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Art's Sake: Is Garfunkel headed to Scarborough Fair? - No, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is going to Har Zion

November 9 , 2000
Jewish Exponent

His heavenly voice was the tenor of the times, a musical bridge over troubled waters for the roiled and raucous renegade decade of the toll-taking '60s.

And when Art Garfunkel artfully blended his sweet song of soulful grace notes to the sincere soundtrack of Paul Simon's heart, music was not made as much as was mesmerism.

Theirs were sounds of silence in a cacophony created and crafted by chaotic times. Simon & Garfunkel went to Scarborough Fair, when so many of a lost generation couldn't find their way out of the wilderness.

The duo, whose soundtrack to "The Graduate" is a music class in classic composition, knew that the key word to the future wasn't "plastic," but playing their heart strings.

Both have bridged quite a bit since splitting after their album "Bridge Over Troubled Water" 30 years ago to go solo. And when it comes to performing, these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers' hearts are in stage work< these days.

Which is why, in a lyrical sense, Garfunkel is homeward bound: He brings his songfest of sound to Har Zion Temple, where he will perform at the patrons program of the Penn Valley synagogue on Sunday, Nov. 12, at 8 p.m. A synagogue setting is no stranger to the sweet-sounding singer, who concedes, "I learned to sing in synagogues and talent shows when I was young."

Indeed, he beamed at the bimah early on, "when I was 9 or 10, singing at Saturday services." He took his Bar Mitzvah at a full gallop, serving as his own cantor, "singing the whole service for four hours."

Time was on his side: "When I was 5 or 6, I knew I was going to be a singer," says the gifted Garfunkel, who would entertain others gathered at the seder table with his kiddush, a kid cantor "serving as a role model for my younger cousins."

For the record If there was any doubt about his future fitness for a vocal career, just go to the tape: At the age of 4, the Newark, N.J., Jewish tot was titillating his elders by singing on his father's wire recorder.

Next step up was a natural forum for him: "I'd sing in the stairwells, too."

How did he know he sang well? "My ears let me know," says Garfunkel.

What he also heard was applause and acclaim, especially when teaming up, at age 11, with a neighboring kid, Paul Simon. They were the proud princes of Queens, these two totskeles with a talent for tunes who called themselves Tom and Jerry.

Music as a cat-and-mouse game? Whatever, their product proved catnip for fans, as the two teamed up and eventually landed a recording gig, a duo taking a spin with a single, "Hey, Schoolgirl," that landed the two schoolboys on "American Bandstand."

"That's right," says Garfunkel with a bounce of the bond between the two boys who would one day play an instrumental role in rock music history.

But the gig was soon up for Tom and Jerry -- Simon & Garfunkel -- when the duo, who would later do "The Graduate," graduated high school and took other courses of action.

Art took art history at Columbia College, where he also mastered the fine art of architecture for a graduate degree.

What would Mrs. Robinson says? "I had never taken the record business that seriously," says Garfunkel .

"It worked socially in high school, where Paul and I were heroes, and helped impress girls."

Actually, he recalls, he didn't give a flying buttress about architecture. Frank Lloyd Wrong? "I really didn't know what I wanted to do," says Garfunkel , who found himself building a career from the ground up after graduation.

"Singing was the last thing on my mind."

He had a good mind to turn to teaching, "which is what my dad thought I should do," and which the performer loves, "having supported myself as a tutor in mathematics while in college."

But it all added up eventually to the times table -- it was time for Garfunkel to re-team with Simon, which they did in 1962.

Sounds of silence were never a problem for Garfunkel -- he had actually recorded a number of singles in college -- but nothing could beat the good beat both men felt, teaming together again.

Over a period of seven years, beginning in 1964, Simon & Garfunkel coo-coo-coo-chooed their way to the top of the hits list, with the nation turning their lonely eyes to them.

Woo-woo-woo.

Indeed, they were the Spice Boys of the '60s: The Simon & Garfunkel album of "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," proved it was a sage time for such a sound as theirs.

But the boyhood bookends weren't meant to book eternity together. Breaking up in 1970, the two pursued the Me Decade on a personal basis, going solo.

But the two on their own weren't solitary men. After years of garnering Grammy Awards and a guitar case of accolades and acclaim -- an era Garfunkel notes as "fabulous years" -- the former partners paired with others when not tackling topics by themselves.

Indeed, the gifted Garfunkel proved he knew a thing or two about acting, impressing in "Carnal Knowledge," opposite Jack Nicholson and Candice Bergen.

Yet in demand for film, Garfunkel wasn't sure he wanted to script his life in the shadow of a "fade in-fade out" light.

It was all too "middlebrow," says Garfunkel "I'm a little elitist. I was more interested in what [Bernardo] Bertolucci and [Stanley] Kubrick did. I was a tough sell on doing films."

So if the "Carnal Knowledge" graduate didn't get to know that end of the business intimately, it was no great personal loss, he reasons. "My heart is and has been completely into my musical life," he says.

And what a noteworthy life that has been: As a single act, the married singer has scored time and again with such albums as the breakaway hit "Breakaway" and the watermark collection of "Watermark."

In 1997, Garfunkel's tender "Songs From a Parent to a Child" was, in many ways, a rapt gift of sunshine to his own son, James.

And it is really no surprise that earlier, Garfunkel found time to record the theme song for "A League of Their Own" and TV's "Brooklyn Bridge," home base for anyone who loved the game of baseball.

Garfunkel scores in that area, too: "There were two things that were cool in life," he recalls of his early school days. "Baseball and rock 'n' roll."

He now rocks and rolls into his fifth decade of song and dances around the notion of what will be next.

One thing's for sure -- it won't be another reunion with Simon, whose Central Park get-together was central to a tour by the two in 1981 and who banded together once more in 1992 for a charitable event on Broadway.

There are other interests -- Garfunkel found rhyme and reason in writing poetry, which was published as Still Water in 1987 and has taken a walk not on the wild side but on the wise side, educating himself and fans through his experiences on a 12-year sojourn across the country that evolved into " Art Garfunkel -- Across America," an album and video.

Then he crossed over into the past, honoring those who preceded him, with a 1996 concert at Ellis Island: "I'm struck that it all began here, that we all fanned out from here, that immigrants such as my Jewish family from eastern Romania came through here.

"And here I am now, returning to where they came from, finishing this circle."

His circle of life is far from completed, however. A friend of his predicted that Garfunkel would go through three stages of life, correctly divining the first two.

And the third -- on which the singer says he is on his way -- "has to do with biology."

Indeed, Garfunkel seconds his friend's prediction about this third part of his life. Does this biological clock have an alarm on it? "I am about to start shifting directions," says the entertainer. "I have an ace up my sleeve."

But his long-sleeve shirt won't reveal the card he's about to pull. The singer has a poker voice, not giving anything away. "Just say I'm working on a new album."

Yes, these are record times for Garfunkel, who's also considering a novel idea. "I'm about to meet with my agent, who is encouraging me to write a book."

With a personal life table of contents filled with a buffet of choices, Garfunkel has a tip for waiters, those who take their time to see what life has to offer rather than dishing it out themselves.

"You've got to stay interesting to yourself," says the singer/writer/actor/producer/architect who long ago discovered that the art in architecture is what you build for yourself out of life.

And, as Art Garfunkel has shown in the past, pairing with Simon, soloing as he will this Sunday -- if he builds it, they will come.

And he'll let them in, says the music man who has framed his life with winning windows of opportunity.

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