Art Garfunkel on ‘Paulie,’ losing his voice, writing a book and Bruno Mars
IndeOnline By Dan Kane
The slip of paper on my desktop had the name Art Garfunkel and a 212 area-code phone number written on it. I was to call him at 10 a.m. last Friday and I was feeling slightly anxious.
I’d spent the previous night and that early morning immersed in my Simon & Garfunkel greatest-hits album, marveling at the ability of songs like “Scarborough Fair” and “The Sound of Silence” to evoke the turbulent 1960s with their hushed and lovely opening lines.
Online, I’d read excerpts from Garfunkel’s new memoir titled “What Is it All But Luminous,” and several recent interviews with him. What would he be like, the 76-year-old Garfunkel, whose career-defining relationship with Paul Simon is notoriously turbulent? Dare I even mention Simon’s name?
At 10 a.m. sharp, I dialed the number and the phone instantly was answered by Garfunkel, sounding as winded as if he’d just climbed five flights of stairs. Could I call back in five minutes, he asked breathlessly.
I’ll pause here to note that Garfunkel will appear in concert Jan. 27 at Canton’s Palace Theatre, which is why I had possession of his phone number.
I’ve decided to present our conversation in Q&A form, edited for brevity, clarity and flow.
DK: Hello again. Are you ready now?
AG: “Yes. You see, I was walking outside, it’s freezing cold, I was trying to make this appointment and I said to myself, ‘Art, why do you care so much? You’re an established rock star. Suppose you’re a little late and you miss the appointment? Wouldn’t he call back? At your age, Art, didn’t you earn the right to not be on time?’ And I found myself saying, ‘No, I have to be on time.’”
DK: It’s exciting that you’re coming to Canton. What is your concert going to be like?
AG: “Half Simon & Garfunkel, half not. I’ve made 12 albums on my own through the years. A few songs will surprise you, things I never recorded. There will be very small backing, just my friend Tab Laven on Martin guitar, and the great Dave Mackay. I have fallen in love with this new keyboard player. I did a show with only guitar, it was what I call extreme less is more. Now that I’ve added the electric piano, it makes ‘The Boxer’ swing much more. It extends the choruses of things, the sustain on songs like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’”
DK: Do you talk much onstage, tell stories?
AG: “I have a book out on the market now, published two months ago by the great company of Alfred A. Knopf. I’ve been writing these prose poems for 30 years, keeping them to myself. I shall read little pieces, little bits of prose poems from my book. They are all about my relationship with Paul Simon, my family scene, what it’s like to be a papa, what it’s like to hit fame, what it’s like to come from my neighborhood, who I am.”
DK: Have you always been comfortable onstage?
AG: “Never! I was always nervous as (expletive), just ridiculous. When I sang with Paul he did a lot of the front work, he had the guitar and I used his shoulder, because I was just a Columbia student. I’m a scholar, a book reader, I’m contemplative. It’s not my style to be in show business, in the spotlight. It is my style to sing good and to go into the recording studio and craft beautiful albums. And now in the last 20 years I’ve slowly warmed up to the fun of being the guy onstage. It took awhile to to get there. That’s my message, if anyone wants to learn from me: It takes a long time to relax onstage.”
DK: What do you do for fun when you’re touring? Do you and your musicians go out to restaurants?
AG: “Hardly. I’m a very strange loner. As you probe for who I am, you will see a fierce determination to give the audience what they paid for — a beautiful show from a singer who’s got the goods still. I’m amazingly committed to showing up and being right and ready. So I get to bed at a decent hour, watch a little night TV, I get seven hours of sleep. Room service is a very big word in a musician’s life. I hang out with the guys a little bit sometimes. I say, ’You can’t be too antisocial, Artie, you love your guys.”
DK: You lost your voice awhile back. Was that terrifying? Frustrating?
AG: “Terrifying is not quite the word but frustrating is too mild. It was scary, it was very depressing, it was spiritually challenging. It really turned me to God’s face: ‘God, you gave me this gift when I was 5, are you taking it away now? Oh please don’t, it is my identity.’ I was this kid named Artie, and I could get away with being weird because I could sing so good.”
DK: Was it a gradual loss or did something prompt it?
AG: “In January of 2010, I came back from a tour with Paulie in the Far East. I had to sing very loud to keep the Simon & Garfunkel blend because he was singing real loud and we had a band with horns. And over that month of January, I saw I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t sing. Tragic.”
DK: Did being unable to sing escalate your book writing?
AG: “I had been writing this thing for 30 years. I write as I live. I keep a notebook in my pocket. But yes, I couldn’t sing and writing became my form of expression. I started shaping it as a book.”
DK: I read some excerpts last night. It’s kind of a freewheeling memoir.
AG: “It’s wild. I opened the book normal to try and pull the reader in. It starts with Simon & Garfunkel because we know that’s where the commercialism is. So I hooked (readers) at the very place where a fork in the road came for young Simon & Garfunkel, when (director) Mike Nichols offers Art Garfunkel a film, ‘Catch-22,’ right in the middle of the album they’re making. Oooooh, how will the boys handle this? (Laughs) At the beginning of the book, I’m packing for (filming in) Mexico and I’m nervous about the acting, which I’d never done before, but also socially. ‘I have to hang out with Orson Welles? I can’t handle this, man!’”
DK: You became a father rather late in life, didn’t you?
AG: “I did. My son James came along in 1990 and my second came along in 2005, little Beau. I’m the father of two boys, 26 and 12. It consumes my life with enormous pleasure. They are so sweet, their hearts are beautiful. My wife (Kim) is a fabulous mom, she’s full of love.”
DK: Has any music has caught your ear lately?
AG: “This is my blind spot. When Matt and I are going from town to town, we put the rental-car radio on and I’ll say, ‘Who’s that?’ and Matt will say, ‘That’s Ed Sheeran,’ and I’ll say, ‘He’s good. That’s one,’ and I’ll keep combing. Adele, she sings good. I do love Bruno Mars. He’s who I call a star. He’s fabulous to watch. He makes you remember that life is good. I’m sure there’s other good stuff, I just don’t know it. I’m this old fogey, how did that happen?”