CHANGE OF ART

October 2002
Daily Breeze, LA
BY COREY LEVITAN
POP MUSIC WRITER

When Art Garfunkel phoned to do this interview, he sang my name when I picked up.

"Co-rey, Co-rey from the Daily Bree- eeze."

As a New Yorker and devotee of '60s rock 'n' roll, Simon and Garfunkel was my refuge -- the gentle yang to Led Zeppelin's bombastic yin. Whenever I was weary, feeling small, a lift from the guys from Forest Hills was only as far as my phonograph.

Garfunkel may not have written "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Scarborough Fair," but it was his angelic voice that carried -- nay, caressed -- the tunes into our collective memory.

That voice was now singing my name.

Garfunkel has a new group, his first since the one that landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And Art Garfunkel featuring Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock recently released an album, " Everything Waits to Be Noticed," which marks -- strange as it may seem -- the Brillo-haired soprano's debut as a songwriter.

Garfunkel, who turns 60 on Nov. 5, is calling from Santa Rosa, on a tour of one- night stands that swings into the Wiltern on Oct. 27.

After descending from the high of a personal concert from one of my idols, I got down to the tough business of asking Garfunkel not only about his new group, but about that other one he doesn't like talking about.

Q: What's it like to be part of a group again?

A: It's fun. You have people to lean on. I am an ensemble player. I like to defer and find a balance. It's good. I like Maia and Buddy a lot. They're super sane, lovely individuals and I think the world of their musical talent.

Q: How did you hook up?

A: (Producer) Billy Mann envisioned that his songwriter friends would be compatible with me, and together we might make a blend, a three-part harmony. And together, these two great songwriters might get Artie Garfunkel to become a songwriter. And it all worked.

Q: Why did it take so long for you write your own tunes?

A: I don't know. How long should it take?

Q: Well, I just assumed you always wanted to write songs, being involved with so many great ones.

A: Yeah.

Q: So what stopped you before?

A: I don't know. But Billy was the first one to mess with my mind this much. He really came along and said, "I'm gonna give Artie a kick in the ass, because I just think there's songs there and I'm gonna tease them out of him." And he did. He invaded me.

Q: Your new sound -- especially on "The Kid" and "Young And Free" -- is reminiscent of the finger-picking acoustic vibe of "April Come She Will" and "For Emily Whenever I May Find Her." Is that the musical language in which you naturally think?

A: Sort of, yes. That comes naturally. When I did "The Kid," I was thinking it's like "The Boxer." It runs along like a running brook and I can sing smoothly over all that fire in the guitar.

Q: And the title track has the same dissonant violins as "Old Friends."

A: You have the same kind of ears I do. You're hearing it in the way I would hope it would be heard. "Everything Waits to Be Noticed" is a poetic, touching piece. It has a kind of Paul Simon quality.

Q: What does the title "Everything Waits to Be Noticed" mean?

A: Well that started because my friend Jimmy Webb, this great American songwriter who I play tennis with, mentioned that organisms in a science lab change depending on whether they're being observed or not. I find that a fascinating concept -- in human life, too. When something is noticed, it changes. When the press covers an event, the event behaves differently because it's being covered.

Q: That's quantum physics: Subatomic particles are influenced by how you look at them.

A: Well, that's deeply true on a philosophic level. And it somehow got me to the fact that everything in the world is waiting to be noticed. There's the event and the noticer. And without the two together, you don't have history.

Q: It's nice to see you back in a group situation -- blending your voice with others, finding those harmonies that come from nowhere. Where do those notes come from?

A: I take these walks and I'm out in nowheresville with my Sony Walkman. I'm singing and I'm harmonizing to things. And I'm reaching for funny places in the sky to find harmonies. That's my workshop, where I find strange dissonances and jazz leaps. I'm forever trying to stay tuned as a musical being.

Q: I know you walk a lot. How many miles have you walked?

A: I crossed the United States from the mid'-80s to the mid-'90s, on 40 separate excursions. And I began a few months ago to cross Europe. I began in Ireland, crossed through Paris and I'm almost in Lyon.

Q: Explain your fascination with walking.

A: Spiritually, I have to get out of the city. It's not sane enough for me. You don't have enough God in New York. You have no horizon. And I have to breathe freer than I can in New York.

Q: Can't you breathe in a convertible?

A: A car is great if you have to get somewhere. But as soon as you give up on the need to get anywhere fast, then the entire invention of the automobile loses its appeal, and what you're left with is these lovely walkways called roads. I like to relish the beauty of the land, and go through it slowly. And I came to love that forgotten word, slow. To me, it's more appealing than the word fast. It works in courtship and it works in motion.

Q: How many pairs of shoes do you go through in a year?

A: Two or three.

Q: No endorsement deals?

A: No. (laughs)

Q: What will you perform at the Wiltern?

A: Between "Bridge" and "Sounds of Silence" -- which you can't leave out, since it's not nice to the audience -- and these new things that I've been working on, I may surprise you with some things you didn't expect.

Q: Which of your old songs is your favorite?

A: "Scarborough Fair" is my favorite record we ever made. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is my favorite song.

Q: How would you characterize your relationship with Paul these days?

A: I wouldn't. I wouldn't characterize it. I wouldn't feel the need to, and I wouldn't.

Q: When's the last time you spoke?

A: I don't know when that was.

Q: Would you ever want to work with him again?

A: Would I ever want to work with Paul again? I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. You're going down a path that doesn't feel like anything I really think about.

Q: It seemed like it was you that always wanted to reunite, but Paul that resisted because of his solo excursions.

A: You really like that Simon and Garfunkel subject, huh? I recognize that I spent my young years trying to be popular with my friend Paul, and that I wanted the world to care about us and our records. So we got all that success and it's only natural that you would say, "Well, you got us interested in you, and even though you don't make music together anymore, tell us some things. You left lingering curiosity. And that's your claim to fame, Artie, so face reality." I can recognize the truth of all that. I just think that, in terms of an interview, proportionately I don't like to spend too much time on the past. It does me a disservice. I've had a good time doing a lot of good work since then.

Q: I see you're point. Fair enough ... You're only 10 years away from quietly sharing the park bench you sang about in "Old Friends." What's it like actually being older, as opposed to thinking ahead toward it when you're 25?

A: It's worse. It's much better to be young and have your whole life ahead of you than to have a lot of it behind you.

Q: It sounds like you're depressed about it.

A: Oh, no, I have great riches, and I'm enjoying my life a lot. But it's better to have your whole life ahead of you.