well-kept secret. The world has no idea how ripe and ready I am!