Daily Mail Interview - Art for Art's Sake
June 6, 1998
Thanks to Lia Brouwers for sending this
By Daniel Jeffreys in New York
(Just prior to Art's seven day British tour.)
"They were one of pop's most succesfull duos, outselling even Lennon and McCartney. Then, in 1970, their partnership disintegrated amid acrimony and recriminations. Nearly 30 years on, Art Garfunkel has been through a marriage break-up and the suicide of a girlfriend, but it is still the rift with Paul Simon that causes him most pain".
We had just finished our starters in an Indian restaurant when my companion began a rendition of Scarborough Fair. Other dinners stopped dead, tandoori chicken poised in mid-air, as they realised the beautiful voice they had instantly recognised really did belong to Art Garfunkel, the man whose singing made Paul Simon famous. "I couldn't really agree that I was the star," says Garfunkel, with characteristic modesty. The man whose golden halo of hair was a defining image of the Sixties is 56 this year, but looks much younger. "Simon and Garfunkel were a team,. I always knew that. I'm not so sure Paul did".
By 1970 S&G were the undisputed kings of popular music. Bridge Over Troubled Water had just become the best-selling album in history, but the emotional tensions involved in its creation split the duo apart. They have not performed together since 1993 and Garfunkel says they will probably never do so again but he, unlike Simon, is still happy to sing their classic songs. On June 14, Garfunkel appears at the London Palladium, the climax to a rare seven-day British tour which begins tomorrow in Belfast. Proceeds will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and audiences will get everything from Mrs. Robinson to the Sound of Silence.
If Garfunkel's curry-fuelled performance is any guide, people who can get tickets are in for a treat - his voice has never sounded better. It can still to near impossible heights without losing the light woozy edge that makes the S&G classics such wonderful songs for lovers. But there is another new quality as well, a deeper sense of soul that Garfunkel says comes from two difficult decades which, to his surprise, finished with him feeling happier than ever. The reason for this contentment was apparent earlier in the afternoon, at Garfunkel's penthouse overlooking Central Park. It is a beautiful three - storey cottage in the sky with a casual elegance unique to the very rich - in the bedroom there is a French Impressionist painting worth over 10 million Pounds which is partly obscured by a pile of soft toys and bottles of perfume.
These belong, respectively, to James Garfunkel, Art's seven-years-old spitting image of a son, and Kim Cermak, a willowy blonde actress and model who has not yet turned 40. She became the singer's second wife in 1988 (his first marriage, to Linda Grossman, in the Seventies, lasted just three years).
Mr. and Mrs. Garfunkel seem completely in love and it is not the puppy variety. Their passion is complex, they appear to see themselves as talented equals who would far rather be with each other and their child than anybody else in the world. Kim was wide-eyed about me, which wasn't my style. I thought: "She's just a fan". But she grew on me very rapidly.
If Art Garfunkel is now at an emotional peak, 20 years ago he was near to rock bottom. In 1979, Laurie Bird, the actress with whom he had been living for several years, committed suicide.
Soon after Bird's death Garfunkel said he could never imagine himself in another relationship and he completely rejected the idea of having children. That has changed now but when Garfunkel talks about his lost love, even so many years later, his eyes reveal a deep and unhealed injury.
"I was reclusive for most of the Eighties", he says. "I was stunned to have lost Laurie. I kept my love for her even though she was gone. I read her diaries over and over. I was a gloomy fellow. I felt I had loved her really well. I have to reckon with the fact - and I'm still trying to - that I failed to sustain her interest in life".
Garfunkel was in France when Laurie died, making the movie Bad Timing directed by Nicolas Roeg. The coincidence of Laurie's suicide and his presence on a film set where he was called upon to make love to a comatose girlfriend may explain why his once promising movie career came to a halt. "Laurie was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen anywhere. After her suicide I didn't have the momentum to stay in life", he says. "I retreated into high art, listening to classical music, reading philosophy. I thought that if I was going to be hiding behind closed doors as a hermit, I might as well be the scholar's version of that. I was trying to justify my cowardliness in not being able to face the world".
Music and a funny, smart actress called Penny Marshall saved Garfunkel from sliding deeper into a dangerous depression. "Everything changed. Penny is a sweet human being who can bring anybody down to earth. We had a lot of laughs, great sex and a ton of party nights". Even when they split up, realising they argued too much to make marriage a wise option, Garfunkel remained in Marshall's circle which included Carrie Fisher (at one time Mrs.Paul Simon) and fun-loving actor Jack Nicholson who became one of Garfunkel's best friends. Laurie was still on his mind every day but he developed a calmer perspective. "I began to trace her suicide to the first few years of her life; she had a horrendous childhood", he says, "Laurie's mother took her life at the very same age. I think Laurie was predisposed to desperation. She always had a haunted beauty and I guess I never reckoned what that beauty was all about".
Garfunkel's 1976 hit Bright Eyes was partly inspired by Laurie and the way he now sings some of his standards is a tribute to her. That's why he gave me his impromptu performance of Scarborough Fair. The line "Remember me to one who lives there, she was once a true love of mine" is always sung with Laurie Bird in mind as are the concluding verses of April Come She Will. "July she will fly", sings Garfunkel, softly, beneath the restaurant's sitar music. "August die she must". He stops, pensive. "I break my own heart a little bit when I sing that song". It would have taken a brave and determined woman to overcome the shadow of Laurie Bird, but Kim Cermak seems more than equal to the task. She is strong-willed and does not put up with any nonsense from Art - or James, who has a more than average stock of inexhaustible childish energy. "We met in 1985, fell in love, and married in 1988", says Garfunkel.
He first saw Kim in a photograph sent to him by a friend who knew her and thought she and Art could have fun together. "As opposed to any other time when I would have thought, "You shouldn't date a fan; she will have an inflated image of me as a star that will lead to misunderstandings". I had just got back from Montserrat where I'd made my album "The Animals Christmas" and I was in the mood to act uncharacteristically. I agreed to meet her".
Many men might have been intimidated by Kim's beauty and the age gap. At least the latter didn't bother Garfunkel. "The immature 44-years old man I was then and the emotionally strong 27-year-old woman were a natural match. The gap between us is very little". Not that it was plain sailing. Garfunkel acknowledges Kim is a strong person but at first he thought she had exactly the wrong kind of presence. "She was Peter Pan. She was wide-eyed and innocent about me which wasn't my style. I don't like to be adored. I thought, "You were wrong, she's just a fan", but that was soon replaced by the next layer of Kim and all the other layers that are full of character. I felt like my heart was being invaded from the underside. After that she grew on me very rapidly".
During his marriage to Kim, Garfunkel's career has had its ups and downs. He has had modest success as a songwriter, he did some more acting but not really enough to pay the rent, and he wrote Still Water, a book of thoughts. His biggest success has come from recently returning to the stage, to sing the songs written by the man he now finds it hard to talk about without a grimace on his face. "My friendship with Paul Simon, which is kind of an embarrassment to talk about, waxes and wanes", he says. I can't tell if it's the vindaloo or the mention of his ex-partner's name but suddenly the formerly cuddly Garfunkel seems more like a bear with a sore head. "It is waning at the moment. Why is it waning? That question is too big and too personal. I do know that I'm too in the midst of it to have enough perspective to know".
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel grew up together in a middle-class New York suburb. They began singing together when both were barely teenagers. Paul was the ambitious clever songwriter, the one with a hunger for stardom. Garfunkel was quieter, his ambition more complex, riding on the back of a voice that is rated by most musicians as among the best three or four in pop history. It was a potent partnership which sold even more records than Lennon and McCartney. Could they ever be reconciled? "It appears to be over and a thing of the past, and we can rule out all hope of a possible Simon and Garfunkel future. That's pretty much how it feels now", he says in a rush. Then pauses to order a drink. When he continues to come up with an extraordinary idea, that the two might reunite on tape without ever meeting again face to face. "In other words, if there is ever any reuniting we need serious help. So we could use the technological power of tape to build a bridge. If there are any takers who could get Mr. Simon and I together like this give me a call, but not for a while".
Up until now Garfunkel has talked freely about many difficult emotions, including the suicide of a woman he thought was the only one who could make him happy, yet it is his singing partner who summons up the most emotional response. "I have not seen Paul Simon for a few years", he says, speaking with quiet precision. "I may have anger but I'm not going to talk about that in public. I will take it to my shrink or my wife".
Although he says he will not speak about Paul, somehow the wound is still too fresh and he can't help picking away at it. "I have real problems with Paul, it causes me far more pain than my relationship with anybody else I could name, even Laurie". After half an hour of talking about Simon it becomes clear why he hurt Garfunkel so much - he underestimated his partner's talent. "How do we place a value on the contribution the singer makes"? says Garfunkel, now getting to his point.
"People say Paul and I split because of Bridge, or because I wanted to act. That's not true. It was something very specific and unpleasant. My contribution to Simon and Garfunkel was that visceral sound thing, no small element; Paul's was about his wonderful thoughtful lyrics, the excellent guitar playing and all that career drive which he had more than I did. I'm very sensitive to the way our contributions have been split up in the wrong proportions".
I wonder if he appreciated Simon more than Simon appreciated him. "Yes", he says, without hesitation. "There is a certain lack of grace or rub that goes with that. It is very dangerous not to give sufficient credit to somebody who has the talent to realise your dream. At a difficult point in the Beatles' history George Harrison said to me: "Your Paul is just like my Paul. The vibe is the same". He knew how I felt because he was also a vital part made to stand in the background".
This year Garfunkel had some measure of revenge on Simon who attempted to take Broadway by storm with the Capeman, an ill-advised musical based on a young hoodlum who killed two rival gangsters. It closed quickly and is currently ranked as the most costly failure in Broadway's history. The New York press regards Simon as arrogant and they celebrated his fall with headlines and cartoons, many of which Garfunkel has clipped and carefully preserves in dustproof plastic folders scattered about his home. "I crept in to see the show", he says. He seems to be trying to suppress a smile. "My reaction was that it was very unspecial. Out of insecurity, Paul worked too hard. It made me think of when we worked together, when he would bring in his work and it would be too rich. I don't think he ever listened to me, although I did save Cecilia from being thrown out.
People say we split because of Bridge or because I wanted to do more acting. None of that is true. It was something very specific and unpleasant". Garfunkel will not elaborate. He says he has recently been asked to write his autobiography and may reveal all then. Until that moment he has a pain in his heart about Paul Simon that he cannot let go, even though he is rich, fabulously talented, has a beautiful family and is about to embark on a British Tour.
He finishes his discussion of his ex-partner with a single sentence, coupled with a look which he assumes says it all. "Paul turned his talent into a weapon".
Before Garfunkel begins his British Tour he will start his Walk Across Europe. Like the walk he did across America in the Eighties, this one will be taken in stages with breaks in between. Within six years he plans to walk from London to Istanbul, creating a new book of stories, beginning his autobiography and trying to write the solo hit songs which have so far eluded him. He promises that his British concerts will be special, giving audiences a blast of his new energy, a benefit from Kim and James.
He says he is just about ready for anything, including the excruciatingly difficult high notes that finish off his trademark Bridge Over Troubled Water. "That's a gutsy note", he says. "Singing it is a very special moment and it is a scary moment. A lesser man would not put that note in his repertoire. But I want to struggle. I want to be scared. I want to not be sure I can do this and that's what I'm all about. Not Paul Simon or any of the other stuff. That note is a key to understanding who I am.