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The Fine Art of Pop Singing, Revisited

July 21, 2000
Los Angeles Times
Written by Randy Lewis, Times Staff Writer

Both on his own and during his lucrative partnership with Paul Simon from 1964-71, Art Garfunkel has been extolled for having one of the most beautiful voices in pop music. Simon & Garfunkel reached their zenith in 1970 with the multiple-Grammy-winning "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album. They've come together on several occasions since their breakup, most notably their 1981 reunion concert before 500,000 people in New York's Central Park.

Garfunkel has also recorded a half-dozen studio albums of his own, acted in films including "Carnal Knowledge," "Catch-22," "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession" and "Boxing Helena," published a book of his prose poetry ("Still Water," 1989), walked across the United States (in 40 installments over 10 years) and is now hoofing his way across Europe--between concerts and recording a new album due early next year.

He's also been screening alternate takes and live material that Columbia Records is pulling from its archives for possible Simon & Garfunkel reissues.  Surprisingly, given all this, the 58-year-old New Yorker didn't sound a bit winded when he stopped for an interview ahead of Southland concerts on Saturday at the Sun Theatre in Anaheim and Sunday at Humphrey's by the Sea in San Diego.

Question: What's it like digging through the old S&G material again?

Answer: I find that a very enjoyable thing. The record company keeps going into the vaults to see what other one-off stuff they can come up with, but I know there's not a lot. When something came out good, we put it on an album. If it didn't come out so good, we didn't. There's a reason why they call them outtakes. . . . But they keep sending stuff up to the house, and I say no to this, yes to that.

Q: As reunion tours seem to become more and more lucrative, do you still have to fend off offers for another Simon & Garfunkel reunion?

A: It's painless--it's not really fending anyone off. There's always curiosity. People say, "I have to ask you this . . . " and I usually stop them and say, "You must ask me? You don't have any choice?" But if the question is "Might we work together again?" isn't the answer "Who knows?" . . . You never know. Life's too interesting to put forward specific foreshadowing.

Q: Do you think reunions generally are something to be avoided? Look at what happened to Diana Ross' quasi-Supremes reunion recently.

A: I think reunions can be as exciting as the music is, if there is love and great chemistry behind it. . . . Paul and Artie always had certain electricity between them, and when we combined it was like plugging into the same AC connector. . . . The electric juice is still there somewhere, we're just not plugging in.

Q: What appeals to you in deciding which songs you choose to sing, and has that changed over the years?

A: Not much [has changed]. I'm still entranced by the melodic line most of all. I think the songs that move me are the ones that come from the heart, and it's the heart that energizes the vocal cords. But what makes a good song? It's hard to say, you just know it when you hear it. . . . The Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere"--that's a very haunting three minutes of music, but I don't know how to put that into words.

Q: Are the high notes getting tougher to hit as time goes by?

A: No. Frankly, I'm very lucky in that respect. I'm still waiting for my voice to break. [He chuckles.] For a while I used to take "Bridge" down a half-tone to play it safe. But I changed my mind and brought it back up to reach for that high note at the end. So each night there's a little feeling of "I'm not so sure I'll hit it, but we'll all find out together when I get there."

Q: Your 9-year-old son, James, sang the Elvis hit "Good Luck Charm" on your latest album [1997's " SongsFrom a Parent to a Child "]. Was that a lark for him or do you get the feeling he's also going to be a singer?

A: It's coming across that this kid's a singer. He sings all the time [and] he's better than I ever was. He also does a thing I do: Socially, if I should walk into a room, before I know who to talk to and I feel alone or insecure, I'll just hum or sing something. I don't want to be alone and music is my best friend, so I sing. He does the same thing.

Q: You've said you don't want to spoil anything by talking much about your new album before it's done, but do you think anything on it will surprise people?

A: I think it will. We can never assume anybody cares, but assuming they do care about me, it's definitely a departure--it's different from everything I've ever done. It's a stretch, and there's some real growth. I'm very keen on it.