The Art Of Singing
'takes a song and just sings it so good
you'd swear I wrote it myself'
October 15, 1998
By JOSHUA OSTROFF
Art Garfunkel, the one with the voice, is sitting in his New York apartment looking out at the fall colours dotting Central Park.
Over a long distance telephone line he describes his apartment without prompting: The library holding his precious books -- he claims to have read more than750 books since 1969 -- and more symbolically, a map of the U.S. covered with thumbtacks marking his recently completed journey.
You see, much like Forrest Gump, Garfunkel began a walk one day and it took him from sea to shining sea.
"To please the heart. To promote longevity. To take to the air. To sing as loud as I want to out in the field. To break out of New York's claustrophobia," he says, waxing poetic about his travels before returning to Earth. "But mostly, to get some exercise."
Garfunkel's journey -- not unlike the trips his travelling salesman father would undertake when he was a child -- began in 1984 when he spent eight days wandering across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. After he returned home, he decided he wasn't quite done yet. A few months later he returned to the spot where he left off, ditched his car on the roadside and started up again.
He continued this process off and on, moving in 100-mile increments, for more than a decade. His wife -- Kim Cermak Garfunkel, also a singer -- had no problems with her husband's nomadic wanderings, even joining him in South Dakota and Montana.
"She saw me come back home refreshed, feeling really like the artist I was born to be," says Garfunkel, lowering his voice to conspiratorial whisper. "And I was a better lover when I came home."
His journey ended in 1996 and was celebrated with a televised concert on Ellis Island, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.
The resulting live album, Across America, gave audiences a chance to hear Garfunkel sing familiar tunes such as Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Mrs. Robinson without the baggage of, as Garfunkel facetiously calls him, "The Other Guy." But it's a slightly jarring experience for those familiar with the songs of Simon and Garfunkel.
"It feels like an unfair forced comparison. But I have to make peace with it and I work on it," says Garfunkel diplomatically. "I came into the door of people's perception as a part of a famous duo. And we struck really big when we struck and I will forever be thought of with that initial image. If we weren't so successful I wouldn't have this problem. So am I gonna feel bad about how well we did?"
In fact, this year marks his 25th as a solo artist. But his vibrant early start -- his debut Angel Clare produced a Top-10 hit -- faltered in the '80s. Garfunkel attributes the perceived inequalities between Simon and himself to his reclusiveness during that decade.
"He was more of a go-getter and a careerist. He went for the public relations guy and projected his image much stronger than I did. It was at that point that there looked like a big difference between Paul's visibility and Artie's invisibility."
Garfunkel has re-emerged in the '90s. He began touring again, finished his long walk and began releasing albums, including last year's Grammy nominated kid's album From a Parent to a Child.
Garfunkel also understands his public perception is partly because Simon is a singer/songwriter and he is "just" a singer. But he says the public's perception wasn't always that way. Elvis, for instance, didn't write Don't Be Cruel.
"Then came Bob Dylan. You have this sort of James Dean star all full of his own integrity. He'll only sing his own words because to just sing is not enough.
"It's been tough on guys like me who have tried to make an art out of interpreting songs. I try and take a song and just sing it so good that you won't think about these things. I try to be so integrated with the song you'd swear I wrote it myself."
Despite being a published poet and a voracious reader, Garfunkel just isn't a much of a songwriter.
"I seem to have a block there, I don't know why. I sometimes have an inspiration to write a poem and the words are coming to me and I try and push it toward a song (but) I fail. I'm a musical guy. I'm a literary guy. You would think I could do it," he says, adding melodramatically, "Someday, someday!"
Of course, Garfunkel also wants to be viewed as an acting guy. It was, after all, one the reasons he left his partner in the first place.
But after an auspicious start with Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge, Garfunkel only made one film before his appearance in the ultra-bizarre Boxing Helena.
"I had a tendency to play into the odd thing. My image of myself was as a sweet tenor singer so I thought I'll play against that," he says. "Let me play characters that are provocative and unusual and I thought that would be a nice balance to the prettiness of my singing style. But now I've done that."
Garfunkel is dying for a meaty role and has finally hired an agent to help achieve that goal. He's even begun reading scripts, a task he hates.
But while he plans ahead to another album and a movie after he completes his current tour, Garfunkel still has Forrest Gump in the back of his mind.
"I've begun to walk Europe."