After Troubled Times , Art Garfunkel Sees It Through

The Boston Globe
August 1994
By Steve Morse

When Simon & Garfunkel played an astonishing 21 sold-out shows at New York's Paramount Theater, the highlights were too numerous to mention. But none topped the lead vocal by Art Garfunkel on "Bridge Over Troubled Water,'' the 20-year-old anthem of compassion that became a spiritual tour de force and prompted a standing ovation.

Asked to reflect on the song, Garfunkel says, "I stand there before it begins, when the piano is doing the intro, and I think to myself that here comes the sentiments about when you're down I'll try and provide a little comfort. And damned if I don't feel it. I also feel my own up-against-the-wall moments. I know we all get to some very tough places.''

Garfunkel knows about tough places -- he lost a lover to suicide in 1979 -- but life has turned around for him in recent years. He is remarried and has a young son. He has a new album, `Up 'Til Now,'' featuring a hit duet with James Taylor on "Crying in the Rain.'' He's had great success with the Simon & Garfunkel reunion shows ("a wonderful kick in the butt for my career, because I had been laying low too long''). And he's booked a tour.

"I got very reclusive in the '80s,'' Garfunkel says in a recent interview from New York. "I lost Laurie Bird, a woman I loved, at the end of the '70s, so I got quiet in the '80s. It was a very interesting but introspective time for me. I read a million books and I fell in love with certain major artists, from Bach to Tolstoy. And then in the mid-'80s, I found that I'd done so much reading that I really started feeling like a bit of a literary showoff. So I started writing.''

The result was a book of poems, "Still Water,'' released in 1989. Garfunkel was then inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Simon, in 1990 -- and they soon did a few reunion shows for charity, ending a long estrangement. The first was an AIDS benefit in New York, organized by film director Mike Nichols.

"Mike said, `I know you have problems working with Paul, but he suggested I call you because he wants to work with you if you can work with him. May I just offer you this notion to help you bridge the gap: I had a couple of friends I had a falling-out with, then a couple of years went by and they died on me.'

"That really affected me,'' recalls Garfunkel, who had been on the sidelines while Simon was making music in Africa and Brazil. "After that, Paul and I rehearsed and we found it effortless and pleasurable. It was lovely and he even came over to my house. And then the show went really well. If I do say, we were `on' that night.''

By the time Simon & Garfunkel played the Paramount, they had worked up a repertoire of 15-plus songs from their heyday in the late '60s and early '70s, including "The Sounds of Silence,'' "Cecilia,'' "The Boxer'' and "Feeling Groovy.'' Garfunkel notes: "We tried to take older arrangements and upgrade them a little bit. Where there was an old major chord, we put a major-seventh chord. We just tried to stroke it finer, as if with time you can get a finer arrangement. And I changed some harmonies.''

Is there a future for Simon & Garfunkel? "Well, we've done a lot of work to reawaken the songs. So there it sits as a potential crowd-pleaser. You might think, `Let's rubber-stamp it around.' But I don't work that way. It's not like I want to cash in on it. I want to use Simon & Garfunkel to help various causes that we're sympathetic to, so there's power in a very useful, try-to-make-the-world-better sense. We'll see if offers come up that touch our hearts and make us want to enlist our efforts. Other than that, we're on to the next thing.''

The next thing for Garfunkel is touring with a five-piece band, plus his wife on backing vocals. He'll sing past solo hits, such as "All I Know'' and "I Only Have Eyes for You,'' but also a bunch of Simon & Garfunkel tunes.

"Unlike Paul Simon, I have no problem with the past. Maybe that's a little nasty, but it's true,'' says Garfunkel. "I always hear him shying away from the past, as if whatever you once did can't be where you're at now, but I just don't look at it that way. I say to the audience in some shows I've been doing: `Here's a song I used to feel I couldn't do because it more or less was Paul Simon's sensibility, but I've recently changed my mind.' Somehow, the audience likes that. Most of them know what I'm saying.''